Relations between Cuba and Venezuela significantly improved during the Presidency of Hugo Chávez. Chávez formed a major alliance with Cuban president Fidel Castro and significant trade relationship with Cuba since his election in 1999. The warm relationship between the two countries continued to intensify. After decades of American domination in the Caribbean, several governments in the region have started to reject United States' path of capitalism. Hugo Chávez described Castro as his mentor and called Cuba "a revolutionary democracy".
The bilateral relation includes development aid, joint business ventures, large financial transactions, exchange of energy resources and information technology, and cooperation in the fields of intelligence service and military. A characteristic of Cuba-Venezuela ties is that both nations are exchanging assets among each other which are inexpensive for the sending country but of high significance for the receiving country.
Venezuela and Cuba established diplomatic relations not long after the latter became independent in 1902; by 1913, they had an extradition treaty. Relations rapidly deteriorated after Castro came to power. In November 1961, the then Venezuelan President Rómulo Betancourt broke relations with Cuba, following a policy of not having ties with governments that had come to power by non-electoral means. The following January, he voted to expel Cuba from the Organization of American States (OAS) and in July 1964 successfully petitioned to have OAS sanctions imposed on Cuba after the discovery of an arms cache on a Venezuelan beach the previous November, allegedly dropped by Cubans for use by the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN) guerrillas seeking to establish a Marxist government. Castro had inspired the guerrillas who threatened Betancourt's government and elections scheduled for 1963. Venezuelans trained by Cuba were landed in July 1966, and a landing of Cuban officers was intercepted by Venezuela in May 1967. Once Betancourt and his similarly-minded successor Raúl Leoni left office, Venezuela increasingly identified with the Third World, guerrilla activity waned, and Castro renounced exporting revolution, which allowed for a tentative rapprochement. Diplomatic relations were restored in 1974, oil deliveries resumed, and Venezuela advocated Cuba's readmission to the OAS.Tensions occasionally resurfaced, especially over Venezuela's handling of those who blew up Cubana Flight 455 and of the Cubans who sought refuge in Venezuela's Havana embassy in 1980.
Chávez and Castro
British journalist and historian Richard Gott pointed that Chávez and Castro share several similarities. Castro became a national hero in Cuba after his failed Moncada Barracks attacks on July 26, 1953, and Chávez led the unsuccessful February 1992 Venezuelan coup d'état attempt. Castro spent several years in prison and then led a two-year long guerrilla war before assuming power in 1959 and Chávez also came to power after spending a period in prison and established his own political movement.
In 1999, Chávez visited Havana and told at the University of Havana (UH), "Venezuela is traveling towards the same sea as the Cuban people, a sea of happiness and of real social justice and peace". He called Castro "brother" and said:
Here we are, as alert as ever, Fidel and Hugo, fighting with dignity and courage to defend the interests of our people, and to bring alive the idea of Bolívar and Martí. In the name of Cuba and Venezuela, I appeal for the unity of our two peoples, and of the revolutions that we both lead. Bolívar and Martí, one country united!
In 2005, Chávez said that the cooperation between Cuba and Venezuela is an example of what socialism can and should do. While jointly appearing with Castro on a six-hour TV phone-in programme in August 2005, Chávez said he did not see Cuba as a dictatorship; he said "It's a revolutionary democracy". Chávez said the democracy promoted by George W. Bush is "a false democracy of the elite" and a "democracy of bombs". Chávez regards Castro as his mentor.
On December 14, 2004, Chávez and Castro signed a joint declaration which said that neoliberalism acts as "a mechanism to increase dependence and foreign domination". The two leaders described the US-supported Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) as an "expression of a hunger to dominate the region" and said that the free trade area will result in increase in poverty and subordination in Latin America. According to the joint declaration, economic integration is necessary for the Latin American nations to earn a respected position in the world economy, but this integration will be based on mutual cooperation.
On January 25, 2007, Chávez and Cuba's Vice President Carlos Lage signed an agreement to develop a range of production projects which involved nickel, electricity and rice. This deal also included construction of an underwater fiber optics cable to bypass a US embargo which was aimed to be built within 2009.
In October 2000, Chávez and Castro signed the Convenio Integral de Cooperación under which Venezuela will send 53,000-barrel (8,400 m3) per day of oil to Cuba and will receive technical support and in the fields of education, health care, sports, and science and technology. In February 2005, Venezuela increased its discounted oil shipments to Cuba to 90,000-barrel (14,000 m3) per day which represents less than 3.5% of Venezuela's total oil production. But for Cuba, 90,000 bbl/d (14,000 m3/d) is of high value. Much of this oil obtained from Venezuela is subsidized. According to 2005 estimates, Venezuela is providing Cuba nearly 20,000 bbl/d (3,200 m3/d) to 26,000 bbl/d (4,100 m3/d) of oil free of cost, for a total "gift" of $6–8 billion until 2020. Cuba is reportedly re-exporting 40,000 to 50,000 bbl/d (7,900 m3/d) of oil because Cuba produces 80,000 bbl/d (13,000 m3/d) oil domestically and total oil consumption in Cuba 120,000 bbl/d (19,000 m3/d).
In 2007, the two countries established a joint venture to revamp the Cienfuegos oil refinery in Cuba. Venezuela and Cuba were set to invest approximately $800m to $1bn in primary stage into the programme. According to this scheme, 51% share of the plant will be held by Cuba and 49% by Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA), the Venezuelan state-owned petroleum company. In December 2007, Chávez attended the Petrocaribe summit in Havana along with several prime ministers and presidents from around the Caribbean and Central America.
In return for Venezuelan oil, Cuba is sending approximately 30,000 to 50,000 technical personnel to Venezuela, including physicians, sport coaches, teachers, and arts instructors who offer social services, often in poverty-stricken regions. Under the programme Convenio de Atención a Pacientes implemented in 2000, Venezuela send patients and their relatives for medical treatment in Cuba where the Government of Venezuela pays the transportation costs, and Cuba bears all other expenses.
In April 2005, the two countries signed an agreement to increase the number of healthcare workers in Venezuela to 30,000 and initiated health programs which included establishment of 1,000 free medical centers, training of 50,000 medical personnel, and surgical treatment for approximately 100,000 Venezuelans in Cuba. Cuba also offered to train an additional 40,000 Venezuelan physicians. Meanwhile the oil shipment to Cuba is increased to 90,000 barrels (14,000 m3) per day. In 2005 alone, 50,000 Venezuelans went to Cuba for free eye treatment.
The Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research and Cuban scientists collaborated in a research project for analyzing "stress" in rice production caused by drought or saline soils. Research findings on this were presented in the 4th International Encounter on Rice held in Havana in 2008. One of the several objectives of this joint scientific project is to understand the effectiveness of the hormones.
Close ties with Cuba are helping Caracas in its goal to transform the Military of Venezuela; these began in 2004. As part of an effort to remove US influence from the country, the Army of Venezuela is trying to replace NATO-compliant Belgian rifles with the AK-103. The Military of Cuba, which has over 40 years experience handling Soviet and Russian military equipment, and in training combatants in guerrilla warfare and in counterinsurgency operations, is well equipped to help Chávez with this military transformation.
2008 Dávila-Maduro meeting
In May 2008, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro Moros, leading a delegation in Cuba to attend the 12th meeting of the Cuba-Venezuela Political Consultation Body, met Vice President of Cuba Carlos Lage Dávila at the Ministers' Council headquarters to discuss the situation in Latin America and other bilateral issues. At the opening of the meeting, Maduro said Cuban Revolution "showed us the path of the second, real political, economic, social and cultural independence 50 years ago". Describing the relations between the two countries, he said "our relation is a profound, longstanding, strategic fraternity by which we have become a single people, a single nation, as dreamed by the liberating fathers". Maduro held talks with Raúl Castro also and discussed issues related to bilateral relations.
Views on the bilateral relations
American journalist and political scientist Michael Radu in his book Dilemmas of Democracy & Dictatorship expressed negative view over this bilateral relations stating "most of Chavez' policies are distinctly anti-democratic, often unconstitutional, and usually anti-American and pro-Castro". Another American and a neoconservative Frank Gaffney, who is the founder of the neoconservative organization Center for Security Policy, expressed similar negative view in the book War Footing where he writes, "Chavez represents what Castro always wanted to be: the leader of a revolution that extends well beyond his own territory. Castro has helped Chavez learn how to undermine and destabilize liberal democracies throughout the region by using Castro's own tested method's of political warfare. ... Castro has decades of experience; Chavez has money and power. Theirs is a partnership with Chavez in charge".
The Federal government of the United States maintain the view that both Chávez and Castro are trying to undermine democracy in the Caribbean and portrays Chávez as a security threat. Critics say Chávez is using petroleum sales under preferential terms to increase his political influence in the Caribbean. He have been criticized for making friendly relations with Cuba, which is a long-time opponent of the United States. In January 2005, the United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Cuba "outpost of tyranny" and Chávez a "negative force" in Latin America. Chávez was criticized by opponents on the basis that he was trying to establish a Cuba-style authoritarian government.
But the United States' view on this issue has been criticized. Irum Abbasi, researcher of The Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad writes, "To the US, the real issue has never been human rights but the success of its client regimes in the region, which is substantiated by the fact that it tends to overlook those human rights abuses that are perpetrated by pro-US regimes". She stated that the United States has criticized Cuba and Venezuela for human rights abuses, but often tolerated and even supported regimes which violated human rights, but were anti-communist. Historian Jane Franklin in an article titled Who's Afraid Of Venezuela-Cuba Alliance? gave the example that in 1952 the United States supported a coup which installed Fulgencio Batista as dictator of Cuba and writes "U.S. overthrows of elected governments are nothing new, as demonstrated in Brazil, Chile, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti, to name a few". Franklin pointed that Cuba is well developed in health care and was once the only nation in Latin America to offer universal free health care, and with the help of Cuba, Venezuela has been able to give free health care to many of its citizens; thus the both countries respect health care as a basic human right. Regarding Rice's remark, she stated that the Bush administration and the media have increased their attack against Chávez and Castro.
Richard Gott in his book Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution described the United States as "the chief imperial power in the region and the champion of the neo-liberal philosophy" and said that Chávez and Castro have directed their rhetoric against this US policy. British-Pakistani historian, filmmaker and political campaigner Tariq Ali in a letter to The Guardian wrote, "The government of the US has no moral authority to elect itself as the judge over human rights in Cuba, where there has not been a single case of disappearance, torture or extra-judicial execution since 1959, and where despite the economic blockade, there are levels of health, education and culture that are internationally recognised". Abbasi noted that recent election results in several Latin American countries indicate a drift towards left-wing politics which she analyzes a result of public anger over neoliberalism.
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- Human rights and Cuba
- Cuba and Venezuela turn against ethanol
- [rtsp://webcast.un.org/ondemand/conferences/unhrc/upr/4th/hrc090205pm1-eng.rm?start=00:42:16&end=00:44:35 Venezuelan delegate Germán Mundaraín Hernández praises Cuba's human rights record] during the review of Cuba by the United Nations Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review, February 5, 2009