Hugo Chavez: Fidel Castro’s Bet / Iván García
Hugo Chavez: Fidel Castro's Bet / Iván García
Iván García, Translator: Unstated
Some might think that luck came to the aid of a beleaguered Fidel
Castro, when back in 1998, the island economy was going down with an
industry crippled by lack of oil, exports were in the toilet, finances
in the red, international debt swelling, and expenditures of billions of
dollars to feed 11 million Cubans badly.
The only commander was crossing the desert. Four years earlier, in
August 1994, a mob rioted on the Havana Malecon, demanding open borders
and the ability to flee on rafts bound for Florida.
The continuous defections of professionals, athletes and intellectuals
were no longer news. Education and Public Health, two of the vaunted
achievements of the revolution, plummeted.
In Cuba in the late 20th century almost nothing worked. Except
repression. Blackouts. People ate poorly. And their ramshackle houses
clamored for urgent repairs. Between cyclones and low productivity,
Cubans took refuge in sex and cheap rum. The future, when planned, was
to flee. Wherever you could.
With empty bellies and penniless pockets, many people refuted the
anti-Yankee discourse of Fidel Castro, who for hours and for any reason,
planted his tent and mobilized the nation to go to war for his "battle
of ideas" .
Just when they painted the worst predictions for the continuity of the
Cuban Revolution Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias came to power in Venezuela.
A stroke of good luck. In his eventful life, Castro has had good
fortune. From not being lynched by Batista's soldiers after robbing a
barracks in Santiago de Cuba, serving only 22 months of a sentence of 15
years in prison on the Isle of Pines, freed by a general amnesty, until,
dying of thirst and hunger and with only three old rifles to hunt doves,
he and his group of 7 men undertook their guerrilla struggle.
Perhaps the emergence of Chavez was not only the product of good luck.
Someday, when the state archives and political police files are opened,
it will be known in detail the role played by Cuban intelligence in the
political formation of Hugo Chavez.
The former lieutenant of skydiving was followed very closely by the
spies of the Communist Party Central Committee's American Department,
who promptly sent his dispatches to the bureau's first secretary. It was
no coincidence that after the misguided attempt at a coup d'etat, on
February 4, 1992, Cuban special services gave a special following to the
reckless soldier from Barinas.
Maybe the game started earlier. But nobody can deny that after nearly
two years in prison (he was released on March 26, 1994, case dismissed),
the only place Hugo Chavez was greeted with a red carpet was in Havana.
With several moves in advance, Castro completed the profile of the
Venezuelan and opened the doors of the Great Hall of the University of
Havana to the unknown coup leader to give a lecture.
By stages, Castro and Chavez planned the future moves of their pieces.
From the formation of his Bolivarian party, until his election victory
in 1998, the hand of Fidel Castro was behind him.
Venezuela had all the conditions created for an exalted populist,
charismatic and talkative, to come to power through the vote. Rampant
corruption and misrule of the traditional parties, while poverty and
crime grew steadily in dark lands.
This cultivated cauldron was conducive to Chavez'z entry by the back
door. Then he formed a Latin American entente of the carnivorous left
with Evo Morales, Rafael Correa and Daniel Ortega. But Castro had his
eyes on his Venezuelan disciple.
He had petrodollars by the bushel. He could revive plans shelved by
revolutionaries on the continent. But first he had rescue the
first-born, the Cuban revolution, tired, ragged and out of steam. Thanks
to Venezuelan oil the extensive blackouts in Cuba diminished. And with
the dollars of the Cuban doctors, engineers and other professionals who
work in Venezuela, Castro received fresh tickets.
Behind the alliances and polarized discourse and anti-gringo attitudes
of Chavez is Fidel Castro. If ALBA or another economic association
hasn't worked, it is because it is cursed by the inability of these
autocratic systems to generate wealth.
Either way, the generous South American Santa Claus opened the checkbook
and Cuban ruling class underpinned the power while the military
corporations had liquidity.
From 2005 to date, Cuba has received more than 28 billion dollars in
aid from the government of Chávez. The money has not caused a dramatic
rise in the quality of life of Cubans. Not at all.
That money has gone to secret investments in telecommunications, tourism
and modernization of the repressive forces. Therefore, Hugo Chavez's
unexpected cancer had thrown the government of the island for a loop.
If Chavez dies before the election of October 7, or loses power, the
Cuban mandarins will be sunk. Not to mention they will have no money to
buy oil, as new marine surveys from Scarabeo 9 show it may take three
years to locate commercial wells.
To this, we add the logical exhaustion after 53 years of uninterrupted
power. A fourth world infrastructure and a meager agriculture has not
been able to bring root vegetables, beans and vegetables to the table of
the Cubans. The cattle have been disappearing by the clandestine sharp
knives of the butchers and hardly produce milk.
The situation is aggravated by the dissent that has become more
rebellious and moved into the street.
If we return to another 'special period', we already know what it means,
a war without the roar of mortars, the dead calm of an exhausted
population. That's why Hugo Chavez has a cardinal importance: with him,
the Castros entrenched their revolutionary dynasty.
The brothers from Biran have made their bet. One well calculated over
the long-term. You can't say it was a bad move. Although according to
the news these days, they may have backed a losing horse.
Photo: Fidel Castro received Hugo Chavez on the tarmac on Havana in his
first visit to Cuba on December 13, 1994.
Margin notes. – I do not know how or when Fidel Castro knew that in
Venezuela he had a mulatto soldier called Hugo Chavez, born in 1954. But
what is clear is that theirs was a political crush. They have cultivated
their relationship as a well run marriage, and they do not forget to
remember the date they met.
To mark 10 years from their first meeting on December 14, 2004, Castro
presented Chavez with the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Order, in a ceremony
at the Karl Marx Theater, where he delivered a fiery speech. In 2009, 15
years of faithful friendship were remembered with a card. The last
celebration, of 17 years since the Castro-Chavez first meeting took
place on December 14, 2011 at the Simon Bolivar House, Old Havana, and
consisted of an exhibition of 41 photos donated by the State Council of
One evening in December 1999 at the Havana movie theater, the Alameda, I
saw the Venezuelan tape of the dawn of the coup, one of many Latin
American films shown during the International Festival of New Latin
American Cinema, held that year in Havana. Directed by Carlos Azpurua
and Jose Ignacio Cabrujas script, the film interweaves stories, I do not
know whether real or fictitious, which occurred the night of February 4,
1992, when Hugo Chavez led a coup to overthrow President Carlos Andres
In 1997 or 98, during his first presidential campaign, Chavez traveled
to Europe and one night I heard the interview he gave to the BBC Latin
American Service and I could understand what a populist that Venezuelan
was. (Tania Quintero).
March 4 2012