Cuba is on Venezuelan economic life support. With leader Hugo Chávez dead, there is speculation that Cuba as we know it may not survive. Havana’s options just got a lot thinner, and it hasn’t had many of them for a long time.
President Chávez venerated the father of Communist Cuba, Fidel Castro. The historic exit of the island’s former Soviet benefactors saw that support replaced by revolutionary regional neighbour Venezuela. Cuba has depended on the generosity of Caracas since 1999.
Today, Venezuela sells Cuba oil at a discount – meeting its more than 100,000 barrel-per-day needs. On top of that, Caracas pays Havana some six billion dollars per year in exchange for Cuban medical personnel, technology experts, political consultants and other professionals.
Dissident economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe said: “Cuba is extraordinarily dependent on Venezuela. Venezuela has become the Soviet Union. A kind of umbilical cord feeds oxygen to the Cuban economy, in the form of money from Venezuela. If that stops, it will be worse than the worst years when we lost Soviet help, because the economy is more destroyed now then when the Soviets stopped helping us.”
Even if Venezuela’s new political masters want to keep its umbilical relationship with Cuba, they must rationalise: Venezuela’s economy, despite its oil wealth, is stagnant, and its society seething with imbalances – including runaway violent crime and corruption.
Chepe said: “This is very dangerous. Last month’s devaluation of the Bolivar currency by 46.5 percent risks introducing more instability to Venezuelan society.”
Many analysts say the Castrist state must accept reality and find a new economic partner; probably the United States. For years already, Cubans living there have been sending around two billion dollars to the island annually, and even though the US has kept up a broad-ranging economic embargo, it is the second-largest exporter of food products to Cuba.
Chepe said: “It would be a great irony if the great enemy of the last 54 years became the new sponsor!”