Cuba and Venezuela: Stormy Weather / Iván García

Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez in a "proof of life" photo with newspaper. Source: Toronto Star, November 14, 2011
Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez in a “proof of life” photo with newspaper. Source: Toronto Star, November 14, 2011

Iván García, 1 August 2016 — Whatever serious prophecy is offered, Venezuelan President, Nicolás Maduro, has very few options. It’s an uncomfortable liability even for the followers of chavismo [the politics of Hugo Chávez, who preceded Maduro].

No one knows the interior of the Palace of Miraflores better than the Havana Regime. It’s an undisputed merit that the Castro brothers have conquered Venezuela without firing a shot.

Thanks to Fidel Castro’s charisma and his ideological narrative, the Island holds the reins of power in Venezuela. Of course, the intelligence reports that land on the desk of President Raúl Castro detail with surgical precision that Maduro’s government is numbering its days.

And farsighted as always, with the almost genetic capacity that the Cuban autocracy has for surviving political storms, they look for a new departure gate.

For the second time, the Castro Regime is at the edge of a precipice. On both occasions, the crisis for the dinosaurs in Havana has not been provoked by the insipid internal dissidence. The key has been in petroleum and foreign money.

The Soviet years of Fidel Castro will pass into the annals of political science for the skill with which the bearded one sucked subsidies out of the Caucasus like a vampire.

At one sitting, Castro wasted twice the amount of money given by the United States to the Marshall Plan to rescue Europe after the Second World War.

When the Kremlin’s blank check ended, Cuba was thrown into a motionless economic crisis that extended for 27 years and had its worst moment in the 1990s.

But Fidel’s iron social control and delirious narrative, full of promises, was a dam that put the brakes on popular discontent. Raúl Castro, elected by a hair, doesn’t have the charisma or the eloquence of his brother.

Although on the international plane Castro II has gathered laurels that the old comandante never heard of: the reestablishment of relations with the United States, Enemy Número Uno, forgiveness of the external debt and managing to convert himself into an important actor in the signing of a peace agreement between the FARC and the Government of Colombia.

As for the economy, the Island hasn’t managed to take off. The Cuba of the ’80s, its best stage of economic bonanza, is different from present-day Cuba. Now more dollars are coming in through the export of medical services; more millions are received through family remittances, and foreign tourism has increased (and also national, because of the hard currency).

But the same as the last three decades, Cuba continues importing disposable diapers and even toothbrushes, and agriculture hasn’t managed to detach itself from debt, among other causes, from the destabilizing mechanisms of control.

Cubans eat what they can and when they can. Presently, between 60 and 90 percent of the family budget goes for buying food. Most people have coffee without milk for breakfast, and their future continues to be one big question mark.

So the solution is to emigrate. In the last 20 months 78,000 Cubans have emigrated in an irregular way. Another 35,000 have done it legally, under the U.S. program of family reunification.

From 2013, the year in which the Regime implemented a new emigration policy, the number of Cubans who fled poverty now surpasses the 125,000 that left by the port of Mariel during the migration crisis of 1980.

And the exodus doesn’t seem to be stopping, in spite of the limitations and restrictions of the region’s countries. But in these moments the biggest problem of the Castro Government is the Venezuelan chaos.

Because Cuba didn’t do its homework correctly, agriculture, ranching, fishing and industry don’t produce enough for Cuba to be self-sufficient. The decrease of 40 percent in deliveries of Venezuelan oil has set off alarms.

For the Government, which has privileged information about Venezuela, it wasn’t a surprise. And the inconvenience could be even worse. The rise of the Venezuelan opposition to power, something that could happen in a little more than a year, would cut off the pipeline of petroleum to the Island and the handling of credits in hard currency, from which Cuba obtains huge earnings as intermediaries for Venezuelan companies.

When Raúl Castro looked at the political map of the continent, he didn’t see good news. Some of his buddies are praying to the water for signs. Dilma is struggling to escape a political trial. As for economic problems, Rafael Correa has joined the recent earthquake. And Evo Morales couldn’t continue being hooked up to power.

ALBA, the movement created by Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez for Latin American unity, based on economic exchange, fair prices and even a common money, is going the way of a shipwreck. China, Vietnam and Russia, allies of the Regime, never came back to offer blank checks.

The present “boom” in Cuba is more a media event than effective. A type of Jurassic Park where celebrities and nostalgic tourists want to visit the only redoubt of communism in the Caribbean before it becomes contaminated by capitalism and U.S. fast-food signs arrive.

What option remains to the Cuban Government? It’s difficult to foresee the reaction of a group of old men, ex-guerrillas and fossils of the Cold War. Their gang mentality could drive them to row forward or dig in.

While they remain in power, they’ll accept any rule. When they see themselves threatened, they’ll hibernate. Time is on the side of the hard nucleus of the olive-green autocracy. They have five or 10 years to resist; after them, the deluge.

President Barack Obama’s visit to Havana was a watershed. The most conservative line came out ahead. But the Talibans [hard-core] have a complex context ahead of them.

Maduro is a political cadaver. He stinks. You have to wait to see who wins the November elections in the U.S. To maintain Obama’s politics. Hillary would be a breath of fresh air. Trump is unpredictable and angry.

The Creole reformists will lament not having taken advantage of the hand held out by Obama. In a new scenario, in order to establish businesses and obtain credits from the U.S., Cuba will have to make reforms of major importance.

In any event, we have to wait. The reporter thinks one thing, and the Castro brothers, another.

Translated by Regina Anavy