14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 20 February 2019 — Coincidence or destiny, this is a defining week for Cuba and Venezuela. February 23 will be the key date for the humanitarian aid accumulated on the border with Colombia to reach Venezuelans and, a few hours later, Cubans will face, for the first time in decades, a ballot with the option of No.
That both events are occurring almost in unison complicates the scenario for both the Miraflores Palace and the Plaza of the Revolution. The sealed block that has been formed in the last two decades could be about to crack on one of its sides, but the other – irredeemably – will be touched by whatever happens. Both countries are “sewn to the same star,” in the words of the Chilean poet, Vicente Huidobro.
Raúl Castro knows that Nicolás Maduro is condemned. With a long experience of breathing energy into and sustaining guerrilla movements, leftist parties and presidents with whom it shares an ideology, Havana is an expert in detecting when the end has come. Its intelligence network, woven into the South American country, has also helped, in recent months, to complete the portrait of the death throes.
Juan Guaidó’s majority in international support, the deep economic crisis that Venezuelans are experiencing, and the disrepute that overflows the ruling cupola are precipitating Maduro’s fall. His administration becomes more indefensible every day, in step with what is learned about repressive excesses and the volume of looting it has perpetrated against one of the richest countries of Latin America.
The big question is what will Havana do when that end is closer and the so-called Bolivarian Revolution is left with barely a pulse or a breath.
For the time being, Castro is betting on closing ranks with Maduro and warning in international forums of a possible “foreign invasion of Venezuela,” while, behind closed doors, he revives the political rallies in support of Caracas, the massive signing of a commitment of solidarity with the Chavistas, and an intense media campaign in all the keys of the Cold War. Will he go from saying to doing and turn these gestures into military support?
To answer this question, we have to take into account the internal situation on the Island. The Cuban regime is experiencing a moment of extreme fragility. The “historical generation” that controlled the country for more than half a century has, for years, been filling the empty niches in the mausoleums, and can barely captain a strategy from the conference tables. The economy is touching bottom and in the streets the scenes of huge lines to buy basic products have returned, while the young people are ideologically apathetic.
The Constitution conceived by Raul Castro as the obligatory road map that his heirs must follow has not managed to arouse massive sympathy and campaigns to vote no or to abstain, at the expense of the results, have permeated society. Since he was hand-picked for the presidency, Miguel Diáz-Canel has had to deal with growing popular discontent, which was seen in a video that went viral on social networks when his caravan raced away while dozens of victims of the tornado in Havana’s Regla neighborhood screamed reproaches.
The country seems to be coming apart on all sides and the arrival of the internet on cellphones last December, despite the high prices and the unstable service, contributes to the sensation that throats and eyes have sprung up on every corner, reporting and denouncing what officialdom hid from view. This, along with the growing belligerence from Washington, makes the short-term future of Castroism quite uncertain.
In these circumstances, embarking on military support for Maduro would be a death sentence for Castroism, and the regime knows it. The authorities are aware that a good part of public opinion will applaud a reprisal against Havana if it dares to send armed troops to Venezuela. As a cunning survivor of endless diplomatic and political strife, Raul Castro has realized that this time it’s serious. Very serious.
Thus, he is likely to support his disciple until the moment comes to abandon him or to rescue him and bring him to Havana to live a long exile on this island that will become his home, a refuge, a prison. We cannot rule out that he will “choose to die” in the contest to give a “heroic closure” to the Bolivarian Revolution and to place the photo of another martyr in the pantheon of the Latin American left. As soon as it is clear that the Venezuelan wet nurse is offering more losses than benefits, the Plaza of the Revolution will depart, but not before shouting to the four winds “the struggle continues.”
If Venezuela manages to recover the path towards democracy and Guaidó calls for elections that Chavismo will not have the remotest chance of winning, that wave of changes will also reach Cuba’s coasts. Castroism’s diplomatic solitude will become more acute in the region, the few resources that continue to arrive from Caracas will end up on the lapels of the generals, and the senior officials of the Communist Party will be left with the shameful insignia of a defeat.
Diaz-Canel will be pushed to undertake deeper economic and political reforms in the absence of a patron and the resurgence of daily problems; the opposition will have a scenario more conducive to winning new battles with each flexibilization that is made from above or with each frustration that springs from below, while Cuba’s young people will have a close referent to inspire them and a Venezuelan mirror to see themselves through.
If Venezuela succeeds, we Cubans will be closer to also achieving it.
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