Hugo Chavez

Hugo Chavez's Venezuela: Cuba's Paymaster and Vassal

The Castros knew more about Chavez's medical condition than in his inner circle in Venezuela

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military compound
El Carabobeño

Over at the New Republic, Venezuelan journalist Francisco Toro writes about the relationship forged between Hugo Chavez when he was president of Venezuela and Cuba's Fidel Castro, who outlived the strongman 28 years his junior. An excerpt:

As the unquestionably senior member of their Cold War alliance, the Soviets treated Cuba as just another satellite state; Fidel's subjugation to a cold war superpower was always something of an embarrassment to him.

In the Caracas-Havana axis, by contrast, the paymaster doubled up as the vassal. Venezuela effectively wrote a fat petrocheck month after month for the privilege of being tutelaged by a poorer, weaker foreign power.

The extent of this reverse colonization was startling. Cuban flags eventually came to flutter above Venezuelan military bases and Venezuelans witnessed the surreal spectacle of a democratically elected president telling them that Venezuela and Cuba share "a single government" and that Venezuela "has two presidents." Cuban military advisors kept watch over Venezuela's entire security apparatus, and had exclusive control over Chávez's personal security detail. Through most of his 20-month battle with cancer, the Castros had better information about the president's condition than even his inner circle back home, and they maneuvered successfully to ensure a pro-Havana diehard, Nicolás Maduro, won the tough battle for succession. 

Chávez imported more than just personnel and advice; he imported the Cuban Revolution's eschatology virtually whole. Fidel's vision of revolution as a kind of cosmic morality play pitting unalloyed socialist "good" in an unending death struggle against the ravages of "evil" American imperialism became the guiding principle of Venezuela's revolution.  The use and abuse of anti-imperialist rhetoric as a mechanism for consolidating authoritarian control over society was the most valuable lesson Chávez learned from Fidel. A superheated brand of unthinking anti-Americanism became the all-purpose excuse for any and every authoritarian excess, stigmatizing any form of protests and casting a dark pall over any expression of discontent or dissent. The technique's infinite versatility proved its central attraction: You could blame shadowy gringo infiltrator for neighborhood protests over chronic power shortages just as easily as you could silence whistleblowers of government corruption by casting them as CIA fifth columns.

In Cuba, considering the island's history as a target for American imperialist meddling, anti-imperialism—however wantonly abused—rested on a bed of historic verisimilitude. But in Venezuela, a country with no history of direct American imperial aggression, this borrowed bit of rhetorical posturing served only to underline chavismo's derivative status, its ideology a kind of fidelista hand-me-down lacking even the self-awareness to realize it was decades out of date by the time it was born.

And if Hugo Chavez's purported ideology is already a derivative of a derivative, what does it say that it appears to be embraced as something to aspire to by some on the left in so-called advanced democracies?

Read the rest of Toro's piece here.

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  1. Mary Anastasia O’Grady at the WSJ had a great piece about life post-Chavez this morning as well, and she also mentioned the animosity some Venezuelans have against the Cubans.

    He also lacks ties to the military, which is the crucial institution in preserving his power. This explains why he has allowed himself to become so much Havana’s man in Caracas, signaling that he is ready to be more chavista than Ch?vez. If he stays in power, he is expected to continue sending billions of dollars in oil subsidies to Havana every year.

    In exchange, Cuba will continue to provide him state security agents and all else he needs to keep the military in line and otherwise support repression in Venezuela. Without Cuba’s help, he will almost certainly be overthrown by a more ambitious student of chavismo.

    It is rumored that there is significant resentment among the Venezuelan men in uniform about the outsize power and influence of Havana. As the economy sags, grumbling about Venezuela’s financing of the Castro regime is likely to increase. In that case the pugnacious president of the national assembly, Diosdado Cabello, a nationalist who hails from the military and remains close to it, will be Mr. Maduro’s most likely challenger.

    1. Link to the WSJ piece from O’Grady-

      http://online.wsj.com/article/…..on_LEADTop

    2. Who is “he” in your post? Are you talking about Chavez’ VP? You never say.

      1. Sorry, the server ate my post. The post above was supposed to be a blockquote from the article, which got eaten apparently.

        As the new president, Mr. Maduro will need all the help he can get. He is often described in press accounts as a former bus driver, but he never spent much time behind the wheel. Instead he graduated quickly to union leader, where he got a taste for power. His big problem is that although he is a passionate ideologue, he is only a mediocre demagogue.

        He also lacks ties to the military…….

  2. This is what government always ends up being: the playground for narcissistic fucks who operate on the level of a high school popularity contest, but with bullets for whoever loses. These people operate at a complete cult of personality level; the government becomes them and there is a complete anthropomorphization of the state. It really all is just about them.

  3. And if Hugo Chavez’s purported ideology is already a derivative of a derivative, what does it say that it appears to be embraced as something to aspire to by some on the left in so-called advanced democracies?

    They’ve passed the tradgedy stage and moved on to farce?

  4. Good excerpt from TNR, I’ll read the rest when I get the chance. I like this though:

    You could blame shadowy gringo infiltrator for neighborhood protests over chronic power shortages just as easily as you could silence whistleblowers of government corruption by casting them as CIA fifth columns.

    The left does this constantly in this country. It goes something like this:

    1. Find some voter discontent you disagree with.
    2. See if there’s any group lobbying or publicly communicating their ideas.
    3. See if that group has received or has any connection with the Kochs.

    In fact, aren’t there still academics today that will accuse a colleage with whom they have a public disagreement of working for the CIA?

    Wasn’t one of the Reason staff once accused of having CIA links? Am I remembering that wrong?

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