Guillermo I. Martinez | Columnist
October 25, 2007
As Bob Dylan said; "Times they are a changin'."
Consider for example the early years and decades of the Castro
revolution and the effect it had in Latin America, Africa and even the
Cuba was a small isolated island — albeit the largest of the Greater
Antilles — with a population of less than 10 million people. Yet, alone
first, and then as a surrogate of the Soviet Union, Cuba had armies
fighting wars in Africa. It ran training centers for guerrilla movements
in Central America. It even tried to launch its own guerrilla movements
in Venezuela and Bolivia. We recently celebrated the death in Bolivia of
Che Guevara in one of Cuba's many failures.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, political analysts in the hemisphere knew
that Cuba was a dangerous opponent willing to send armed men all over
the world to defend Soviet interests.
At a dinner party in Peru in 1972, a Cuban intelligence official and a
Soviet diplomat got into an argument when the Cuban said that the Soviet
Union was not a truly revolutionary regime. "You have the desire to
create more communist states all over the world, but we are the ones to
put up the dead to achieve these goals."
It was true. Cuban soldiers had become mercenaries for Soviet ambitions
in Africa and the Middle East. In the Western Hemisphere Fidel Castro
ran training camps for guerrillas fighting in Nicaragua and El Salvador.
He provided weapons, training and moral support to the Sandinistas in
Nicaragua and the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front in El
Salvador. He sent troops to Grenada to defend the island's socialist
government. Who knows where else his revolutionary trainees went?
That was when Castro was younger and Cuba was more aggressive. Despite
the assistance from the Soviet Union, Cuba had severe limitations to
what it could do to export its revolution to other countries in the
hemisphere. All his efforts failed. Being an island helped Cuba survive
the demise of the Soviet Union, but it also prevented it from using all
its force in helping guerrilla movements in neighboring countries.
Now, one can hear the drums of a new revolutionary offensive rising in
Latin America. And they are much more dangerous than in decades past,
for they come from countries with contiguous borders.
Understanding precisely how far Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is
willing to go is not easy. Some say his bark is bigger than his bite. I,
for one, take him at his word.
His comments last weekend from Santa Clara, Cuba concern me. He said
that Cuba and Venezuela should form a confederation and added that it
made little difference if he or Castro, were president of Cuba, and
Venezuela can be meaningless or extremely important.
A few days earlier, Chávez said that he would intervene to stop any
attempt to kill or oust Evo Morales in Bolivia.
These are not idle threats when the one making them has more
petrodollars than he knows what to do with. He could be helping curb
poverty, unemployment and inflation in Venezuela. But these mundane
things hold no glory. He wants to be the new master of Latin America, or
at least of as many countries in South America as he can bully, buy or
Chávez will face internal and external countries. Some large countries
in South America will not take kindly to his ever-growing interference
in the affairs of other countries. Internally, his opposition, while
disorganized, is still willing to put up a struggle.
But unless the United States, Europe, and Organization of American
States become more engaged in the region and decide that they must
present an alternative to the expansionist ambitions of Chávez, the
Venezuelan president has a much better chance of success than Cuba had
in supporting guerrilla movements in the hemisphere in decades past.
In sharp contrast to Cuba's options, Venezuela has the resources to
intervene wherever he sees the opportunity to do so. In contrast to
Cuba's isolation, Venezuela and its allies have contiguous borders to
most of the countries in South America.
Put Venezuela's monetary resources and Cuba's well-trained military
together, and they present a truly formidable force. Forget about who
will govern Cuba once Fidel is gone. It is now evident that Chávez will
play a role there too.
Countries who believe in an open form of government may continue to
ignore a Venezuela — Cuba alliance only at an enormous risk.
Guillermo I. Martínez is a journalist living in South Florida. He may be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.