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Democracy in Venezuela and Cuba

By Diego Arria, Reprinted from The Miami Herald

Today, Chavez provides his ally and mentor Fidel Castro with about 100,000 barrels per day of essentially free oil. It's difficult to see how Mr. Castro could deal with a sudden cut-off of that oil flow. The depth of the relationship between the old dictator and his Venezuelan admirer is the reason that both will go to any length to keep Mr. Chavez in power. That includes quashing the present attempt to get rid of Mr. Chavez by holding a recall referendum. The Sandinista experience in Nicaragua of holding - and losing -- elections is a lesson that hasn't been lost on the Caribbean duo. Both know that a free election in Venezuela could kill two birds with one stone.

Who could have imagined that the Castro regime would end up in control of Venezuela and its wealth without firing a single shot almost fifty years after the democratic government of Rómulo Betancourt defeated a Cuban backed insurgency by Venezuelan Communists?

For sure not Castro. Not even in his wildest dreams could he have expected such a turn of events. Now, in the final years of his life, Venezuela’s oil wealth is Castro’s for the taking. Twenty thousand Cuban military and intelligence officers are garrisoned in Venezuela, directing the so-called Bolivarian Revolution. Meanwhile, thousands of young Venezuelan are been indoctrinated in Cuba. Castro’s ambassador in Caracas is more influential than Chavez’s own ministers; and none other than Chavez ‘ brother is Venezuela’s ambassador to Cuba, while Chavez consults Mr. Castro daily. Thanks to Chavez Cuba, is no longer a solitary island in the Caribbean. Its revolution is now anchored in the continent.

Should not the United States and democratic Latin American countries be concerned with the emergence of the Castro –Chavez alliance? The wily, and time-tested Cuban political strategist, and his pupil are armed today with the huge resources of Venezuelan oil. This new “ special relationship” which replaces the old Soviet-Cuba one, has been forged when there is an enormous potential for unrest in Latin America. Indeed, Chavez has opened wide Venezuela’s doors to every type of subversion coming from Cuba or terrorist controlled areas of Colombia. With Chavez, the Caribbean has become a sinister Bermuda Triangle of security where an unholy alliance of Cuba, Venezuela and that part of Colombia controlled by terrorists financed by oil and drugs, will represent a major threat to international peace and security. Think of Afghanistan with oil, but in the Americas.

Maybe some day the Organization of American States (OAS) will address Venezuela’s subversion of peace and trampling of the principles of the Democratic Charter of the Americas. The Charter approved in September 2001 reaffirms members' commitment to democracy and charges the OAS with the obligation to assist, and in some cases to intervene where democracy is threatened. But I fear the OAS will take no action against the Chavez regime. For a long time now, many of Venezuela’s Latin American neighbors have been living in denial, watching indifferently as Venezuela sheds its democracy and turns into an authoritarian state. Meanwhile Chavez has successfully used Venezuela’s oil to buy the support of a large voting block within the organization.

More than ever, Venezuela’s oil has become its curse. Chavez grants to a few U.S. oil companies exceptionally advantageous terms to do business in Venezuela. They in turn, have reciprocated his largesse by lobbying strongly in Washington in Chavez favor. The result: the authoritarian Chavez enjoys enormous latitude regardless of his well-known hostility towards the U.S. and his alliance with Castro. Indeed, the U.S. has allowed Chavez to blissfully undermine the Colombian government’s attempt to defeat the drug-financed terrorists, which have held that country hostage for more than four decades. Venezuela, says the State Department, provides “safe heaven to narco terrorists groups and weapons and ammunitions-some from official Venezuelan stocks.” (Patterns of Global Terrorism-State Department Annual Report 2003)

Forty-one years ago, Blas Roca, the Cuban Communist party leader eerily foretold the importance of Venezuela for the Cuban regime. “When the people of Venezuela are victorious, when they get their total independence from imperialism, then all of America will be aflame, all of America will push forward, all of America will be liberated once and for all from the ominous yoke of American imperialism,” said Mr. Roca at a meeting of Latin American Communists Parties in Havana in January 24th, 1963.” Their fight help us today, and their victory will mean a tremendous boost for us. We no longer will be a solitary island of the Caribbean facing the Yankee imperialists, for we will have land support on the continent.”

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