Saturday, October 29, 2005

Raul a Hurdle to Cuba, Venezuela Unity

Raul a Hurdle to Cuba, Venezuela Unity

Zimbabwe Independent (Harare)
October 28, 2005
Posted to the web October 28, 2005

By Gwynne Dyer

"IT wouldn't be outrageous," said Ana Faya of her suspicion that Cuba
and Venezuela might unite one of these days.

After all, the senior analyst at the Canadian Foundation for the
Americas (Focal) in Ottawa pointed out, the idea of uniting Latin
American countries has been around since the revolutions of Bolivar and
San Martin against Spain almost two centuries ago.

And she certainly knows how Cuban Communists think: for 10 years, until
she fled to Canada in 2000, she was an official of the Central Committee
of the Cuban Communist Party.

The Cuban regime's biggest problem by far is: who succeeds Fidel Castro?

The official answer is his youngest brother Raul, currently
vice-president and defence minister, but ideologically committed Cuban
Communists still have problems with the idea that political power can be
inherited. They also suspect Raul of being soft on capitalism.

Fidel has had a remarkably rapid recovery from a fall last October that
broke his arm and shattered his kneecap in eight places, but he will
turn 80 next August.

He has ruled Cuba for 46 years, but he will soon have to be replaced. If
the revolution is to survive, his replacement had better be a man with
contemporary revolutionary credentials, a man with the charisma and
resources to keep the show on the road. A man, perhaps, like Hugo Chavez.

Chavez is Venezuelan, not Cuban, but that may not be as big a problem as
it seems. Many people on the left in Latin America, including
"Bolivarians" like Chavez and most of the Marxists, have always seen the
division of the region into more than a dozen Spanish-speaking countries
as a misfortune, not a law of nature.

Cuba and Venezuela are already closely tied economically and
politically, and Chavez, though neither a Communist nor a dictator,
shares Castro's social goals and his hostility to the United States. It
just might work.

As an analyst, Faya monitors what senior people in the Cuban regime and
in the governments of neighbouring countries are saying in public,
because it probably bears some relationship, however distant, to their
real intentions. And here is what she has been hearing recently.

On October 5, at the signing of the 6th Joint Commission on the
Comprehensive Cooperation Agreement between Cuba and Venezuela, Cuban
vice-president Carlos Lage Dávila said: "Our country has been accused of
not having a democracy, but in events like this one we realise that we
are one of the most democratic countries of the world, because we have
two presidents, Fidel and Chávez."

And Chavez replied: "Cuba and Venezuela have joined together, and at
this point, the world should know that our fate is sealed, that these
two homelands, which deep down are one, are opening a new road at
whatever cost."

It could be just the usual windy rhetoric, but suppose it isn't.

Suppose there actually is a plan to unite the two countries, with Chavez
and Castro as co-presidents, and to leave Chavez in power over both
countries when Castro, 30 years his senior, finally dies. "Castro has
the power and the credibility," Faya noted. "It's a real possibility."

But, she added, "It should take place while Castro is still in charge."
It's certainly not a plan that would appeal to Raul.

Where would Castro have got such a radical idea? One of his political
idols as a young man was the Egyptian revolutionary Gamal Abdel Nasser
whom he met soon after taking power on his famous trip to New York in 1960.

And at that time, Nasser was busy uniting Egypt and Syria in the United
Arab Republic.

It didn't last very long, but that doesn't mean that a similar
experiment in Spanish-speaking America would also be doomed to failure.

One great attraction of a political merger with Venezuela for Castro is
that Cuba would suddenly gain access to the cashflow and the political
clout of a major oil producer.

As for Chavez, his motives and his loyalties are transparently Bolivarian.

Visiting Italy last week, he went to Monte Sacro, near Rome, where Simon
Bolivar made his famous oath to free Latin America from Spanish rule
exactly two centuries ago.

Bolivar had said: "I shall not give rest to my arm nor respite to my
soul until I have broken the chains that oppress us by the will of the
Spanish power."

Chavez declared that Venezuelans "should not rest their arms or their
souls until we have broken the chains that oppress our people due to the
will of the North-American Empire."

Impractical, hopelessly idealistic stuff, in the sense that Cuba and
Venezuela would be only 35 million people together, totally outmatched
by the almost 300 million people and twenty-times-bigger economy of the
United States - but Washington is severely distracted by its faltering
Middle Eastern adventure at the moment.

History is full of surprises, and this could be one that really
overturns normal expectations. Uniting with Venezuela would not preserve
Castro's system unchanged after his death, for it is old, authoritarian,
and out of tune with the times.

But it might win Cuba enough time to make a peaceful transition to a
democratic system that retains the main gains of his revolution in terms
of equal access to education, healthcare and social support.

Chavez will never be a Cuban and he cannot rule that island in the
long-term - but in the short-term, he could save it a great deal of misery.

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