Praying to Cuba’s “Deity”

Here’s a cute little Sun-Sentinel piece on the Admiration Society of fidel and hugo in Havana, Caracas and elsewhere.

is chavez the new castro?
Published April 15, 2007

Havana · Ask Malvis Legra to compare Fidel Castro with his protégé Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, and her green eyes immediately widen behind her cracked wire-rimmed glasses.

“No comparison,” she says without hesitation. “Fidel is unique. There is no one like him. I adore Chavez but, for me, Fidel is like God is to believers.”

With Castro recovering but infirm, Chavez is viewed in many quarters as heir to the mantle of the Latin American left. Whether Chavez can command the reverence that Castro has, however, is another question.

The parallels between the two leaders are many: both are fierce orators against the United States; both have shrouded themselves in the aura of Simon Bolivar, the 19th-century liberator of much of South America; both fancied themselves big-league pitching prospects.

“Chavez has really embraced Castro’s anti-Americanism and is probably the new standard bearer in Latin America for anti-U.S. feeling,” said Dan Erickson, a Caribbean expert at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank.

Legra, 52, is in charge of vigilance for the 556 Committees for the Defense of the Revolution in Old Havana. Known as CDRs, the neighborhood watchdog groups monitor the community to insure that residents don’t stray from the principles of the revolution.

The CDR municipal office is a sparsely furnished storefront with a few wooden desks and chairs, a phone line and an old manual typewriter. There are photos of revolutionary icon Ernesto “Che” Guevara and the ailing 80-year-old Cuban leader in military uniform. A poster on a wall shows a smiling Venezuelan president with the words, in Spanish, “Welcome Hugo Chavez.”

But Legra said she worships only Castro. She keeps a framed photo of him on her night table along with fresh flowers.

“When I get up in the morning the first thing I do is look at his picture,” Legra said. “Every day I pray to our comandante.”

Still, Mayra Hernandez, 45, another CDR staff member in Old Havana, said the parallels between the leaders were not lost on most Cubans.

“They have the same ideals,” she said. “They fight against injustice. Fidel has many more years of experience. He is irreplacable. But Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez are very similar.”

Antonio Lopez, a 34-year-old taxi driver, said: “as long as the United States is around there will be a space in Latin America for men like Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez.”

Since Castro temporarily transferred power to his younger brother Raul, the defense minister, after emergency intestinal surgery last summer, Chavez has emerged as the chief conduit for news about the ailing leader’s condition.

In recent months, a healthier-looking Castro has appeared in videos with Chavez, discussing world politics and perhaps signaling a comeback to power. Castro also has called into Chavez’s weekly radio talk show. On Friday in Venezuela, Chavez said Castro had recovered enough to informally return to power, making and receiving calls and advising subordinates about the affairs of state.

The relationship between the two leaders demonstrates that Cuba retains the support of influential players outside the island, analysts said.

“It demonstrates the fact that Venezuela will remain a major backer of Cuba both now and during a post-Castro transition,” Erikson said. “It also prevents the appearance that Castro is bestowing authority at a greater level on some figure of the Cuban government.”

Indeed, Venezuela’s support for Cuba includes the almost 100,000 subsidized barrels of oil it sends here each day. The Chavez government also plans to send 100,000 poor Venezuelans to Cuba on all-expense-paid vacations. In return, Cuba has helped Venezuela establish support programs for the poor called missiones, or missions, created on the advice of Castro. The programs include thousands of Cuban doctors sent to Venezuela to offer free medical care in Caracas’ slums.

“It’s almost as if Chavez is being prepared to be Castro’s successor,” said Larry Birns, director of the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs. “A big difference is that at this time Venezuela under Chavez is demonstrably a democratic society. And there is no Cold War now. There is no Soviet Union now. There is Venezuela now. Venezuela in a sense has become the chief rabbi of Havana.”

For many in Havana, however, Chavez is more like a son to Castro.

“He is the man who will continue the work of our comandante, but there is no comparison,” Legra said of Chavez. “Forget about it. If there is a God, He sent us Fidel.

Ray Sánchez can be reached at

Not sure if the CDR ladies interviewed by Ray Sanchez are officially demented or just spewing the party line. Doesn’t matter, it’s pretty ridiculous as is. And what exactly is Larry Birns thinking when he says that Venezuela is “demonstrably a democratic society”? Please tell me if I’m missing something here.

5 thoughts on “Praying to Cuba’s “Deity””

  1. What I posted in that newspaper: You actually paid someone to go to Havana and print that lame trash? tell me you got that article for free…

  2. I wonder how much they pay Mr. Sanchez to be a mouthpiece for Granma which is where this article belongs. As for Birns, he’s worse than the U.N., which at least admits that statistics from Cuba are unreliable whereas Birns cites economic growth numbers from fidel’s speeches.

  3. This article raises a serious question regarding Venezuela’s relationship with Cuba.

    The Chavez government’s oil subsidies are key to propping up the dictatorship in Cuba from an economic standpoint. Once the brothers-Castro leave the scene, Venezuelan oil will continue to flow, providing one last economic cruth for the regime to stand on. This will have to be addressed. A method must be found to halt the flow of oil between Caracas and Havana and many have expressed opinions as far ranging as hypothetical support for the interdiction of Venezuelan tankers in inter-coastal waters. Those onboard these ships, whether as captains or crewmen, are part of the crew of those directly responsible for the repression of the Cuban people and, it seems to many folks I’ve spoken with, that the sinking of a few tankers would be A-OK, even if it resulted in a loss of life. The Caracas regime must be halted in its tracks if we are to see a free Cuba.

  4. To be honest, chavez is nothing without castro. This is why chavez has been working as hard as raul on the “Weekend at Bernie’s” in Havana. Once Cuba is free, the focus goes on hugo, and so does the target.

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