Castro’s Disasterous Caracas Visit
By Daniel Lansberg-Rodríguez
23 hours ago
The Daily Beast
Deplaning at Venezuela’s Maiquetía airport on Wednesday morning, Raul
Castro, was met with all the pomp and circumstance befitting a visiting
head of state from a closely allied nation. Well, almost. As the Cuban
flag was hoisted in recognition of his arrival, something quite
unexpected happened—it fell off the pole.
Local interpretations of this unexpected turn of events have varied. Was
it a signal from disgruntled elements in the armed forces that are
rumored to resent the ever-increasing presence of Cuban “advisors”? Was
it opposition sabotage? Incompetence? An act of God perhaps? Or maybe
just an oddly poetic coincidence?
The only thing certain is that it could have been much worse. In 1958,
then Vice-President Richard Nixon arrived in Caracas on a “good will”
visit. Engaged by an angry mob upon arrival, Nixon and his wife were
yelled at, spat on, and pummeled with rocks. Attempting to flee in their
motorcade, the vice president’s car was surrounded by the hoard, rocked
until it overturned, and then very nearly set on fire. Local authorities
did nothing to intervene.
The savage welcome received by the future first couple can best be
understood as the result of years of pent up frustration by Venezuelans.
Mere months before the incident took place, the regime of Marco Pérez
Jimenez, a brutal military dictator, had been toppled following a rash
of massive student-led protests that paralyzed the capital. Perez
Jimenez had enjoyed strong ties with the United States: receiving the
Legion of Merit from President Eisenhower in 1954 for his “energy and
firmness of purpose in the fight against communism” and gracing the
cover of TIME magazine the following year under the heading “From Buried
Riches, a Golden Rule.” Many Venezuelans blamed the United States for
the horrors inflicted upon them by their regime.
Today the country is once again racked by protests and it is Cuba’s
relationship to an increasingly unpopular Venezuelan regime that is
capable of inspiring such passions. For days leading up to the arrival,
rumors of an impending state visit from Castro had circulated wildly on
the Twitter feeds and blogs that are the primary source of information
for regime opponents in Venezuela’s heavily censored media landscape.
Indeed, many of these came bundled with outrage or even menace. Castro’s
coming was only confirmed the day of the visit itself, purportedly due
to security concerns.
Castro’s visit was tied to a series of official events commemorating the
one-year anniversary of the death of former Venezuelan President Hugo
Chávez. At a time when Nicolás Maduro is struggling to keep his head
above water following weeks of daily demonstrations against his rule,
Chávez remains greatly admired by many Venezuelans. Many still speak of
the deceased president with epitaphs such as “The Giant,” “The
Immortal,” and “The Eternal Comandante.” And with the economy in free
fall, crime rampant, shortages of basic goods, and inflation
skyrocketing, Maduro’s place as Chávez handpicked successor remains his
greatest claim to legitimacy among his support base.
Yet the festivities come at a bit of an awkward time for Maduro, as his
disproportionate use of state and paramilitary forces against unarmed
protesters has drawn criticism worldwide. While only a few neighboring
countries have dared to speak critically of such measures, there is a
sense that they may be keeping their distance. Castro was accompanied by
only three other Heads-of-State: Nicaragua, Bolivia and Suriname. Cuba
and Venezuela have a complex history. The year after Perez Jimenez’s
fall, Fidel Castro’s insurrection seized power in Cuba. Meanwhile
Venezuela experienced four decades of relatively successful democracy,
even at a time when most of South America was mired in instability or
autocracy. Following an incident in 1967, when Cuban-trained guerrillas
landed on the Venezuelan coast and engaged in a firefight with
Venezuelan troops, the countries remained at arm’s length.
This changed with the advent of the Chávez government in 1999, which
ushered in a new era of rapprochement between the two nations. Well
suited ideologically, the regimes were drawn closer together as
Venezuela became more estranged from the international status quo on
account of its expropriations and bellicose rhetoric. A primary driver
for this was the strong personal relationship between Chávez himself and
Fidel Castro, a mentor figure whom the younger man would sometimes refer
to as “father.”
In 2002, when briefly overthrown in a bloodless coup, Chávez’s one
request to his captors was that they send him to Cuba. By 2006, when
Chávez redesigned the Venezuelan flag by adding an eighth star, many
joked that it was meant to represent the lone star of the Cuban standard.
Chávez’s cancer diagnosis was first made public in 2011, and the sudden
need to determine a successor, soon exacerbated preexisting fissures
within the ruling United Socialist Party. While many within the regime
prioritize maximizing Venezuela’s regional presence and maintaining
friendly client governments in poorer countries like Cuba, Bolivia,
Ecuador and Nicaragua, there is powerful and influential faction that
regards spreading the revolution internationally to be little more than
an extravagant waste.
Economically, Cuba has gotten a great deal of financial benefit from the
bilateral relationship, estimated to be around five billion dollars a
year in cash and carry. Having suffered widespread poverty, and even
famine, following the collapse of their previous benefactor, the Soviet
Union, maintaining the friendly regime in Caracas is a crucial priority
for Havana. Maduro, who spent an academic year at the “school of
political education” in Cuba, has been very much Havana’s man from the
start, and the government in Havana pushed hard to make sure the crown
would be passed to him (in no small part, so that the petro-dollars
would continue to flow in their direction.)
Towards reciprocating Venezuela’s generosity, Cuba has sent doctors to
ameliorate Venezuela’s loss of medical professionals due to the rise in
emigration among its educated classes as well as military and tactical
advisors to assist various state agencies and security forces. Many
Venezuelans feel that they’ve been getting the shorter end of the stick,
and as their country’s own economy continues to implode, the importance
of maintaining revolutionary allies, rather than addressing domestic
concerns, has become an increasingly tricky argument to convincingly make.
For many, the events of the last few weeks have only intensified
perceptions of Cuba as regional boogeyman. As opposition protests
against the regime have continued unabated, even in the face of
repressive measures, anger toward Cuba has remained a dominant theme.
Some Venezuelans are convinced that the very worst violence unleashed on
protesters has actually been committed by Cuban plants, not Venezuelan
security force personnel.
Whether or not that is true, this very perception speaks volumes about
the extent to which many actual Venezuelans blame Cuba for this mess.
Perhaps for some, this is simple paranoia or else a way of reconciling
national pride with personal frustration by redirecting that passion
toward a third party. Then again, given the stakes involved, there is
every reason to believe that Havana will do anything in its power to
keep Maduro afloat, despite the eagerness of many Venezuelans—even among
the ruling socialist party— to see the influence of the Castros, like a
cigar butt, stamped out and cast away.
Source: Castro’s Disasterous Caracas Visit – Yahoo News –