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The Cuban regime and the Venezuelan transition

'For our delicate democracies Cuba may constitute today a meddling interference as detrimental as the US was during the Cold War.'

Ciudad de México

In a recent interview Venezuelan analyst Rocío San Miguel, an expert on military affairs, masterfully defined the role of Cuba in his country. In this respect he stated: "The situation room where the most important strategic decisions are made —political and military, but also economic and social— is in Havana. Venezuela is a kind of fish bowl, a case study, subject to permanent oversight by the Cuban leadership, to maintain Venezuela as its economic lifesaver. Everything we are witnessing at this time - among other things, the disproportionate use of force - the accelerated partisanization of the National Armed Forces, as well as this proposed Constituent Assembly, completely disgraceful and spurious, is based on a Cuban model."

This kind of influence constitutes an anomaly. Few times in the history of the Americas —with the exception of the nexus between monarchic Spain and its Latin American colonies— has a lesser power exercised such fierce control over a richer one. Combining the influence of indoctrination (Maduro was educated by the Cuban Communist Party) police control (including surveillance of Maduro regime elites) and feverish diplomatic and propaganda activity (through embassies, intellectual circles and agents of influence) Havana politically holds Caracas as a sort of allied hostage. Havana needs Venezuelan oil to prop up the island's economy and governability, as the country is poised for a changing of the guard at the top.

That is to say: the Cuban regime is, at the same time, both an actor (given its share of regional and international power) and a model (due to its institutional design, with its Stalinist roots) for the autocratic survival of its Venezuelan counterparts. Thus, it is a factor to be reckoned with in any process for the redemocratization of the South American nation. And no precedent —not even that of Central America in the 1980s— offers similar lessons.

The question is whether Raúl Castro will agree, surrendering to the evidence, to abandon his ally, in the same way that a parasite dares to abandon the dying host whose fate he refuses to share. Because if anyone has today a firm grasp of the situation in Venezuela today, it is Cuban intelligence. But if —and only if— popular mobilization, the regime's erosion, and international pressure are all sustained, and there are fruitful political negotiations, perhaps the Cuban and Venezuelan military will decide that a civil war is not worth it. And that a bad solution is always better than a good fight.

In Latin America it would be worth learning some lessons from these events, such as: For our delicate democracies, Cuba may constitute today a meddling interference as detrimental as the US was during the Cold War. And the project of a socially progressive state, under the rule of law, still a pending task in our imbalanced region, is permanently besieged not only by the impoverishing agenda of the neoliberals, but also by the influence of the current Cuban model on various antidemocratic wings of Latin American politics and society.

This article originally appeared in the Mexican newspaper La Razón. It is published here with the author's permission.

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