Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Venezuelan vote bad news for Cuba: analysts

16 April 2013 - 23H11

Venezuelan vote bad news for Cuba: analysts

AFP - Venezuela's disputed election result is bad news for the communist
regime in Cuba, which became heavily dependent on oil and hard currency
from Caracas under its late leader Hugo Chavez, analysts say.

Nicolas Maduro won a much closer than expected election to succeed
Chavez, but deadly protests have erupted after liberal opposition leader
Henrique Capriles demanded a recount.

"Cubans can't be cheering this result. They have to be worried that
Maduro proved so politically weak. The opposition has the momentum and
will define the agenda," said Michael Shifter, head of the
Inter-American Dialogue think tank.

With Maduro entering office with a much weaker mandate than his colorful
predecessor, the Castro-led regime may not enjoy the same economic
benefits, potentially threatening the communist island's lifeline.

"The sympathy effect for Chavez was fleeting, and Capriles was able to
capitalize," Shifter said.

A clause in Venezuela's constitution allows for a possible referendum to
revoke a president half way through his six-year term, a consideration
that will weigh on Maduro's foreign policy, after his narrow election win.

"The outcome could accelerate Cuba's reform process," Shifter told AFP,
alluding to the likely need for Maduro to focus his efforts on domestic

"The (Cuban) government will be compelled to pursue other economic options."

Venezuela supplies Cuba with two thirds of its oil on extremely good
terms: in exchange for 100,000 barrels of crude a day Havana has sent
some 40,000 experts to Venezuela, notably in the health sector.

Worth some $6 billion a year, the deal is Cuba's biggest source of cash,
well ahead of money sent home by expatriate Cubans ($2.5 billion),
tourism ($2 billion) or exports of nickel, tobacco and drugs (less than
$2 billion).

During the election campaign Capriles repeatedly attacked the "gifts"
sent from Venezuela to Cuba, calling Maduro "Cuba's candidate" and
demanding that Caracas cut off oil supplies to Havana.

"Cuba can't hope for anything good from political instability in
Venezuela," according to Cuban academic Arturo Lopez-Levy, from the
University of Denver.

"The Cuban government would do well to accelerate its reform process and
the opening up of its economic system, to prepare for various scenarios,
all of them less favorable than the current situation," he told AFP.

Paul Webster Hare, British ambassador to Cuba from 2001-2004 and a
former deputy head of Britain's mission in Caracas, added: "Cubans will
know now that the Chavista movement depended on Chavez for its
leadership and momentum.

"The Cubans will now conclude that their time for depending on the
largesse of Chavismo is limited," said the ex-diplomat, who now teaches
international relations at the University of Boston.

The lesson of Venezuela's disputed post-Chavez election should also be
borne in mind by Cuba's new number two, Miguel Diaz-Canel, the
designated successor of President Raul Castro, according to Hare.

"The key lesson may be that for Miguel Diaz-Canel to assume smoothly the
mantle of the Castros will be much tougher than they may have supposed,"
he said, noting that he has until 2018 to prove himself fitted to the
new reality.

Diaz-Canel, 53 this month, "may need to start talking more about the
material ambitions of Cubans," and "tell fewer fantasy stories" about
the state of the country, 54 years after the Revolution.

Marking the second anniversary of the 6th Congress of the Communist
Party of Cuba, which launched economic reforms, the official daily
Granma said Tuesday that "the tasks facing us are among the most complex
and important."

"They will have the biggest impact on reform of the Cuban economic
model," it added, without elaborating on the challenges facing the country.

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