CARACAS, Venezuela -- (TYDN) President Bush and key U.S. lawmakers were here Wednesday seeking advice and financial assistance from the leaders of Venezuela, Cuba, China, North Korea and Russia -- nations welcoming the United States to the expanding club of communist countries.
Castro, bedridden for months and thought to be dead, arrived here earlier in the day and congratulated President Bush for peacefully steering the United States toward communism through stoking fear of the apocalypse in the U.S. populace.
"In 1959, I fought the capitalists with machetes and arms and overthrew their aggression, seized their factories and have now built a country that the United States is beginning to emulate," Castro told reporters outside Chavez's presidential palace here. "Mr. Bush and his nation's lawmakers have done what I have done -- enriching themselves and cronies in the process -- with simple fear mongering and without firing a single shot. For that, they should be applauded."
Sources said there was brief unease in the meeting room when Bush said he was not immediately nationalizing U.S. health care and the energy sector. After a brief recess, the foreign leaders acquiesced, agreeing that full-fledged Eastern-style communism was not built in a single day.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of San Francisco, and Henry Reid, the Senate Majority leader, were here seeking the foreign leaders' blessings ahead of a Wednesday afternoon U.S. Senate vote to nationalize the U.S. economy.
Sources said the two Americans were tough negotiators, persuading Chavez to subsidize 40 percent of the United States' oil, and striking a deal with North Korea to supply nuclear arms to guard against an attack from Mexico, Canada and the European Union.
"This goes to show that a nationalized economy is a free-market economy," Reid and Pelosi said in a joint statement. (U.S.-government-owned media refused to broadcast the remark, saying it sent a mixed message and could confuse the American populace.)
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev also pledged oil after bumping into his Alaskan neighbor, Sarah Palin, at the grocery store earlier in the week.
American presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain also issued a joint statement here. But as of press time, it was still being translated.
President Bush agreed to accept $5 billion in U.S. aid -- $4 billion for the U.S. treasury and $1 billion for himself and other U.S. government officials.
"Fidel, the United States now formally apologizes to you for the CIA trying to poison you just enough so your beard would fall off," a chuckling Bush said as be began to embrace the aging Castro and the other leaders. "And Hugo, Kim Jong II, Dmitry and you from China -- fughettaboutit. Let bygones be bygones."
Photo: John Repka