Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Their men in Caracas - the Cuban expats shoring up Maduro's government

Their men in Caracas: the Cuban expats shoring up Maduro's government
From military advisers to aid workers, thousands of Cubans form an
information network across Venezuela's economy
Paulo A Paranagua
Guardian Weekly, Tuesday 27 May 2014 13.09 BST

Cuba hopes ally Nicolás Maduro can avoid an election in the throes of an
economic crisis. Photograph: Miguel Gutierrez/EPA
When asked how many Cubans are working in Venezuela, minister of foreign
affairs Elías Jaua cites the 25,000 medical aid workers in the programme
launched by the late president Hugo Chávez, adding "about 1,000 sports
trainers and 600 farming technicians". The opposition claims the number
is higher, particularly as there are Cuban advisers in all the
ministries and state-owned companies.

At the end of February the student leader Gaby Arellano tried to present
a petition to the Cuban ambassador in Caracas. "We will not allow Cubans
to interfere in our affairs any longer," she said. "We don't want them
to go on controlling the media, directing military operations or
indoctrinating our children." Teodoro Petkoff, a leftwing opposition
figure, is not convinced Havana exerts that much influence. "Such claims
play down the responsibility of the Chavistas for what's going on," he says.

Defence specialist Rocío San Miguel believes Cuba really does influence
policymakers in Venezuela. She recalls the way Chávez's illness was
managed, his hospitalisation in Havana clothed in secrecy, and the
transfer of power to Nicolás Maduro (pictured), who was educated in
Cuba. "Cuban officers attend strategic planning meetings for the armed
forces," she says, basing her claim on insider sources.

"It's not a myth, it's the reality," says General Raúl Baduel, minister
of defence under Chávez and now in custody at the Ramo Verde military
prison. The Cubans have modernised the intelligence services, both the
Sebin (Bolivarian National Intelligence Service) that reports directly
to the president, and military intelligence. They also set up a special
unit to protect the head of state.

Furthermore Cubans have computerised Venezuela's public records, giving
them control over the issue of identity papers and voter registration.
They have representatives in the ports and airports, as well as
supervising foreign nationals. They took part in purchases of military
equipment and work on the Maracaibo airbase.

"All Cuban 'internationalists' have had military training and must, if
required, fulfil combat duties," San Miguel asserts. "Cubans form an
information network which keeps Havana up-to-date on shifts in public
opinion," says political observer Carlos Romero.

Chilean president Salvador Allende, right, alongside Cuban president
Fidel Castro during his visit to Chile in 1972. Photograph: Corbis
The Cuban regime, says Romero, wants to avoid three "worst-case
scenarios", which have in the past led to the downfall of governments
sympathetic to Havana. The first was the overthrow of Chile's President
Salvador Allende in 1973. This explains its efforts to placate the
Venezuelan military. The national guard, which has been in the frontline
quelling demonstrations, has been awarded bonuses for its good offices.

The second case was Granada in 1983, where Cuban influence was
undermined by the regime's mistakes, prior to invasion by American
troops. Havana is consequently determined to shore up Maduro's authority
and end the dispute with his rival, Captain Diosdado Cabello, who is
head of the National Assembly and deputy leader.

The third scenario to avoid is an election in the throes of an economic
crisis, as occurred in Nicaragua in 1990. So the priority in Venezuela
is to stop inflation and end the shortages that are sapping popular
support for the Chavistas. An election is due next year.

Havana is clearly keen to maintain the status quo. But killing
demonstrators, imprisoning political opponents and members of parliament
– making martyrs of them in the process – is a far cry from the
low-intensity repression that Raúl Castro has inflicted on Cuban
dissidents since he took over from his brother Fidel. Nor is Cuba in the
habit of engaging in dialogue with the opposition, as Maduro did on 10
April, broadcast live on television.

It remains to be seen whether the thousands of Cubans scattered all over
Venezuela will fan the flames of radical revolt or help restore calm.

This article appeared in Guardian Weekly, which incorporates material
from Le Monde

Source: "Their men in Caracas: the Cuban expats shoring up Maduro's
government | World news | Guardian Weekly" -

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