The Latell Report – February-March 2014
(www.miscelaneasdecuba.net).- The Latell Report analyzes Cuba’s
contemporary domestic and foreign policy, and is published periodically.
It is distributed by the electronic information service of the Cuba
Transition Project (CTP) at the University of Miami’s Institute for
Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS).
Cuban Strategy in Venezuela
Last Sunday Raul Castro set out the essence of Cuban policy toward the
increasingly volatile situation in Venezuela. Speaking to the Cuban
labor confederation he described it as “a complex crisis,” indicating
considerable alarm in Havana about how Cuba’s vital economic and
security interests might be affected.
Memories of the outcomes of three earlier crises in Caribbean and Latin
American countries tightly allied with Cuba must be worrying Raul and
others in the leadership.
In September 1973 Salvador Allende was overthrown in Chile in a savage
military coup as the Marxist upheaval that he led for three years in a
partnership with Fidel Castro ended. Allende’s death in the coup was a
devastating blow to Cuban prestige and a significant personal loss for
Castro. Allende was wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying a submachine
gun Fidel had given him when he committed suicide in the presidential
Ten years later in tiny Grenada, Cuban ally Maurice Bishop was the
victim of a surprise coup that installed the more radical Cord-Austin
regime in power. But Bishop was executed by a firing squad, along with a
number of his supporters, giving rise to chaos and an American military
intervention supported by several other Caribbean states that restored
democratic rule. Bishop had been particularly close to Fidel Castro, an
adoring acolyte. His death was another serious blow to Cuban aspirations
for leadership among third world and developing nations.
In 1990, the closest of all the Cuban allied regimes was turned out of
office in democratic elections. Daniel Ortega and his Sandinista
revolution, tied inextricably to Cuba since the 1960s, had lost. Of the
three regional disasters for Cuban influence, this was the most
punishing for Havana.
But none of these calamities for Cuba compares to the enormity of the
possible loss of Venezuela if the Bolivarian revolution loses power as a
result of the massive demonstrations and unrest that has buffeted the
country for two weeks now. Cuba receives enormous financial and other
forms of assistance from Caracas, amounting recently to as much as $13
billion annually according to respected economists.
It is not surprising then, that Raul expressed full support for
Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, praising his “intelligence and
firmness in the way he has handled” the crisis. Raul gave assurances of
Cuba’s “full support for the Bolivarian and Chavista revolution and
compañero Nicolas Maduro.”
Siding unmistakably with the brutal tactics of the Venezuelan security
forces, Raul condemned “energetically” the “violent incidents unleashed
by fascist groups” in Venezuela, “causing deaths and scores of
injuries.” He implied that the United States was supporting the
anti-government demonstrators and might even consider intervening.
It is not surprising that Cuba is unequivocally backing its man in
Caracas. Maduro, after all, was the Cuban regime’s choice to succeed
Hugo Chavez after his death a year ago. Maduro appeared at the time to
be the best candidate, well known to Cuban intelligence and diplomatic
officers, and considered to be a thoroughly reliable ally. The likely
concerns they had about Maduro’s abilities and qualifications were put
But how long will Havana support him? Maduro’s leadership has come under
increasing pressure as protests have intensified. He has made a number
of laughable blunders. The governor of Tachira state criticized Maduro’s
handling of demonstrations in his state, a stronghold of anti-government
sentiment. More importantly, the governor for years has been a close
ally of assembly president Diosdado Cabello, considered Maduro’s
principal rival in the Bolivarian leadership.
Raul Castro and his numerous emissaries in Venezuela are unlikely to
stay indefinitely behind Maduro if his standing sinks to anything close
to an untenable situation. The Cuban stake in receiving continued
Venezuelan largesse is so great, that Raul will likely do whatever seems
necessary to keep the spigot open. If that meant moving with Venezuelan
military and other allies to dump the president under some pretext, he
would be the victim of cold Cuban calculation.
But such a decision would be fraught with risks. Would Cabello, or some
other anointed successor, prove to be as reliable an ally? Would a
Cuban-engineered coup arouse even greater opposition in the streets, and
possibly in the Venezuelan military? Anecdotal reports of mounting
popular animosity toward the large Cuban presence in Venezuela are being
heard more often.
If opposition protests continue, and adverse trends persist, will the
Bolivarian revolution survive? If not, the damage to the Cuban economy
will be devastating—though probably not as terrible as when Soviet
assistance was terminated. How then would Raul Castro’s government deal
with such a crippling crisis?
Brian Latell is the author of Castro’s Secrets: Cuban Intelligence, the
CIA, and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy (Palgrave Macmillan,
2013). A former National Intelligence Officer for Latin America, he is
now a senior research associate at the Institute for Cuban &
Cuban-American Studies, University of Miami.
Source: The Latell Report – February-March 2014 – Misceláneas de Cuba –