Hundreds of anti-government protesters have marched against Cuban meddling in Venezuela’s domestic affairs.
At least 28 people have been killed and 400 injured in the student-led protests that began on February 4 in western Venezuela and spread to Caracas and other cities.
Under the late elected socialist revolutionary leader Hugo Chavez, Venezuela forged tight ties with Cuba, becoming its closest regional ally and the economic mainstay of the Americas’ only communist regime.
The alliance, which includes military and security co-operation, is still pursued under President Nicolas Maduro’s year-old government.
Oil-rich Venezuela has seen almost daily anti-government demonstrations as tens of thousands of people vent their rage over the soaring violent crime rate, spiralling inflation and a lack of basic household goods such as toilet paper.
Marchers were called out to the streets by the Popular Will, an opposition organisation led by Leopoldo Lopez, who was jailed in late February.
The bilateral alliance also includes energy, food, defence and healthcare.
Manuel Rangel, 24, waved a banner with a portrait of Cuban revolution icon Fidel Castro: warning “Get out Invader!”
“We completely reject Cuban involvement in our affairs, of the Castro brothers in our armed forces and in our institutions,” the university student said.
Some analysts say there are Cuban advisers and Cubans taking part in Venezuela’s security.
Cash-strapped Cuba depends almost entirely on Venezuela’s largesse to keep afloat its ailing, centrally managed economy.
“I repudiate the entire Nazi-fascist campaign that these right-wing cave-dwellers are waging against the Cuban people,” Maduro said.
Maria Godoy, a 50-year-old homemaker, said people were mainly on the streets because of the economic crisis in a country that has increasingly centralised its own economy.
“We’ve been fighting on the streets for a month. So how has the government improved anything?” she asked.
“It hasn’t. Everything is worse. There is nothing on supermarket shelves.”