In the Cuban city of Santa Clara during the recent 26 July ceremony,
the national anthems of Cuba and Venezuela were played. It was symbolic of the
underlying idea — Cubazuela or Venecuba.
Hugo Chávez and Fidel — with the
reluctant acceptance of Raúl, who lacks power to object, although he is
convinced that Chávez is a half-crazy cretin and doesn’t understand why his
brother loves him so — have reprised the idea of joining the two countries in
a sort of federation. Their theory, Hugo’s and Fidel’s, is that the two revolutions
need each other to survive.
To Chávez, Cuba is an inexhaustible
source of police intelligence, political control and administrative example. He
doesn’t even have to bother to write a rhetorical speech because it was
fabricated for him in Havana many years ago, using an old Marxist-Leninist
script: the aggressive plunder of the Yanqui empire, the horror of the greedy
capitalists, the market’s miserable indifference to poverty, the struggle of
the world’s oppressed against the oligarchies, and the rest of the ideological
hogwash typical of the tribe.
By this time, Chávez knows too well
that Cuba is an absolute economic and social disaster, from which anyone who
can escape will. But this “little’’ detail counts for a lot less than the
immense capacity for survival that that regime gives him. What he’s interested
in is to hold power forever, and there’s no doubt that the Castros have that
The progressive pauperization of
his country is unimportant to Chávez if he manages to grow old sitting on the
presidential chair. After all, Fidel also has built an infallible strategy to
deal with material catastrophe: On one hand, he denies it, while on the other
he praises frugality and condemns consumerism.
Suffice it to close one’s eyes and
slip comfortably into a benevolent speech about the children being educated and
the sick being cured, while simultaneously savaging the greed of those
countries that consume the planet’s dwindling resources. All of a sudden, being
and living like a beggar become an exemplary virtue.
To Fidel, Chávez and Venezuela are
a guarantee that the Cuban revolution will last beyond his death. Fidel does
not trust Raúl’s abilities. He knows Raúl is loyal and competent — but
incapable of dreaming big.
Raúl is not a visionary. He does
not have grandiose visions or hear the voices of history. He lacks that glorious
megalomaniacal touch, with paranoid accents, that characterizes the great
revolutionaries. Raúl does not want to change the world, just the cows. He
engages in pursuits as pedestrian as enabling children to gain access to a
glass of milk after they’re 7. Sheer ordinariness.
Naturally, there’s also the
argument of the petrodollars. Venezuela, like the Soviet Union in the past, is
useful to pay for the system’s inefficiency. Cuba can continue to be
exquisitely unproductive because that inability is subsidized by Venezuela in
various ways: by sending crude oil that is never paid for, by paying
astronomical sums for services that are never rendered (or rendered poorly,
except for police advice), and by using Cuba to triangulate purchases.
For example, Venezuela needs a
drill to extract crude, or a million kilos of powdered milk, so it places an
order with some phantom companies in Cuba at an outrageous price. In turn, the
companies buy the product on the international market, for a reasonable price,
and keep the huge profits. In almost all countries in the world that is called
fraud. To Chávez and Fidel, it is an example of internationalist solidarity
paid for by the long-suffering Venezuelans.
What’s interesting about this
progressive fusion of the two countries is that it doubles the areas of risk.
The Cubans know that the Castros’ exhausted regime depends on a thin biological
thread from which two ailing old men dangle, while the Venezuelans are aware
that Chávez has the support of only 30 percent of the population and the
growing rejection of the rest of the country, an imbalance of forces that could
lead to his departure from power.
If either government plunges into a
crisis, it will drag the other to destruction. For sure.