With Worries for Its Economic Future, Cuba Bids a Sad Goodbye to a
By VICTORIA BURNETT
Published: March 6, 2013
Granma, the Communist Party newspaper, turned its red masthead to black
and white — a gesture Cubans said was rare — and dedicated six of its
eight pages to Mr. Chávez's life, his death on Tuesday, and his legacy.
In a statement that covered the front page and was read on national
television on Tuesday night, the government hailed Mr. Chávez as a Cuban
and pledged its "resolved and unwavering support for the Bolivarian
Revolution in these difficult days."
"The Cuban people consider him one of their most accomplished sons, and
they have admired him, followed him and loved him as one of their own,"
the government said in the statement. "Chávez is also a Cuban."
Flags at government buildings flew at half-staff after the government
declared two days of official mourning, and canceled concerts and other
public events on Friday. In Havana, where the Venezuelan leader battled
cancer at a military hospital enveloped in secrecy and spent much of his
last three months, some Cubans said they were deeply saddened by Mr.
Even those who had little time for his brand of socialism wondered if
Cuba would descend into an economic chasm, much as it did in the 1990s,
after the Soviet Union collapsed.
Cuba receives more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day from Venezuela,
purchased on favorable terms as part of an exchange that has tens of
thousands of Cubans working in Venezuelan clinics, schools and
ministries. The subsidized oil accounts for about two-thirds of Cuba's
consumption and is credited by many Cubans with keeping the lights on
and the air-conditioners running during the brutal summer heat.
"A shudder ran through my body," Marina Suárez, 48, said of the moment
when she heard the news of Mr. Chávez's death. She added, "He has died,
but for me, he is as alive as ever."
Ms. Suárez was confident that Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela's interim
president and a Chavista, would win election and retain close ties with
Cuba. "With everything that Chávez did for the poor, for his people, for
all peoples — how could they not vote for Maduro?" she asked.
Luis, a 39-year old engineer who did not want his full name to be
published because talking about politics in Cuba is very delicate, was
"It's scary. If there is a change in Venezuela, they won't keep the deal
like it is," he said, referring to the subsidized oil.
The government would have to come up with a plan that did not depend on
another nation's largess, he said.
"You can't have what happens inside your home depend on your neighbor,"
Luis added. "If your neighbor dies, then what? You don't eat? We need to
be self-sufficient. But this system will never be self-sufficient."
Were Mr. Maduro to be defeated, or simply decide that Venezuela could no
longer afford to subsidize Cuba, the government would have to speed
economic reforms, added Luis, who recently began working for himself
under a two-year-old program to encourage private enterprise.
"Cubans remember the special period," he said, referring to the severe
economic hardships of the 1990s. "They won't put up with another special
Other Chávez allies around the world were grappling with his death as
well. The Iranian government declared a day of mourning on Wednesday and
local news media reported that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would
attend Mr. Chávez's funeral on Friday in Caracas. Through several trips
to Iran, Mr. Chávez forged a strong, if controversial, alliance that has
drawn Iranian construction companies to several projects in Venezuela
and deepened their financial ties.
Mr. Ahmadinejad said that Mr. Chávez would surely return to earth once
the Shiite 12th Imam, who according to the sect's beliefs is a messiah,
would come to liberate the world.
"I have no doubt he will come again along with all the righteous people
and the Prophet Jesus and the only successor of the righteous
generation, the perfect human," Mr. Ahmadinejad said, adding that Mr.
Chávez had died of a "suspicious illness" — a reference to theories
espoused by some Venezuelan officials and allies that Mr. Chávez's
cancer was somehow the work of the United States government.
In Cuba, state television and radio broke into regular programming on
Tuesday night to show an extended newscast about Mr. Chávez's death and
broadcast coverage from Telesur, the Venezuelan news channel. A Cuban
official said he could not yet confirm whether Raúl Castro or Fidel, who
is very ill, would go to Caracas for the funeral.
Members of the Venezuelan community, Cuban officials and diplomats,
meanwhile, gathered at the Venezuelan Embassy in Havana, on a wide
boulevard in an upscale neighborhood, on Tuesday to offer condolences.
Applause and shouts of "Viva Chávez" could be heard from the sidewalk
outside. But elsewhere, the streets were quiet; some residents of Old
Havana said they heard little music from the salsa bars on Tuesday night.
Thomas Erdbrink contributed reporting from Tehran.