Cuba 'lost its best friend' with death of Chavez: Fidel

Former president Fidel Castro on Monday eulogized Venezuela's Hugo Chavez as "the best friend Cuba ever had," in his first remarks since the death of his protege and his country's longtime benefactor.

Writing in the daily Granma newspaper, Castro eulogized Chavez, who died last week, as "an unforgettable friend" who "did not even himself realize just how great he was."

"Even though we knew the critical state of his health, the news (of Chavez's death) was a heavy blow," the revolutionary icon wrote in a brief newspaper column.

Castro, 86, added that he and Chavez "had the privilege of sharing the same ideals of social justice and help for the exploited. The poor are the same everywhere throughout the world."

Chavez passed away on March 5 after a years-long battle with cancer, after undergoing surgery and treatment almost exclusively in Cuba.

His death was a major blow to Havana, which for more than a decade has relied heavily on cheap Venezuelan oil and favorable terms of trade to keep its economy afloat.

The two countries were also close ideological partners and political allies, often finding common cause against the United States and global capitalism.

Chavez was seen as the region's leftist firebrand in the tradition of Fidel Castro, who resigned Cuba's presidency in 2008 after a health crisis.

Venezuela has announced it will hold elections in 30 days with Nicolas Maduro, Chavez's handpicked successor and now interim president, faced off against opposition leader Henrique Capriles.

Capriles, who is also the governor of Miranda state, was defeated by Chavez in last October's presidential election.

Cuba was represented at Chavez's funeral in Venezuela last week by current President Raul Castro, Fidel's younger brother.