How Cuba’s Castro dictatorship strangled democracy in Venezuela

Jorge C. Carrasco in Foreign Policy:

Venezuelan Democracy Was Strangled by Cuba

The U.S. role in Venezuela has come under plenty of scrutiny in recent weeks. But far more important than the largely ineffective efforts by Washington at backing a besieged opposition has been the influence of Havana over the regimes of both former President Hugo Chávez and his successor, Nicolás Maduro. On April 30, U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to impose a full embargo and high-level sanctions on Cuba over the alleged Cuban troop presence in Venezuela. “Hopefully, all Cuban soldiers will promptly and peacefully return to their island!” he tweeted. The Cuban government denies these accusations.

Yet the United States is not the only one making these claims. The secretary-general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, declared last December that the Cuban government has been involved in military and intelligence activities in Venezuela by training forces and commanding operations. And accounts from former Venezuelan military officials—reported by the Washington Post—also suggest that Cubans are playing a critical role in the Venezuelan armed forces.

This February, Rocío San Miguel, the president of Control Ciudadano, a Venezuelan nongovernmental organization linked to the opposition dedicated to military affairs, told the BBC that the Cubans have interfered in five key areas of the Venezuelan government: registers and notaries, identification and immigration, the Bolivarian National Police, intelligence and counterintelligence bodies, and the national armed forces. What might have seemed like a conspiracy theory a decade ago now raises few doubts.

“If oil is wealth, oil was [Fidel] Castro’s obsession.” That was the late Venezuelan journalist, diplomat, and historian Simón Alberto Consalvi’s response when asked about the former Cuban leader’s targeting of Venezuela’s wealth. The quote opens Días de Sumisión (Days of Submission), a 2018 book by the Venezuelan journalist and writer Orlando Avendaño that analyzes the history of Cuba’s interference in Venezuela’s democratic system, and how Castro opened the way for Chávez to take the presidency of the country.

Avendaño argues that the beginning of Venezuela’s gradual process of submission to Cuba didn’t start with the rise of Hugo Chávez to power. Instead, he writes, it was a very complex and sweeping long-term project orchestrated by Castro and supported by the country’s hard left that progressively corroded the Venezuelan institutions.

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