Informacion economica sobre Cuba

Cuba's Stake in the Chávez Presidency

Deepening privation is making Cubans restless. Oil from Venezuela is

essential to the regime's hold on power.


All eyes were on the Venezuelan presidential election Sunday on the off

chance that incumbent Hugo Chávez might be forced to accept defeat. But

few could have been watching more intently than the elite of the Cuban

military dictatorship, who in recent years have become heavily dependent

on virtually free Venezuelan oil, courtesy of Mr. Chávez, for its survival.

The day went relatively smoothly despite a heavy turnout that the

Chávez-controlled National Electoral Council seemed ill-prepared to

handle. Some voters claimed to have waited six hours in line but there

was no violence.

It was after 10 p.m. when the CNE emerged to announce that Mr. Chávez

had beaten Henrique Capriles Radonski, the governor of the state of

Miranda. It was hardly surprising given how the cards were stacked

against the challenger, as I explained in this space last week. Yet

despite the Chávez "victory," Cuba still has plenty of reason to worry

about the loss of oil flows. It has been preparing for the possibility

for months.

On Thursday, state security detained journalist Yoani Sánchez as she

traveled to the city of Bayamo. Ms. Sánchez was assigned to cover the

trial of Spanish democracy advocate Angel Carromero there for the

Spanish daily El Pais.

Mr. Carromero—who was at the wheel when Cuban human-rights defenders

Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero were killed in a car wreck in July on the

eastern end of the island—stands accused of vehicular manslaughter. Payá

was a popular and charismatic leader of Cuba's growing dissident

movement, and after the crash rumors were flying that the Spaniard's

rental car had been forced off the road. If found to be true, it would

badly damage the Castro brothers' attempts to gain legitimacy on the

international stage.

Enlarge Image



Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Hugo Chávez at a campaign rally, Oct. 3.

The Payá family has called for an independent investigation. The

government has ignored their request. Foreign journalists were allowed

to sit in an adjacent room at the courthouse and watch the Friday

"trial" on closed-circuit television. But secret police kept the Payá

family away from the premises. No verdict has been handed down. Ms.

Sánchez and her husband were released late Friday.

Silencing critics, making examples of meddling foreigners and running

closed, summary trials are nothing new. But Cuba watchers say that as

the dissidents have grown in number and have increasingly learned how to

organize, the regime has been ratcheting up the repression.

The same day Ms. Sánchez was detained the regime also arrested 22

"pro-democracy activists who sought to attend a peaceful gathering in

the town of Santa Clara to discuss a petition titled, 'Citizens' Demand

for Another Cuba,' " according to the website Capitol Hill Cubans. The

arrests are part of a wider assault on government critics, among them

the Ladies in White, who won the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize in


Deepening economic privation is making Cubans restless. And that

privation is likely to get worse if Venezuela stops supplying oil to

Cuba. According to Jorge Piñon, an energy expert at the University of

Miami, Mr. Chávez has been sending almost 100,000 barrels of oil a day

to the island. In exchange, Cuba ships doctors and social workers to

Venezuela to serve the poor.

But it is highly doubtful that Venezuela is getting its money's worth.

Mr. Capriles said last week that the 40,000 Cubans that Venezuela

receives have a value of some $800 million per year while the oil sent

to Cuba annually is worth $4 billion. He warned that if elected he would

change the policy. "If we need Cuban doctors, we will pay for them," he

announced. But "we cannot give away" the oil.

Even the "re-elected" Mr. Chávez will be under heavy economic pressure

to revise the terms of the oil-for-doctors exchange, because the gap

between Venezuelan spending and revenues will undoubtedly grow in the

coming year. Roads and bridges are rapidly deteriorating, hospitals are

in disrepair, and public security is almost nonexistent. Analysts expect

a large devaluation of the Venezuelan bolivar next year.

Last week the Venezuelan daily El Universal reported that "as many as 80

Cuban physicians have left [Venezuela] on a monthly basis over the last

90 days." The paper also said that this year "the exodus may exceed the

figure recorded in 2011—500 doctors." Yumar Gómez, who now lives in

Miami, is one of them. "Let me tell you this," Mr. Gómez told El

Universal, "many do not want to return to Cuba."

In a 2010 paper for the Cato Institute, Ms. Sánchez wrote: "Now that the

state is out of money and there are no more rights to exchange for

benefits, the demand for freedom is on the rise." No one understands

that better than Raúl Castro, which is why the dictator and his friends

were celebrating the news from Venezuela Sunday night.

Write to O'

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