How Cubans See the Crisis in Venezuela / Iván García

Leopoldo López, kisses the Venezuelan flag shortly after arriving at his home in Caracas. After serving nearly 4 years of a 13 year sentence for “arson and conspiracy” he was sent home under house arrest.

Iván García,  11 July 2017 —  After painting the facades of several buildings along 10 de Octobre street, the workers of the brigade shelter from the terrifying heat in doorways, eating lunch, having a smoke or simply chatting.

These days, in Havana’s La Vibora neighborhood, in the area between Red Square and the old Bus Terminal, there is a hive of workers dedicated to converting the one-time terminal into a cooperative taxi base.

The work includes asphalting the surrounding streets and a quick splash of cheap paint on the buildings along the street.

“They say that Raul Castro or Miguel Diaz-Canel is going to come to visit the Luis de La Puente Uceda Limited Access Surgical Hospital and to inaugurate the taxi base,” says a worker sweating buckets.

When they finish talking about the poor performance of the national baseball team against an independent league in Canada, a group of workers comment on the street protest that have been going on for more than a month, led by the opposition in Venezuela, and how much the economy and energy picture of Cuba could be affected.

Yander, in dark blue overalls, shrugs his shoulders and responds, “I don’t follow politics much. But I hear on the news is that place (Venezuela) is on fire. According to what I understood, the Venezuela right is burning everything in their path. They’re as likely to burn a market as they are some guy for being a chavista [supporter of Maduro’s government]. If Maduro falls off his horse, things are going to get ugly in Cuba. The oil comes from there

Opinions among the workers, students, food workers consulted about Venezuela, demonstrates a profound disinterest in political information among a wide sector of the citizenry.

Younger people are active in social networks. But they pass on political content. Like Susana, a high school student, who with her smartphone is taking a selfie which eating chicken breasts in a recently opened private care, to post later on Instagram. When asked about the Venezuela challenge, she answers at length.

“You can’t fight with a political grindstone. What are you going to resolve with that. You’re not going to change the world and you can make problems for yourself. I heard about Venezuela on [the government TV channel] Telesur, but I don’t know why they started the protests. Nor do I know why there have been so many deaths. The only thing I know is that Cuba is strongly tied to Venezuela by oil. And if the government changes, if those who come, if they are capitalists, they will stop sending us oil. So I want Maduro to remain in power,” explains Susana.

Not many on the island analyze the crisis in Venezuela in a wider context. The South American nation is trapped between the worst government management, a socialist model that doesn’t work, and the hijacking of democratic institutions.

Ordinary Cubans don’t know to what point the Castro regime is involved in the design of the the local and continentals strategies of Chavismo. Opinion in Cuba is fueled by a myopic official press and Telesur, a propagandistic television channel created with the petrodollars of Hugo Chavez and Rafael Correa.

Except for specialists and people who look for information in other sources, most of the Cuban population believes that the violence originates with the opposition, classified as terrorists and fascists by the official media.

They know nothing of the fracture within chavismo itself, as in the case of Attorney General Luisa Ortega or the former Interior Minister Miguel Torres. Nor that at least 23 of the 81 who have died in more than ninety days of protests, was due the excessive use of violence by the Bolivarian National Guard.

Alexis, a private taxi driver, believes that the state press sweeps under the carpet any news that shows the brutality of the chavista regime. His concern is that “if they’re fucked, we’re fucked too. Man, then the blackouts will start, the factory closures, and eating twice a day will be a luxury. There’s no certainty about the origins of what is happening in Venezuela. I suppose the Venezuelans would like to free themselves from a system like ours. If they manage to do it then Cuba isn’t going to know what to do with itself.”

A wide segment of Cubans think that if the street protests in Venezuela end up deposing Maduro, given the domino effect, hard times will return to the Cuban economy.

“These people (the regime) have never done things well. That is why they are always passing the hat to survive or live off favors from others. We have not been able to made the earth produce. Everything we have we export. We are a leech. Thanks to the Venezuelan oil and the dollars that come from relatives in Miami, the country has not sunk into absolute misery,” points our Geraldo, an elderly retiree.

Geraldo clarifies, “It’s not out of selfishness, political blindness or love of Maduro that many Cubans are betting on the continuity of chavismo. It’s pure survival instinct.”

And the fact is that the economy has not yet hit bottom. Statistics and predictions forecast new adjustments and an economic setback if there is a change of government in Miraflores Palace.

Cuba is still not at the level of Haiti, the poorest country in Latin American, but it is headed that way. As the former USSR was, Venezuela is our lifeline.