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Cuba fed a president’s fears and took over Venezuela

April 15, 2014 5:49 pm

Cuba fed a president’s fears and took over Venezuela
By Moisés Naím

Caracas is paying the price for Chávez’s misplaced trust, writes Moisés Naím

The enormous influence that Cuba has gained in Venezuela is one of the
most underreported geopolitical developments of recent times. It is also
one of the most improbable. Venezuela is nine times bigger than Cuba,
three times more populous, and its economy four times larger. The
country boasts the world’s largest oil reserves. Yet critical functions
of the Venezuelan state are either overseen or directly controlled by
Cuban officials.
Venezuela receives Cuban health workers, sports trainers, bureaucrats,
security personnel, militias and paramilitary groups. “We have over
30,000 members of Cuba’s Committees for the Defence of the Revolution in
Venezuela,” boasted Juan José Rabilero, then head of the CDR, in 2007.
The number is likely to have increased further since then.
A growing proportion of Venezuela’s imports are channelled through Cuban
companies. Recently, Maria Corina Machado, an opposition leader,
revealed the existence of a large warehouse of recently expired
medicines imported through a Cuban intermediary – drugs allegedly
purchased on the international market at a deep discount and resold at
full price to the government.
The relationship goes beyond subsidies and advantageous business
opportunities for Cuban agencies. Cuban officers control Venezuela’s
public notaries and civil registries. Cubans oversee the computer
systems of the presidency, ministries, social programmes, police and
security services as well as the national oil company, according to
Cristina Marcano, a journalist who has reported extensively on Cuba’s
influence in Venezuela.
Then there is military co-operation. The minister of defence of a Latin
American country told me: “During a meeting with high-ranking Venezuelan
officers we reached several agreements on co-operation and other
matters. Then three advisers with a distinctive Cuban accent joined the
meeting and proceeded to change all we had agreed. The Venezuelan
generals were clearly embarrassed but didn’t say a word?.?.?.?Clearly,
the Cubans run the show.”
Why did the Venezuelan government allow this lopsided foreign
intervention? The answer is Hugo Chávez. During his 14-year presidency
he enjoyed absolute power thanks to his complete control of every
institution that could have constrained him, from the judiciary to the
legislature. He could also use Venezuela’s oil revenues at will.
One of the most transformational ways in which Chávez used the complete
power he wielded was to let the Cubans in. He had many reasons to throw
himself into the arms of Fidel Castro. He felt a deep affection,
admiration and trust for the Cuban leader, who became a personal
adviser, political mentor and geopolitical guide. Mr Castro also fed
Chávez’s conviction that his many enemies – especially the US and the
local elites – were out to get him and that his military and security
services could not be trusted to provide the protection he needed. But
the Cubans could reliably offer these services. Cuba also provided a
ready-to-use international network of activists, non-government
organisations and propagandists who boosted Chávez’s reputation abroad.
In return, Chávez instituted a programme of financial largesse that
keeps Cuba’s economy afloat to this day. Caracas ships about 130,000
barrels of oil a day to the island on preferential terms – a small part
of an aid programme that remains one of the world’s largest.
The extent to which Chávez was beholden to the Cuban regime was
dramatically illustrated by the way in which he dealt with the cancer
that would eventually kill him last year: he trusted only the doctors
whom Mr Castro recommended, and his treatment mostly took place in
Havana under a veil of secrecy.
Chávez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro, has deepened Caracas’s dependency on
Havana even further. As students have taken to the streets in protest
against an increasingly authoritarian regime the government has
responded with a brutal repression that relies on many of the tools and
tactics perfected by the police state that has run Cuba for too long.

The writer, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment, is a former Venezuelan
minister of industry and trade

Source: Cuba fed a president’s fears and took over Venezuela – –

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