Cuban Strategy in Venezuela’s “Complex Crisis”
Maduro or No Maduro: Whatever to Keep the Spigot Open
Last Sunday, Raul Castro set out the essence of Cuban policy toward the increasingly volatile situation in Venezuela. Speaking to the Cuban Labor Confederation, he described it as “a complex crisis,” indicating considerable alarm in Havana about how Cuba’s vital economic and security interests might be affected.
Memories of the outcomes of three earlier crises in Caribbean and Latin-American countries tightly allied with Cuba must be worrying Raul and others in the leadership.
- In September 1973 Salvador Allende was overthrown in Chile in a savage military coup as the Marxist upheaval that he led for three years in a partnership with Fidel Castro ended. Allende’s death in the coup was a devastating blow to Cuban prestige and a significant personal loss for Castro. Allende was wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying a submachine gun Fidel had given him when he committed suicide in the presidential residence.
- Ten years later in tiny Grenada, Cuban ally Maurice Bishop was the victim of a surprise coup that installed the more radical Cord-Austin regime in power. But Bishop was executed by a firing squad, along with a number of his supporters, giving rise to chaos and a US military intervention supported by several other Caribbean states that restored democratic rule. Bishop had been particularly close to Fidel Castro, an adoring acolyte. His death was another serious blow to Cuban aspirations for leadership among third world and developing nations.
- In 1990, the closest of all the Cuban allied regimes was turned out of office in democratic elections. Daniel Ortega and his Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, tied inextricably to Cuba since the 1960s, had lost. Of the three regional disasters for Cuban influence, this was the most punishing for Havana.
But none of these calamities for Cuba compares to the enormity of the possible loss of Venezuela if the Bolivarian revolution loses power as a result of the massive demonstrations and unrest that have buffeted the country for two weeks now. Cuba receives enormous financial and other forms of assistance from Caracas, amounting recently to as much as US$13 billion annually, according to respected economists.
It is not surprising then, that Raul expressed full support for Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro, praising his “intelligence and firmness in the way he has handled” the crisis. Raul gave assurances of Cuba’s “full support for the Bolivarian and Chavista revolution and compañero Nicolas Maduro.”
Siding unmistakably with the brutal tactics of the Venezuelan security forces, Raul condemned “energetically” the “violent incidents unleashed by fascist groups” in Venezuela, “causing deaths and scores of injuries.” He implied that the United States was supporting the anti-government demonstrators and might even consider intervening.
It is not surprising that Cuba is unequivocally backing its man in Caracas. Maduro, after all, was the Cuban regime’s choice to succeed Hugo Chávez after his death a year ago. Maduro appeared at the time to be the best candidate, well known to Cuban intelligence and diplomatic officers, and considered to be a thoroughly reliable ally. The likely concerns they had about Maduro’s abilities and qualifications were put aside.
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