Venezuela cuts oil shipments to Cuba forcing Castro to consider veering
By Franz von Bergen Published July 27, 2016 Fox News Latino
CARACAS – Venezuela's grim situation is impacting not only millions of
households around the country — it is also sending panic waves across
the Caribbean all the way to Cuba, a solid ally that for decades now has
relied heavily on Chavismo's generosity.
Cuba, a communist country with a weak economy, has alienated itself from
the rest of the world and has largely relied on Venezuela to stay
financially afloat. But Venezuela's falling oil prices is causing Cuba
to distance itself from the South American country.
So far this year Venezuelan oil shipments to the island have declined by
19.5 percent, forcing an energy rationing that is reminding people of
the early 90s, when the Soviet Union dissolved and Cuba lost its top
provider almost overnight.
Now with Venezuela's wealth slowly fading away, the geopolitical
chessboard may change in a way that some say will inevitably drive
Havana closer to the U.S.
"Venezuela's inability to help Cuba creates a void that will very likely
be filled by the U.S.," said foreign policy expert Giovanna De Michelle
to Fox News Latino.
"Cuba's opening to foreign investment has been slow, but now they don't
have another option if you consider Venezuela's grim situation," said
Felix Arellano, also an internationalist.
Venezuela and Cuba started strengthening ties soon after Hugo Chavez, a
socialist and open admirer of Fidel Castro, came to power in 1999. The
alliance, fueled by a close personal friendship, helped the Castro
brothers keep the island afloat amid the Soviet Union domino collapse.
Currently – and for more than a decade now – Venezuela supplies more
than 50 percent of the island's intake of oil at very preferential
terms. In exchange, starting 2003 Cuba started providing human resources
to Venezuela, mostly teachers and medical doctors to support Chavez's
various social programs, like Barrio Adentro and Misión Robinson, which
focused on reducing analphabetism.
According to the most recent information available, in 2013 Venezuela
provided Cuba with 99,000 barrels of crude oil a day. To date, Cuba has
sent approximately 200,000 workers to Venezuela.
This oil-for-workers deal greatly benefitted both Castro's and Chavez's
agendas: while Cuba kept running on cheap oil, Venezuela found a way to
secure and preserve the social programs that are the backbone of Chavismo.
After Chavez died in 2013, his handpicked successor Nicolas Maduro kept
the close relationship with Fidel and Raul Castro — according to an FNL
count, Maduro has visited Cuba 15 times since becoming president three
"The new economic scenario doesn't mean that political relations between
Cuba and Venezuela will turn sour," according to foreign analyst Edgar
Otalvora. "Ideologically, they will remain close," he said, pointing at
Raul Castro's cautious speech before the National Assembly on July 8th.
However, Castro did turn heads when he acknowledged the repercussions
that Venezuela's deepening crisis is having on Cuba.
He said Cuba's economy grew just 1 percent in the first part of the
year, half of what the government had planned for, due in part to "a
certain contraction in the fuel supplies agreed upon with Venezuela,
despite the firm will of President Maduro and his government to fulfill
"Logically that has caused additional tensions in the functioning of the
Cuban economy," Castro told the National Assembly.
Analysts say the severity of the financial and political crisis in
Venezuela may force Cuba to change course sooner rather than later.
"Havana needs to also start drawing investments from Europe, Brazil,
Canada and China," Arellano told FNL. "The down part for the Castro
brothers is that this might require political changes in the near future."
As for the U.S., it is very likely Washington will keep pushing to
increase its influence in Cuba regardless of November's election outcome.
"American investors are betting big on Cuba, which will probably result
in the ease of the U.S. embargo [over the island] in the near future,"
De Michelle said.
"This will improve the wellbeing of the Cuban people and will make
Venezuela's aid less necessary," the expert added.
Another scenario is that Venezuela's opposition keeps gaining ground
and, if and when in power, brings to a halt the financial aid it has
publicly condemned more than once -- many say Cuba is benefitting way
more than Venezuela with the current arrangement.
"The loss of the Cuban doctors wouldn't be such a big problem for
Venezuela, given the fact that some of them just work as spies and they
can be replaced with our own doctors," Arellano said.
On top of this, it is no that secret many of these social workers have
used their appointment to Venezuela as an opportunity to flee the
According to Colombian authorities, in 2015 as many as 720 Cuban medical
doctors entered to their territory from Venezuela. Hundreds of them then
requested U.S. visas.
Franz von Bergen is a freelancer reporter living in Caracas.
Source: Venezuela cuts oil shipments to Cuba forcing Castro to consider
veering to U.S. | Fox News Latino -