Is Venezuela the new Cuba?

April 28, 2010

CUBA VENEZUELAIt takes a brave man to mention the word Cuba among certain company in Venezuela.

 For detractors of President Hugo Chavez, the island is synonymous with all they dislike in their country– the swing to socialism in the last decade; Chavez’s alliance with Fidel Castro; the stifling of private industry; and an increasingly authoritarian political system.  So it is impossible in Caracas opposition circles to have any sort of rational conversation about Cuba — everything is seen through the perspective of Chavez.  You like anything about Cuba, you think there’s any merit in anything on the island like its health or education services, then you’re ’comunista’.

For diehard “Chavistas”, it’s precisely the opposite. Cuba’s free health and school services, its record on sending volunteers around the world, and its thousands of workers in Venezuela, are to them a model of south-south cooperation. You think Fidel Castro failed to carry through the ideals of his revolution, turned the island into a dictatorship? You’re obviously a Yankee agent.

Yet one also gets the impression that many in the Chavista rank-and-file, while loyal to their man, are slightly embarrassed by the Cuba connection. Certainly the applause is getting lighter every time Chavez stops a speech to salute Fidel and the Cuban revolution. They love Chavez, but they don’t want Venezuela to turn into Cuba.

Chavez famously said in the past Venezuela was heading towards the same “sea of happiness” as Cuba, and President Raul Castro said this month that the two nations were now “the same thing”, united forever.  

But beyond the rhetoric, just how close a path to Cuba is Venezuela taking? Does it pose dangers, as a retired Venezuelan general told Reuters this week. Or does the model bring tangible benefits, such as cheap food like Venezuelans enjoy in their “Socialist Arepera”?

VENEZUELA

As someone who has lived for lengthy periods in both nations, believe me, there are no trite or easy answers! The new “Socialism or Death!” banners in Venezuela certainly remind me of Havana, while the political structure seems to be leaning ever more closely to the Cuban model. The nationalizations in Venezuela have, of course, been reminiscent of those after the 1959 Cuban revolution, but not as sweeping and sudden in their scope. And there’s no escaping the fact that Venezuela remains, in many ways, a deeply capitalist society – even among high-ranking Chavez officials, who have flourished in banking, food, construction and other businesses.  

Then there’s the media. While Chavez has certainly taken a tough line on private media, every day brings a new torrent of criticism and mockery against him in newspapers and on airwaves.

So while Chavez has undoubtedly inherited Fidel Castro’s mantle as the main rhetorical thorn in Washington’s side, Venezuela has not yet metamorphosed into Cuba by a long  way.  But could it still?

Reuters photographs by Jorge Silva (Caracas poster showing Chavez and Castro, Chavez arrives at military parade April 13, 2010)

4 comments

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[...] Is Venezuela the new Cuba? April 29, 2010 By CMAC It takes a brave man to mention the word Cuba among certain company in Venezuela. [...]

Chavez is pushing Venezuela toward Cuba style. When the Venezuela will be the new Cuba? Depends of how long Chavez will rules Venezuela, depends who will come after him, depends how fast he is nationalize the private enterprise. Some people like socialism! What is the problem? Is good the socialism? maybe for lazy, liars, thieves, etc!

Posted by Christian67 | Report as abusive

There is one important fact that is almost never mentioned in news articles about Venezuela, because it does not fit in with the narrative that Venezuela is “gripped by an economic crisis,” and that “years of state interventions in the economy are taking a brutal toll on private business.”
I’m referring to the government’s debt level: currently only about 20 percent of GDP. Even as the Chavez government was tripling real social spending per person, increasing access to health care and education, and loaning or giving billions of dollars to other Latin American countries, Venezuela was reducing its debt burden during the oil price run-up. Venezuela’s public debt fell from 47.5 percent of GDP in 2003 to 13.8 percent in 2008. In 2009, as the global economy tanked, public debt only rose to 19.9 percent of GDP. Even if we include the debt of the state oil company, PDVSA, Venezuela’s public debt is 26 percent of GDP. The foreign part of this debt is less than half of the total.

Compare this to Greece, where public debt is 115 percent of GDP and currently projected to rise to 149 percent in 2013. The European Union average is about 79 percent.

Given the Venezuelan government’s very low public and foreign debt, the idea the country is facing an “economic crisis” is simply wrong. With oil at about $80 a barrel, Venezuela is running a sizeable current account surplus, and has a healthy level of reserves. Furthermore, the government can borrow internationally as necessary – last month China agreed to loan Venezuela $20 billion in an advance payment for future oil deliveries.

Venezuela is well situated to pursue another robust economic expansion, as it had from 2003-2008. The country is not facing a crisis, and is making its critics look like idiots.

Posted by GetpIaning | Report as abusive

Must be nice to have access to expensive economic statistics (closed to people who cannot afford to pay for it) and a paid staff to make the case based on a false premise why socialism is better. Well, Venezuela is an oil rich country that can afford to make it appear it is economically sound.

However, it is a divergence from the fact Venezuela is not a free nation:

“At least 40 butchers were detained last week on charges of speculation for allegedly driving up their prices. Some say they were held at a military base and were later strip-searched when turned over to police.

Cold cases are empty — or display only chicken — at many of Caracas’ butcher shops. Chain supermarkets and crowded municipal markets often offer cuts, but only in small quantities.

Butchers and wholesalers say they have the same problem facing many other industries: government price controls have eliminated profit margins. The recent arrests have prompted some to stop selling beef altogether for fear of ending up behind bars — adding to the scarcity.

“We’ve been working all our lives here and we’ve never been through this before, where they take you away, strip you, take off everything down to your underwear and then put you in a cell,” said butcher Omar Cedeno, who was held for two days before being released last week.

He said officials of the consumer protection agency arrived at his Caracas shop with military police, and after citing him for selling beef above the regulated price one official asked him to follow them to “have a chat.”

Cedeno was taken away in a truck with soldiers to Fort Tiuna, where he was held along with seven other butchers. They were taken the next day to a courthouse cell, where they were strip-searched, he said.”

This, my friends, is the true face of socialism. Don’t be fooled by the glowing reports of it’s economic policies in Venezuela or Cuba. They are “repressive” regimes and anyone who says otherwise is evil.

Posted by TyC | Report as abusive

Never happened, TyC. Propaganda from the right wing anti-Chavez media.

Posted by Yellow105 | Report as abusive

[...] Interesting article. the author of this article analyses whether or not Venezuela is taking the same path as Cuba. According to him, President Chavez is following the same Cuban model!   [...]