Seventy-four Cuban literacy experts were to train 100,000 Venezuelan teachers to give classes in reading and writing to 1.5 million Venezuelans -- nearly 9 percent of the population -- who are currently illiterate.
The Cuban participation is opposed by foes of leftist Chavez. They accuse him of ruling like a dictator and trying to replicate Communist-ruled Cuba in Venezuela, the world's No. 5 oil exporter.
In a video conference broadcast from Caracas to schools around the country, the Venezuelan leader praised the literacy program as a major advance in his so-called "revolution" to improve the lives of the country's poor.
"This has nothing to do with indoctrination," he said, dismissing allegations by opponents that the campaign would seek to impart Marxist ideology along with reading and writing skills.
The campaign, providing two hours of classes a day at teaching centers around the country, will be headed by Eliecer Otaiza, a Chavez loyalist and former chief of Venezuela's DISIP security police.
Chavez thanked his friend and political ally, Cuban President Fidel Castro for donating texts, videos and 50,000 television sets to help the Venezuelan literacy drive. The Venezuelan leader briefly visited Havana during the weekend for talks with Castro.
In a growing alliance that has irked the United States, the biggest buyer of Venezuelan oil, several hundred Cuban doctors, sports trainers and farming experts have been working in Venezuela under a bilateral cooperation treaty.
Venezuela also supplies up to 53,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil to Cuba on preferential terms, making the South American nation the Caribbean island's single biggest trading partner.
Chavez, who was first elected in 1998 and survived a coup last year, frequently praises Castro and Cuba but denies that he shares the Cuban leader's Communist convictions. [End]
Reports refuted by Beijing and Havana have appeared in the US media since Chinese President Jiang Zemin's visit to Cuba in April. "For over 30 years, Cuba has not imported any weapon from China," Cuban President Fidel Castro said on Tuesday night on a special program broadcast by Cuba's state-monopolized TV. Sun Yuxi, spokesman for China's ministry of Foreign Relations, had already stated that reports claiming his country was selling arms to Cuba were totally unfounded.
Citing a US intelligence report, the Washington Times reported on June 12 that at least three boats carrying explosives and other weapons had been traced from China to the Cuban port of Mariel in the past few months. According to the newspaper, China was taking advantage of Cuba's proximity to the United States to carry out electronic espionage to intercept US communications.
The government of President George W Bush is "very much concerned with this PLA [People's Liberation Army] cooperation [with Cuba] and movement of military equipment into Cuba", James Kelly, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said at a subcommittee hearing in the US House of Representatives.***