Chavez's Death Will Have Ramifications For Cuba
Renee Montagne and Tom Gjelten
March 06, 2013 4:00 AM
The death of President Hugo Chavez could mean as much for Cuba as it
will for Venezuela. The Chavez government has heavily subsidized Cuba.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
The death of Hugo Chavez could mean as much for Cuba as it will for
Venezuela. As we just heard, Chavez looked to Fidel Castro for
inspiration, and Castro has supplied Venezuela with thousands of Cuban
doctors, health workers and security specialists. In return, Chavez sent
a massive amount of Venezuelan oil to Cuba at cut-rate prices, and thus
helped keep the Cuban economy afloat during years of crisis.
Joining us now is NPR's Tom Gjelten. Good morning.
TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Let's start with these Venezuelan oil shipments to Cuba. How
important have they been?
GJELTEN: Really important, Renee. We're talking about close to 100,000
barrels of oil going to Cuba per day. Now, at $90 a barrel, we can do
the math and see what that is worth. Now, Cuba has been charged for it,
but as you said, it's been paying a cut-rate price, and 100,000 barrels
a day is more than Cuba needs. So it's been reselling much of that oil,
maybe as much as 40 percent of that oil, and reselling it at market prices.
So Cuba is earning a lot of hard currency off that oil, just the same as
it did with Soviet oil shipments back in the old days. And this is, in
fact, what has really saved the Cuban economy in the last few years.
Plus, as you said, all these doctors, teachers, coaches, security
officers that Cuba has sent to Venezuela, Venezuela is paying for them,
paying their salaries, and the money is going to the Cuban government.
So that's an important source money for Cuba.
MONTAGNE: OK. So Chavez had a close relationship with Fidel, and
subsequently with Fidel's brother Raul. He went to Cuba for his medical
treatment once Chavez was diagnosed with cancer. Do we know whether his
designated successor, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, would maintain that
GJELTEN: Well, of course, Renee, he would first have to be elected as
Chavez's successor. And as the vice president, he has taken over for
now, but there will be new elections within 30 days. It does appear he
has a good chance of being reelected, if only because of the sympathy
for Hugo Chavez. So assuming he is the next president, yes, he is likely
to try to maintain that relationship with Cuba.
There are a couple – three factions in the Venezuelan political system,
some more aligned with the military, some more aligned with the
business. Nicolas Maduro is part of the faction, the leader of the
faction that is most closely aligned with Cuba. The problem is that this
has been an expensive relationship for Venezuela, and it is Maduro's
misfortune – as Jon Lee Anderson said – to be taking over at a time of
great economic stress in Venezuela.
He might be hard-pressed to keep the level of largess that Chavez has
maintained for Cuba. Without Chavez's charismatic and political appeal,
he may be tempted to cut back on that in order to spend more of those
resources in Venezuela and maintain his standing with the Venezuelan
MONTAGNE: And just briefly, could this potential loss of Venezuelan aid
threaten the Raul Castro government in Cuba? I mean, how will it affect
GJELTEN: Well, we know that after the loss of Soviet aid in the early
'90s, there was huge discontent in Cuba. And now we are potentially
looking at something similar. This could be, in some ways, even more
traumatic. I mean, Cuba's economic and physical infrastructure has
deteriorated in recent years. On the other hand, Cuba has also
diversified its investment. It is getting aid from other countries,
It's hard to say. It could be destabilizing.
MONTAGNE: Tom, thanks very much.
GJELTEN: You bet.
MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Tom Gjelten, speaking to us on the death of Hugo
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