Ivan Garcia, 7 February 2019 — John Bolton, Donald Trump’s National Security advisor, is asking autocrat Nicolas Maduro to renounce power in Miraflores and to enjoy a political retirement on a Caribbean beach. Otherwise, he forecasts a terrorist prison cell for him at the United States’ Guantanamo Naval Base, more than 1000 kilometers east of Havana.
So far, forty nations have stopped recognizing Maduro. The European Union gave him an ultimatum to carry out free elections, and Juan Guaidó, the self-proclaimed president, is trying to flip the last Maduro bastion: the armed forces.
“I believe that it is necessary for the military to cede and leave Maduro all alone and thus to avoid greater ills, at least the mid-level commanders, because those higher are corrupt and very committed, and they know that their heads will roll next to the president’s. Let’s hope that is not delayed much because Maduro is already considering the idea of new elections, though not presidential elections, but to restore the National Assembly, and we already know how elections are there, the same as here.
“In fact, that company that was in charge of the technical side of the elections, and was paid money for it, denounced the filth of the process. Maduro intends a new election in order to manipulate and erase the opposition as usual. For Venezuelans, it is NOW or NEVER,” says Reinaldo, a retired former history teacher who has followed the events in Simon Bolivar’s homeland since the first coup attempt on February 4, 1992.
With exceptions, like that of the former history teacher, in Cuba the Venezuelan soap opera is watched without much passion. The Castro brothers were always allied unconditionally to Hugo Chavez, and currently the neo-Castroite Miguel Diaz-Canel keeps offering military and intelligence advice to Nicolas Maduro. But there are other political actors involved in Venezuela. Each one seeks to guard its interests, like Russia, Turkey and China, who have invested billions of dollars in the mining and energy sectors.
In the cases of Turkey and China, if the opposition guarantees a slice of the future economic pie, it does not matter to them how Maduro’s luck may run. Putin has other interests. He is looking to establish Russia as a center of world power and in geopolitical strategy to create a conflict in a United States zone of influence. But if the Trump administration promises to lift economic sanctions on Russia after the annexation of the Crimea or to guarantee it will not lose its investments in Venezuela, the Russian president wouldn’t mind changing his posture.
Several Caribbean islands back Maduro because he guarantees them oil for the price of peanuts. The US and the EU are counting on a democratic system and on having a partner and not an enemy in Miraflores, for political and economic reasons: Venezuela has 25% of the world’s oil reserves, in addition to tantalite, gold and fresh water sources. Cuba supports Venezuela for the simple reason that the late Fidel Castro was the progenitor of Chavismo.
The Cuban dictatorship paved the way to Miraflores without firing a shot or causing a coup. With absurd ideological prescriptions and erroneous political doctrines, Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez drove the country to its current precipice.
Maduro’s Venezuela is the best example of what not to do in political and economic terms. Submerged in poverty, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), the governing party, is incapable of producing enough petroleum to permit feeding a population that, thanks to the “Maduro diet,” has lost on average from 22 to 33 pounds each due to lack of food.
It’s too much. An oil country with constant blackouts. If Venezuela does not change, it will suddenly enter a primitive stage, plagued by criminal gangs. Startled, the world has seen how a nation that used to have inequalities but was immensely rich, after the arrival of Chavez and Maduro has retreated to the extreme of shared misery, turning survival into a way of life with hyperinflation that raises the price of food every three days.
What is happening in Venezuela is not a priority among ordinary Cubans who have spent decades subsisting on the ration booklet, surrounded by penury and limitations. In spite of the state media’s deployment of its campaigns and panegyrics to rescue its soldier Maduro, Cubans haven’t been aware of the Venezuelan context.
According to the German newspaper Deutsche Welle, “Thanks to the arrival of the internet to mobile phones, in Cuba citizens can more immediately compare the news about Venezuela published by the foreign and independent outlets, reports quite distinct from the triumphalist and totally biased fanfare of the official press. The Telesur channel, controlled by the PSUV and broadcast on the Island, has shown a pathological blindness when it comes to counting demonstrators and protests.”
Roger, a nurse who worked in Caracas a year ago, insists that he is better informed than most Cubans. “The Venezuela that Telesur and [Cuba’s state newspaper] Granma describe is not what I knew. Eighty percent of Venezuelans demand Maduro’s head, they are fed up with a guy fatter than a mother-in-law, always shouting, insulting and accusing everyone of plotting to assassinate him. Every time he speaks on television people grab some rum, go out on the street and hit the bottle. Cuba is very bad, but Venezuela is much worse.”
Jaime, a state taxi driver, asserts that he is more or less up to date on what is happening in Venezuela from listening to international radio stations on short wave. In his opinion, “The western democracies have rushed to support the claims of Juan Guaidó, a guy very well know in his home. I don’t like Maduro, nor do I like Trump, but both, although we don’t like them, they are official presidents until they leave or they ‘go’ legally.”
Dagoberto, a baker, does not understand the role of the two presidents. “Why doesn’t Maduro put the other one in jail? Didn’t he win an election? In Cuba no one elects the president, and no one opens fire on us. The Cuban government supports him because he gives it oil. Maduro thinks he’s the hottest thing on the planet, but if Venezuela is fucked, in Cuba we’re going to be living in the dark.”
Laritza, employed in a private cafe, says that her mother spent two years on a mission on Venezuela. “She said it was in flames. Teens with machine guns on the corners in the poor neighborhoods and at night you can’t go out in the street. If you drive a car, you can’t stop at the lights. In Venezuela, everything is lacking, but they have industrial quantities of petroleum: Give it a kick anywhere, and it spouts black gold. If they knock Maduro off his horse, in Cuba we’ll return to the Special Period.”
Orlando, a private hairdresser, comments: “Maduro is a shit cocktail; fat and gaudy, he is unbearable when he speaks and disgraceful when he starts dancing with his wife, who looks older since she dyed her hair blonde. If they get him out of there, he will surely come here. I imagine him driving a bus in Havana,” and he lets out a laugh. [Ed. note: in Maduro’s pre-political life he was a busdriver.]
Analysts and economic experts predict that Cuba will enter a cycle of economic decline if Maduro steps down. “But never like in the Special Period of the ’90’s, when the GDP fell some 35 percent. Now the economy is more diversified and in spite of the obstacles and regulations, self-employment has been consolidated (recently the Ministry of Labor reported that more than 1.4 million Cubans work in the private sector, 13% of the population).
“Anyway, with or without Maduro, the country is going to enter a recession because there is no substitute for Venezuelan oil obtained by barter. The Cuban government does not have enough liquidity to spend two or three billion on buying oil on the international market,” underscores a Havana economist.
Occupied in the odyssey of getting food and solving daily problems, with few exceptions Cubans do not have the time or the opportunity to be informed about Nicolas Maduro and Juan Guaidó through foreign or independent media outlets. With other undertones, Venezuela seems to them too much like what they have experienced. A deja vu.
Translated by Mary Lou Keel