Belarus declared three days of official mourning to mark the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, starting today, and ordered flags to fly at half-staff.
“We have lost a close person and best friend who loved Belarus and always offered us a helping hand,” President Aleksandr Lukashenko said in a statement e-mailed by his press office today. Television and radio stations will cancel entertainment programs and commercials.
Chavez, who died yesterday at the age of 58, built an alliance with the former Soviet republic, whose ruler was dubbed Europe’s “last dictator” by the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush. The Venezuelan leader visited the eastern European exporter of potash fertilizer and tractors five times during his 14-year rule, making his last trip in 2010.
Belarus used oil imports from Venezuela as an alternative to Russian supplies as it bargained to secure cheaper crude prices from its eastern neighbor. Belarus imported 330,000 tons of oil from Venezuela last year before halting shipments in June 2012. The nation also participates in oil extraction projects in Venezuela, according to the website of state oil company Belorusneft.
Belarus built residential housing as well as assembly lines to manufacture tractors and trucks in the Latin American country. The Belarusian capital, Minsk, has recently featured numerous billboards promoting “Work in Venezuela” for construction specialists. Lukashenko last visited Venezuela in 2012.
Bolivian President Evo Morales, who came to power with Chavez’s support, declared seven days of official mourning and Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa declared three days of mourning for Chavez, who died after a struggle with cancer.