Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Role of Cuba in Venezuela

The Role of Cuba in Venezuela
BY DOUGLAS FARAH - 02/24/2014, 07:59AM / Updated 02/25/2014, 03:51PM

While there is little doubt that the government of Nicolás Maduro in
Venezuela is on shaky ground, the Castro brothers in Cuba must be just
as nervous. For the past 14 years Venezuela has provided an economic
lifeline to the Cuban regime by sending them 120,000 barrels of oil a
day – about half of the island's needs – for no cash down. Without that
fuel, valued at some $3.6 billion, Cuba's fragile economy would come to
a screeching halt, much as it did with the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

Cuba, in return, has provided the Chávez and Maduro governments with
something that on the surface seems to be of far less value: medical
doctors, sports trainers and social workers, all of whom have helped set
up social programs known as misiones to bring medical, education and
social projects to poor areas across the country. The misiones have
helped shore up the government support in many places by providing
tangible benefits.

But with the doctors and trainers came another key component that is
little discussed: Following the 2002 attempted coup d'état against
Chávez, he turned most of his intelligence structure under Cuban
leadership, and convinced his allies in Bolivia and Ecuador – Evo
Morales and Rafael Correa respectively – to do the same. Chávez publicly
referred to Fidel Castro as his spiritual "father" and visited the
island hundreds of times to seek the advise of his revolutionary elder.

So, when unsure who to trust and caught by surprise by the coup, Chávez
turned to the best in the hemisphere at monitoring the internal
opposition, stifling dissent and carrying block by block surveillance –
the Cubans, who have survived withering economic crisis, mass migrations
and a U.S. embargo for 40 years. He was never caught off guard by what
was happening on the street again.

Now Cuban advisors work in the very highest echelons of the Venezuelan,
Bolivian and Ecuadoran executive offices. Cubans train the president's
elite security team and Cubans are a constant presence. In a significant
restructure after the 2002 coup, and the Venezuelan intelligence service
was remade into the image of is Cuba's feared G2 Intelligence agency,
itself based on former East Germany's Stasi network. Venezuela had never
developed a professional internal security apparatus, something the
Cuban have perfected.

The Cubans are so ubiquitous in the intelligence and military
headquarters in Venezuela that they are now strongly resented by many
officers in both sectors, according to sources close to the Venezuelan

Chávez made sure Maduro, his hand picked successor, also established
close ties to the Cubans. That was one key advantage Maduro has had in
the infighting since Chávez's death. Maduro's main internal rival,
Diosdado Cabello, a former military comrade of Chávez, reportedly deeply
dislikes the massive Cuban presence in Venezuela and has few personal
ties with the Cuban leadership. The Castro brothers, in turn, distrust
Cabello, reportedly viewing Maduro as less astute and savvy politician
but one far more loyal than the alternative.

Sources close to the Venezuelan military say that if Maduro falls,
regardless of who replaces him, aid to Cuba will be scaled back because
of Venezuela's own dire economic situation. Maduro and Castro brothers
need each other now. Maduro is more dependent than ever on the Cuban
intelligence services, and the Castro's need Maduro to insure their own
economic survival. It will be a win-win or a lose-lose proposition.

Douglas Farah is a national security analyst in Latin America, focusing
on corruption, failed states and transnational organized crime. He was a
foreign correspondent for the Washington Post for 20 years and has
worked in and followed Venezuela since 1990. He is the president of IBI
Consultants and a senior non-resident associate of the Americas Program
at CSIS, a Washington-based think tank.

Source: The Role of Cuba in Venezuela [Opinion] -- Fusion. -

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