Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro paid a surprise visit to Castro's tomb in Santiago de Cuba, the country's most important economic and political ally.

Handout picture released by Cuban official website www.cubadebate.cu showing Cuban President Raul Castro (2nd-R), Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (2nd-L), his wife Cilia Flores (L) and Cuban Foreign Affairs Minister Bruno Rodriguez (R) at the tomb of Cuban national hero Jose Marti in Santa Ifigenia cemetery in Santiago de Cuba, on August 15, 2017.
Handout picture released by Cuban official website www.cubadebate.cu showing Cuban President Raul Castro (2nd-R), Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (2nd-L), his wife Cilia Flores (L) and Cuban Foreign Affairs Minister Bruno Rodriguez (R) at the tomb of Cuban national hero Jose Marti in Santa Ifigenia cemetery in Santiago de Cuba, on August 15, 2017. (AFP)

Embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro travelled to Cuba on Tuesday to pay homage to deceased leader Fidel Castro, in a surprise visit days after US President Donald Trump warned of possible military action against Venezuela.

State-run television on Wednesday showed Maduro and his wife Cilia Flores, accompanied by Cuban President Raul Castro, visiting the stone monument in eastern Santiago de Cuba containing Fidel Castro’s ashes and placing flowers at the grave. Castro, who died last November, would have turned 91 on Sunday.

Communist-run Cuba remains Maduro's staunchest defender in the region.

Maduro's surprise visit to shore up ties with a close ally coincided with US Vice President Mike Pence's tour of Latin America, where he has downplayed Trump’s threat last week to use military force against Venezuela. Pence argued economic sanctions and political pressure can restore democracy to the country.

Cuba-Venezuela United

Cuba and Venezuela see themselves united against what they call US "imperialism."

Over 120 people have been killed in Venezuela since anti-government protests began in April, driven by outrage over shortages of food and medicine.

The country last month, at Maduro's behest, elected a "constituent assembly" that governments around the world say is dictatorial.

Cuba and Venezuela became strategic allies in 2000 with the rise to power of Socialist Hugo Chavez in the South American country, which holds the world’s largest oil reserves.

An agreement to exchange oil for medical and other technical services underlies their economic relationship and continues despite a drop in oil deliveries by Venezuela and payments to Cuba for services.

Maduro became president in 2013 after Chavez’s death. However, oil prices had fallen by more than 70 percent by 2016, throwing the country into crisis.

Mexico's foreign minister Luis Videgaray, a fierce critic of Maduro's government, is due to visitCuba on Thursday, the Mexican and Cuban governments say.

Source: Reuters