Cuba Prepared in Advance for the Venezuela Crisis / Juan Juan Almeida

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Cuban President Raul Castro

Juan Juan Almeida, 22 December 2015 — In addition to a being a major victory for the Venezuelan opposition over the Bolivarian coalition led by the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), many analysts have claimed that the December 6 elections in Venezuela could also lead to a something approaching an energy crisis in Cuba.

I do not think it is true that, after years of mismanagement, the Chavez movement exacerbated the country’s divisions, insulted the dignity of its people and, in return, got what it deserved: punishment at the ballot box, which — as in the story of Cinderella — turned an allegorical carriage into a hideous pumpkin.

The results upended the order of the Venezuelan National Assembly and undoubtedly dealt a hard blow to the Latin American left. But I would be hasty — perhaps even impulsive if not downright reckless — to claim that this important event could unleash a socio-economic crisis in our country, Cuba, similar to that experienced during the harsh years of the Special Period.

The truth is I have enormous respect for expert analysts of Cuban issues, especially those who do not take refuge in partisan positions. But to claim that the island’s government did not prepare for the looming quagmire from the moment it learned of Hugo Chavez’ illness is either to underestimate the demonstrably farsighted nature of Cuba’s leaders or to deny that the island’s economic performance, as measured by published but not yet released statistics, has shown some degree of growth that did not result from Venezuelan crude.

The reports that were coming out of Caracas and raining down on the offices of Cuba’s intelligence experts were as ample as a May downpour. Havana knew before anyone else of the enormous difficulties that Venezuelan officials were facing. It skillfully managed the growing tensions between Nicolas Maduro and his Siamese twin: the Speaker of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello. It analyzed in minute detail every aspect of the petroleum supply.

Even if it could have hypothetically gained all 167 seats in the National Assembly, the Venezuelan opposition would have had to think long and hard about fulfilling its campaign promise to cut off fuel supplies to Cuba. It knows that this is not really a gift but rather a bilateral exchange between two countries in which Venezuela supplies petroleum and Cuba exports thousands of professionals to work in a variety of social programs, most notably those related to health care.

Since the fall of the Soviet bloc, the Cuban government has learned to never again put all its eggs in one basket. It has a plan A, B, C, D and even a plan E (for Estados Unidos, or United States). The Venezuelan opposition knew they did not have a better (or cheaper) solution for confronting the country’s health problems. And with crude oil prices as low as $40 a barrel, they could not — or they could but should not — reverse course and turn down for political reasons the hundreds of Cuban doctors who treat thousands of poor families in Venezuela.

On the contrary. By leaving well enough alone, or even improving upon it, they not only would preserve an important social investment, they would also retain the votes of a strategic and valuable constituency. It’s gone for many years; it’s called politics.