Katell Abiven –
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is hanging onto power in the crisis-wracked country in large part thanks to backing from the military, which according to the United States is receiving support and advice from Cuba.
While the close relationship between left-wing allies Venezuela and Cuba is well-known, Havana denies the accusations from its old Cold War foe that its actions are nefarious.
“The time has come to liberate Venezuela from Cuba,” US Vice President Mike Pence said.
“Cuba’s malign influence is evident in Venezuela and in Nicaragua.”
There’s nothing new in such assertions coming out of Washington.
Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton branded Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua together as a “troika of tyranny” in November.
The strength of the relationship between Caracas and Havana was apparent when Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel headed to Venezuela for his first overseas appointment after succeeding Raul Castro in April.
Cuba was also one of the first countries to offer its “strong support” to Maduro on January 23 after opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself acting president.
The relationship goes back to Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez, according to Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue think-tank.
Chavez, the Venezuela president from 1999 until his death in 2013, “admired Fidel Castro, it was almost like a father-son relationship.”
“The Cuban engagement in Venezuela began then and very, very strongly,” added Shifter.
For Venezuelan lawyer and military specialist Rocio San Miguel, Cuba’s involvement in Venezuela’s state apparatus probably dates back to 2004.
Cuba has gradually taken control of “five sensitive national security areas: Notary registers, identity papers, intelligence, the armed forces and the national police,” San Miguel said.
Rapidly, the two allies agreed on a simple partnership in which Caracas provides economic assistance and oil at friendly rates, while Havana sends thousands of doctors, sports coaches and military advisors to the South American country.
“Cuba got far more out of it than Venezuela,” said former British ambassador Paul Webster Hare, who lived in both countries and is now a professor at Boston University.
“There were no two countries in the world that had as… integrated governments as Cuba and Venezuela.
“There are reports that Maduro has Cuban intelligence briefings every day.”
San Miguel went so far as to say that “in the decision-making process there is Cuba above Maduro,” although Shifter insists “there is no evidence of that.” — AFP