If Chavez Dies, What Happens to Cuba?

July 4th, 2011

By Tom Carter

Hugo Chavez and Fidel CastroWe may have a new crisis brewing right outside our back door.

Americans, aside from a few dunderheads on the far left, don’t think much of Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela.  He oppresses his own people and demonizes America at every turn, and if he dies from his current illness few of us will mourn him.

While he claims to be “Bolivarian,” whatever that means, and has some ditsy Venezuelans believing he’s the reincarnation of Simon Bolivar, in truth he’s just another tinhorn leftist dictator.

With all the things we have to worry about today — Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, violence spilling across our southern border, a deeply wounded economy, a looming debt ceiling, and dysfunctional government at all levels — most Americans aren’t paying a lot of attention to anything happening south of Mexico.

It’s time for us to start worrying a bit more about what may happen if Hugo Chavez dies.  I’ve read a limited amount of commentary on what it might mean for Venezuela, and it may involve at least a short-term disaster of political chaos and bloodshed.  What I haven’t heard much talk about are the implications for Cuba and, by extension, the U.S.

The fact is, Venezuela provides Cuba with most of its oil at cut rates, and that helps the failed regime keep the lights on and their almost non-existent economy stumbling along.  Venezuela is also helping Cuba try to develop their own oil industry, to include off-shore drilling.  All things considered, Venezuela provides Cuba with an income of about six billion dollars a year, which is their single largest source of money.

So if Chavez dies and isn’t immediately succeeded by some strong leader who is equally well-disposed to prop up Cuba, what happens?  More unrest, less stability, and new hordes of refugees arriving in leaky boats in Florida?  Southern Florida is already overburdened with Cuban refugees, with lots of not particularly positive political and economic results not just for Florida but for all of us.

Here’s a good article that describes the situation in detail.  It says in part:

“Hopefully, nothing will happen to him. Without Chavez, things in Cuba would get extremely rough again like before. We would be back to blackouts,” said Elisa Castellanos, a 68-year-old housewife.

‘Before’ refers to the period before Chavez was first elected president in 1999. His arrival to power meant that post-Cold War communist Cuba, politically adrift and its economy in tatters after losing the East bloc support it depended on for three decades, got a new lease on life.

The lease has lasted a decade; now Chavez’s mortality potentially could be its demise.

Venezuela became isolated Cuba’s main political ally — supporting and helping fund regional economic and media initiatives — and its main economic partner and underpinning.

Those Americans who are watching the unfolding drama of Chavez’s ill health and thinking “good riddance” at the prospect of his demise should think again.  And those many other Americans who can’t find Venezuela (or even Cuba) on a map should get their heads out of the sand.

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6 Responses to “If Chavez Dies, What Happens to Cuba?”

  1. Clarissa |

    I’ve been to Cuba several times and can’t think about that country without deep pain. The horrible Castro regime has destroyed the Cuban culture and reduced the people of Cuba to prostitution as the only way to survive. The system is going to collapse at some point. Countries that are trying to patch up the Cuban economy are just prolonging this agony of a system that is beyond all hope and redemption.

  2. Tom Carter |

    I agree that Cuba under the current regime is “beyond all hope and redemption.” The U.S. contributed to that through years of misguided policy and unnecessary hostility.

    However, today’s reality is what it is, and while we could help make things better given enough time (although it’s doubtful that we will), anything that threatens to make things worse in the near term is not in our interest. So, all things considered, the passing of Chavez in the near future might not be the best thing that could happen to Venezuela, Cuba, or the U.S.

    Saying that a distasteful character like Chavez (or Mubarak, Gaddafi, et al.) might be better than the practical alternatives, at least in the near term, is unpleasant but realistic.

  3. Dan Miller |

    Unlike many on my right side of the spectrum, I think the embargo on Cuba should perhaps have been ameliorated a long time ago in the interest of the United States. I would not have done it to halt the immigration of Cubans fleeing Castro, many of whom and their offspring became loyal citizens of the United States; they know very well what life under a Communist dictatorship means. It should, however, perhaps have been done because few things are more beneficial to a dictator than an enemy at which to point as the source of a country’s many problems.

    We tried the “Bay of Pigs” invasion, and a young and inexperienced President Kennedy managed to botch it.

    With the decline of the U.S.S.R. and receiving little support from there, Cuba took on Venezuela as her colony and source of sustenance. Chavez is no better than was Fidel Castro. He has done no less effectively to eliminate freedom and democracy as the Venezuelan infrastructure crumbles and Venezuela becomes increasing infested with violent crime. Given the opportunity, he would unleash his own Che; he may still do so depending on what happens there next.

    Venezuela may be potentially more dangerous to the United States than was or is Cuba. True, Cuba is closer geographically but that matters less these days than when the U.S.S.R was in charge and we had the Cuban Missile Crisis. With allies such as Iran, Libya, Russia and China it would not be difficult to launch missiles from Venezuela, although they might more readily be seen coming and therefore defend against than if launched from Cuba.

    I do not know whether the lingering or prompt death of Chavez would be good or bad for Venezuela or, for that matter, for the United States. Chavismo is dependent on Chavez. Without him to lead in his charismatic way, with Chavistas showing sign of excessive popularity being purged and with the opposition seemingly unable to figure out what they want or how to achieve it things are a mess. Aside from for the Venezuelan people, my concern is that Venezuela may become a more dangerous colony of Iran, Russia or China. That could be more damaging for the U.S. internationally and perhaps domestically than with her as a Cuban colony.

  4. Tom Carter |

    Here’s another thing that makes Venezuela under Chavez dangerous — the mere fact of oil. Like the Arabs who would still be living in tents in the desert had not Western companies and governments helped them exploit their oil, Venezuela would be just another irksome banana republic (albeit a large one) without oil. That’s why Cuba has become dependent on them, and that’s why we worry about them more than we do about other countries.

    We need to be very careful about presuming to decide who will run Venezuela. We haven’t always made those kinds of decisions intelligently, and right now we’re probably making some dangerous mistakes where the “Arab Spring” is concerned.

  5. nic |

    Tom Carter: Perhaps… “The U.S. contributed to that through years of misguided policy and unnecessary hostility.” But you should also understand that Cuba under Castro has always been a medieval plantation with a feudal lord as its master. Castro believes himself to be some sort of “renaissance man”. In Cuba he has the ultimate word in every subject from chemistry to baseball, from geology to cattle rearing and from poetry to pediatrics.Nobody can disagree with him, period. Perhaps that is the reason why potatoes has been cultivated in soils favorable to rice,production methods have gone berserk and a long list of absurdities have taken place since nobody can argue with the mad man.

  6. Tom Carter |

    nic, I understand what Cuba was under Fidel Castro. I also understand that having a Soviet-supported state so close to the U.S. geographically and with a history of involvement with the U.S. put it in a unique position in terms of our foreign policy. However, my point is that less political and economic hostility over the years might have resulted in better outcomes from a U.S. standpoint. In any case, the policies we’ve followed haven’t had much of a postive pay-off.

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