THE CUBA-VENEZUELA ALLIANCE: EMANCIPATOR Y NEO-BOLIVARISMO OR TOTALITARIAN EXPANSION?
THE CUBA-VENEZUELA ALLIANCE: “EMANCIPATOR Y NEO-BOLIVARISMO” OR
By Hernán Yanes *
© 2005 ICCAS
Armando F. Mastrapa III
La Nueva Cuba
June 3, 2006
This study examines the background as well as the ideological
foundations underpinning the Cuba-Venezuela alliance. Castro and Chavez
are now trying to consolidate a new political axis in Latin America,
funded by Chavez’ oil diplomacy. Similarities with the Cuban experiment
are highlighted, as well as Castro’s collaboration with the leadership
of the Movimiento Revolucionario Bolivariano-MBR 200. The various
dimensions of the cooperation between Venezuela and Cuba are explored,
with emphasis on its political objectives and impact on each country.
Following are some of the main conclusions of the study:
• Venezuela is providing in excess of 90,000 barrels of petroleum daily
• Cuba’s debt to Venezuela has surpassed the $3 billion mark.
• Cuba is reselling, with Venezuelan support, part of the petroleum in
the world market.
• Part of the Venezuelan oil subsidy is repaid by Cuban personnel
working in Venezuela. It is estimated that more than 40,000 Cubans are
now in that country including military advisors, security officers as
well as teachers, nurses and physicians.
• This large number of Cubans has helped in Chavez’ consolidation of
power and in influencing internal developments and public opinion in
• Chavez is attempting to perpetuate himself in power and to replace
representative democracy with a new form of “popular democracy.”
• A close relationship has developed between Cuba’s FAR and the
Venezuelan Armed Forces, FAN. FAN has established doctrines on
“asymmetrical war” against “U.S. imperialism” and on Cuba’s “War of all
the People” adapted to the Venezuelan case.
• Numerous military exchanges have taken place and the eventual
integration of the two institutions will represent a formidable military
force in the Caribbean Basin.
• Venezuela is modernizing its military with substantial purchases of
weapons from Russia, Spain and others.
• The developing Cuba/Venezuela axis is aggressively supporting groups
and leaders in Latin America. In particular, the two countries have
focused on Bolivia and Evo Morales presidential candidacy. Other support
has gone to violent and non-violent groups in the region such as the
Fuerzas Armadas de Colombia (FARC); the Sandinistas of Nicaragua; the
FMLN in El Salvador; and indigenous groups in Ecuador and Peru.
• Venezuela has moved closer to Iran and North Korea expanding political
and economic cooperation.
• Venezuela, with Argentinean and Cuban support, have established
Telesur, a government controlled network broadcasting throughout the
region the anti-American message of Chavez and Castro.
© 2005 ICCAS
1. Hugo Chavez: Castroism before Bolivarism
Like Fidel Castro – his political mentor – President Hugo Chavez is an
example of doctrinaire eclecticism and political pragmatism. In the
midst of the initial conceptual uncertainty, characteristic of the
Movimiento Bolivariano Revolucionario -MBR 200 and its political allies
in the mid-1990s, the first “founding myth” restored by “Chavism” has
been the premise that the armed forces should abolish the political
representative systems comprised of traditional political parties which
are considered corrupt. As a consequence, the armed forces should ally
themselves directly with the people. For some, this is merely another
example of Latin American military praetorianism, or simply caudillismo.
For others, an original manifestation of neo-Bolivarism. A close
examination of several years of Hugo Chavez’ rule supports the belief
that Chavism is close to Castroism.
Certain similarities with the Cuban case are apparent, including the
course taken by Chavez in his rise to power. First there was the attempt
to seize power by force- along with the armed forces. This was Chavez’s
own version of the failed Moncada attack of Castro in 1953. Then the
building of his image while in jail. And finally his visit to Havana
after being released from jail in 1994.1
Since that time, Castro was eager to support his young Venezuelan pupil.
He provided intelligence, thru the Cuban embassy, in Caracas to Chavez
and his allies. From an early time Castro saw Chavez potential and the
weakness of Venezuela’s political system.
Castro’s relationship with Chavez was definitively consolidated with the
victory of the former lieutenant colonel in the 1998 presidential
elections in Venezuela. Some former Castro officials and pro Castro
sympathizers became part of the president’s inner circle. These people
have close ties to the Americas Department and to Cuba’s military
intelligence. Among the most prominent are former Venezuelan Energy and
Oil Minister Ali Rodríguez, who became president of PDVSA and Foreign
The similarities between Chavez and Castro reflect a combination of
ideological as well as pragmatic motives. The relationship between the
two leaders was solidified in November 2004, the tenth anniversary of
Chavez’s first visit to the island. On that occasion, accompanied by his
main civilian collaborators and top commanders of the
*The author wishes to acknowledge and thank Professor Jaime Suchlicki
for his comments and suggestions on this paper. This study grew out of a
colloquium at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies.
1 I personally had the opportunity to attend the ceremony Castro gave in
honor of Hugo Chavez at the Aula Magna of the University of Havana in
1994. An evaluation of the Venezuelan case was published by the Americas
Study Center (Centro de Estudios sobre America- CEA). We underscored the
absence of a coherent project on the part of the emerging Revolutionary
Movement (Movimiento Bolivariano Revolucionario-MBR) 200.
2 In 1992, while working as a researcher at the CEA, I interviewed Ali
Rodríguez given his expert status in the petroleum area in Venezuela.
The interview was arranged by Carlos Antelo, official at the Cuba’s
Communist Party Central Committee Americas Department in charge of
© 2005 ICCAS
National Armed Forces – FAN – Chavez again proclaimed himself in favor
of socialism.3 He said Castro’s speeches inspired him and the creation
of the Movimiento Bolivariano Revolucionario – MBR 200. 4 During his
trip, Chavez signed economic and political agreements bringing Cuba and
Venezuela closer together.
Since his rise to power, Chavez has utilized several methods to
consolidate power and win popular support. First he has been emphasizing
the Bolivarian Revolution, with neopopulist programs centered on
mobilization of the lower, more marginalized sectors of society. Chavez
has made good use of “plebiscite democracy” as a means of
“deconstructing” the preexisting democratic system,
plebiscites, approve his own “Bolivarian” constitution, dominate the new
Chamber of Deputies, the only existing legislative body, appoint
followers to the Supreme Court and use FAN to resolve conflicts. The FAN
has become recently the most important institution in Venezuela’s
political system. Chavez also borrowed from Castroism the idea of
Bolivarian circles, paramilitary institutions inspired by Cuba’s
Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (Comites de Defensa de la
Revolucion). Finally, just like in Cuba, Chavez has used political
discourse charged with nationalistic and “anti-imperialist” elements
aimed at labeling the United States the main foreign danger and national
“enemy” – identifying his opponents as “enemies of the state.”
FAN’s internal ideological differences and fissures seemed to have
played a decisive role when, under pressure from a massive opposition
movement, a military faction led to the president’s resignation in April
2002. Within 48 hours, Chavez was back in power thanks to his military
allies. The attempted coup allowed Chavez to reorganize the military and
purge “disloyal officers.” Chavez’ control over FAN has increased
significantly, and the institution now appears completely loyal to its
commander in chief.
This explains in part the growing repressive capacity of the regime over
the political opposition, civil society and the media. Remaining to be
explained are the past relations of Chavez’ friends and the president
himself with Peruvian special services, and with Vladimiro Montesinos,
Peru’s former intelligence chief. Fujimori’s experiment in Peru of
presidential authoritarianism seems to have also inspired Chavez. There
were four elements of the Fujimore process that may have inspired
Chavez: guarantee of presidential power and immediate reelection;
subordination of legislative power, with the elimination of the Senate,
and modification of the rules for approving laws; expansion of
3 Since this date, Chavez has reiterated at several forums his alleged
preference for “socialism.” The Venezuelan president has mentioned in
some speeches and statements the creation of a Venezuelan socialist
model, while in others, he makes reference to a “socialism of the XXI
Century” or “new socialism.” Except for unrelated ideas about
“strategies” for “renovation,” of “moral” principles and continued
criticism of “capitalism” and “imperialism” Chavez has not presented a
coherent vision in this regard. See Taller de Alto Nivel “The New
Strategic Map,” November 12 and 13, 2004, web version of the Ministry of
Communication and Information, Caracas, November 2004.
http://www.mci.gov.ve; see also Chavez: “We are breaking with the
perverse mechanisms of capitalism,” Prensa Presidencial, published on
Wednesday, July 23, 2005, http://www.aporrea.org, “Chavez urges
initiation of a socialist offense in the world,” ABN, August 24, 2005.
htpp://www.abn.info.ve; At Fuerte Tiuna, Chavez commemorated the 68th
anniversary of the National Guard. Cadena Global/ABN/AP, August 4, 2005:
Chavez: Corruption represents the capitalist model,” Global/ABN, August
4 Ceremony at the Karl Marx Theater in Havana. Chavez received the
Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Order. Radio Nacional de Venezuela. Caracas,
December 14, 2004.
© 2005 ICCAS
judicial power with the purpose of manipulating it; and the
political-territorial deconcentration recourse as a brake on
Increased control over FAN, the legislative and judicial bodies allowed
the president to invalidate millions of pro referendum signatures
collected by the opposition or to militarize PDVSA in 2003. Furthermore,
control over the military and the electoral process allowed Chavez to
legitimize his power during the 2004 referendum.
A populist regime exists in Venezuela which is now not based on
coalitions, conciliation or political participation, but on the
possession of abundant oil resources and their “discretional” use by the
president. A recent study conducted by the Venezuelan organization
“Sumate” concluded that, after nearly seven years of Chavez government,
the country’s democratic institutions are showing signs of losing their
autonomy and independence, embracing instead revolutionary change.6
Since the beginning of 2005, Chavez has strained relations further with
the United States. The Venezuelan president and his cabinet never lose a
chance to criticize or accuse the U.S. administration.7 They claimed
that the United States was planning to assassinate Chavez; they
denounced the “Balboa plan” thru which the U.S. could invade Venezuela.
On several occasions, Venezuela has published accusations of maneuvers
by the U.S. military near the country, including neighboring Curacao.
Chavez has threatened to cut Venezuelan oil shipments to the U.S and
sell it instead to China. Also the Venezuelans have expressed an
interest in selling their Citgo chain of gasoline stations in the U.S.
and to divest themselves of their large share of government investments
in U.S. securities. 8
Chavez’ speeches are full with insults, first against U.S. Secretary of
State Condoleezza Rice and increasingly against President Bush. Chavez
has called Bush “Mr. Danger” in an unprecedented surge of anti-U.S.
speeches and in support of the so-called “socialism of the Twenty First
Century.” Chavez recently suspended cooperation with the
5 See Guillermo Alfonso Martín. “Cambio institucional y problematica
fiscal en Venezuela: La reforma del Estado y la “revolucion pacifica”
(1989-2000) seen from the perspective of intergovernmental relations.
México City, 2005, draft pending publication. I would like to express my
appreciation for the generous collaboration and fruitful discussions
offered by Dr. Guillermo Alfonso Martín, who shared with me valuable
information in the preparation of this study, as well as profound
reflections on the Venezuelan case.
6 See Francisco Olivares. “Solo Hechos. El Estado de la
institucionalidad en Venezuela. La democracia bajo el signo bolivariano.
El Universal, Caracas, Sunday, September 11, 2005.
7 The controversial statements made by Evangelical pastor Pat Robertson
in August suggesting magnicide on the Venezuelan president are an
example. Although U.S. spokesmen and important officials of the U.S.
administration, such as Donald Rumsfeldt, immediately denied having
anything to do with it and even denounced the pastor’s statements, the
Hugo Chavez government tried to establish a link between Robertson’s
opinions and the White House. See President Chavez: Si algo llega a
pasarme el responsable se llama George W. Bush. Prensa Presidencial/RNV,
Friday, August 26, 2005. http://www.aporrea.org .
8 See: Si atentan contra Chávez. Ramírez: Venezuela podría suspender
venta de crudo a EEUU. The distortion it would cause the world market
would be gigantic. This statement was made by Venezuelan Energy and Oil
Minister Rafael Ramírez at the close of the OPEC ministerial meeting in
Iran, where it was decided to raise production to 50,000 b/d. Cadena
Global/AFP, March 16, 2005; Chavez again threatens to cut off oil to the
U.S. Ultimas Noticias, August 15, 2005: “E
s un precio que hay que pagar
por la soberania.” Ramírez: Suspenderemos petróleo a EEUU si siguen
agresiones. Cadena Global/ABN, August 17, 2005.
© 2005 ICCAS
DEA’s drug program in Venezuela accusing the agency of espionage in
Caracas. This has been denied emphatically by the U.S. administration.
2. Military Transformation and Anti-Americanism
The Venezuelan president and top military leaders have reconstructed the
country’s military doctrine along the lines of what they call “doctrine
of the asymmetrical war.” It assumes a military conflict with the United
States (a “U.S. invasion”) or a military conflict with U.S. allies in
the continent, such as Colombia. The internal priorities of the Chavez
government are to continue to increase the president’s personal control
over the armed forces and developing a major and efficient repressive
apparatus. Venezuela announced on September 26, 2005, a new National
Armed Forces Organic Law (LOFAN)9. It includes an anti-imperialist
“military doctrine” with a strategic design based on territorial control
of “integral defense zones” and a role for the reserves. The law mimics
the Cuban doctrine of “War of the Entire People.”
In recent weeks, Chavez has even defined as the “sacred mission” of his
foreign policy and of Bolivarian Venezuelans the “saving of humanity”
from the “U.S. threat” and promotion of a multipolar world. The
Venezuelan president has called on his new partners in the region to
prepare for the collapse of the North American “empire” and to join in
the construction of a Cuba-inspired socialist model.10 Even with the
U.S. in the grip of a natural disaster, Hurricane Katrina, Chavez could
not resist the temptation to charge the U.S. administration of being
racist for its slowness in helping hurricane victims in Louisiana.
Shortly afterward, the Venezuelan president delivered an electrifying
“anti-imperialist” harangue at the OAS, considered by many observers a
repeat of past appearances by Fidel Castro before the organization.11
Chavez wrapped up his visit to New York with what many viewed as a
theatrical performance with a handful of sympathizers in Harlem.
The Caracas government continues strengthening its alliance with Cuba
and fostering similar policies. It has promoted anti-ALCA measures and
continental destabilization by supporting political candidates in
various countries such as Evo Morales in Bolivia and revolutionary
groups such as the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias (FARC) in Colombia.
Furthermore, Venezuela has moved close to enemies of the U.S. such as
Iran and North Korea, increasingly cooperating with these regimes and
expanding commercial and political ties. Beyond sporadic manifestations
of a desire to improve relations with Washington, the tone of Venezuelan
rhetoric is still such that it appears aimed at provoking U.S. response
in the direction of a wider diplomatic conflict and eventual breaking of
formal ties between the two nations.12
9 See Elvia Gómez. Hugo Chávez ya promulgo la Ley Orgánica de la FAN. El
Universal, Caracas, Monday, September 26, 2005; also see, Chávez: En
Venezuela se acabara el latifundio. Cadena Global, September 26, 2005.
10 See Chávez prevé “derrumbe del Imperio” estadounidense. Cadena
Global/ABN/ANSA, September 6, 2005
11 See Speech by the President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,
Hugo Chavez, at the Sixtieth UN General Assembly, ABN September 15, 2005.
12 See Q&A: Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez. Anti-Bush, And Mincing No Words. In
The Washington Post, Sunday, September 25, 2005,
© 2005 ICCAS
New plans have been recently developed for a “Territorial Guard” made up
of the civilian population to serve as “local resistance” against
“internal or external attacks.” The Guard would be controlled by the
president together with the reservists. In effect, control at the local
level is being strengthened, under the President’s direct command.13
The Chavez government has been purging military commands and even
changing military rotation and promotion patterns. It launched the new
anti-imperialist “military doctrine” and replaced the former FAN uniform
with another, ostensibly similar to that used by Cuba’s FAR. In Chavez’
own words, the “ideological deviation and submissive spirit that existed
within the country’s top commands led the army to gradually begin using
a uniform that was not theirs,” describing it as part of the
“imperialist domination” past.14 Along with this, there has been a
series of changes in military thought and a new training manual for
officers and soldiers. The underlying objective is to try to achieve
FAN’s total transformation “a la Cuba”, as an unconditional instrument
at the service of the Chavez project.
Recently the government has purchased millions of dollars in weapons,
primarily from Russia. This places more pressure on neighboring
Colombia, and could be a step toward strengthening a military alliance
with Cuba. A close military collaboration with Cuba allows for
Venezuelan military personnel to be trained in the island or for Cuban
advisors to train Venezuelans in their own country. The Venezuelan
acquisition of MIG 29’s is particularly important in providing the Air
Force with a significant capability in South America. The combined
Cuban/Venezuelan Air Force now with new spare parts and capital from
Caracas makes this not only a potentially destabilizing force in the
continent but a foundable force to contend with in any regional conflict. 15
In many ways, the collaboration between FAR and FAN’s top leaders has
intensified in past years. Along with frequent visits to the island by
military delegations from the Instituto de Altos Estudios de Defensa
Nacional (IAEDEN), the Navy and Air force and other FAN units there is
the unprecedented appointment of Fidel Castro as “godfather” of 85
officers graduating from the Venezuelan Army’s Military Command. This is
the generation of officers who will have command over the Venezuelan
army for at least the
13 Guillermo Martín Castellano, Op. Cit.; see also “The President of the
Permanent Defense Commission of the Parliament, Edis Rios, explained
that following at a meeting with President Chavez and Defense Minister
Jorge Luis Garcia Carneiro, it was agreed to incorporate in the report
on rules new articles that revoke the Defense Office’s control over FAN
reservists, which, if the Executive’s goal is met, could be around
100,000. Rios said the reservists would answer to state governments and
the president of the republic.” Quoted by El Universal, March 16, 2005.
See also “Machillanda acusa a Chávez de crear ejercito paralelo.”
Retired colonel Jose Machillanda, member of the Frente Institucional
Militar (FIM) and expert in military affairs, said yesterday that the
announcement that Hugo Chavez was appointing Gen. Julio Ramon Quintero
Viloria to head a 100,000-man reserve unit is meant to create a parallel
army to pursue the dissidence. Machillanda said the creation of the
reserves weakens the military institution and seeks to turn it into
“Cuban-style militias.” “The Victor
ia case reveals the great fear of the
president who has no other option than to appoint a submissive man to
increase the reserve element, which diminishes the land, air and naval
branches of the armed forces,” he told Union Radio, … DPA agency
(…). El Universal, Caracas, Monday, March 21, 2005.
14 See, From a new doctrine to “revolutionary uniforms.” Notitarde.
December 29, 2004.
15 See Francisco Olivares. Una alianza militar a tomar en cuenta. Dos
revoluciones se arman. El Universal, Caracas, Sunday, May 29, 2005.
© 2005 ICCAS
next decade. After the graduation ceremony, a majority traveled to Cuba
along with their closest relatives. There they were decorated by Fidel
Castro himself in August 2005. A similar visit occurred after the
graduation of 40 officers from the Air force, who visited the island for
special training and familiarization with Cuba’s air force.
The “Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas” subscribed to by the
governments of Havana and Caracas is being used as a “legal umbrella”
for joint training and programs involving the military of both
countries. Programs such as “Operation Miracle” which brings Cuban
medical personnel to Venezuela have been confirmed at key facilities
such as Fuerte Tiuna hospital. Venezuelan civil society sources have
also reported the presence of Cuban advisors in Venezuelan prisons, in
part to provide prisoners with psychological treatment.
As a rule, coordination between the Cuban and Venezuelan military is
carried out discretely allowing them to avoid as much as possible the
attention of the media and international observers. One example is the
FAN brigade participating in the construction of “Villa Bolivar” – one
of the towns conceived under the Alternativa Bolivariana para la America
(ALBA) in an area near Sandino in the Cuban province of Pinar del Rio in
2004. Until the visit by Chavez to Cuba in August 2005 in the midst of a
propaganda blitz put on by both governments, the international press was
little aware of the presence for several months in Cuba of a Venezuelan
Chavez’ can not be completely sure of military loyalty. In contrast to
Cuba, the Venezuelan president has inherited armed forces from the
former regime, which he himself belonged to. Since the beginning of
2005, there have been speculations about concerns and even “discussions”
by unidentified officers concerning issues such as Venezuela’s economy
if they lose the U.S. oil market and CITGO is sold, a topic that spawned
a controversy within Venezuelan society. There have also been
disagreements within the military over the new trial ordered by Attorney
General Isaías Rodríguez of officers involved in the April 2002 events,
whose causes had been dismissed. Some officers took refuge in
neighboring countries.17 Suspicions persist within FAN concerning the
burning death of two soldiers in custody this year.18 Around the same
time troop movements sparked rumors in the city of Maracay about
possible unrest in the
16 See Gobierno cubano condecora a militares venezolanos. El Universal,
Caracas, August 23, 2005.
17 Former vice president of the Republic and first vice president of the
Constitutional National Assembly of the Chavez regime, Attorney General
of the Republic, Isaías Rodríguez is the only official who can initiate
political trial procedures in Venezuela. Concerning the case mentioned,
see statements by members of the public ministry, quoted in El Mundo,
March 14, 2005; see also, Roberto Giusti. El otro pais (The other
country). El Universal, Caracas, June 14, 2005; Roberto Giusti. La
(Re)vuelta de los fantasmas. El Universal, Caracas, Wednesday, June 14,
18 The year before, a similar incident occurred in another cell at
Fuerte “Mara,” which also ended in the loss of human life. Gen.
Francisco Uson, former Finance minister of the Chavez regimen who later
turned against it, suggested that instead of an accident, as official
reports were claiming, the fire may have been intentionally set with a
flamethrower. Similar statements were considered “delitos de injuria”
(perjury crimes) and the general was initially sentenced to five and a
half years in prison. Since then, rumors have spread of the
unprecedented torture methods practiced by certain commanders. Beyond
the debate over the veracity of these reports, they gained momentum with
the case of the soldiers burned under “strange circumstances”
(officially, another incident) in one of the cells. The reports have
included Cuban advisory assistance in the “investigations” carried out
by the Chavez government at various FAN levels.
© 2005 ICCAS
military.19 Army General Commander Raul Isaias Baduel said that these
were “persons foreign” to the armed forces “who intend to generate a
situation of confusion in the institution to use a portion of FAN
against the nation’s interests.”20
In June 2005, the Chavez government faced tensions with commanders of
the National Guard in the country’s interior. However, several weeks
later, after promotions and military salary increases, as well as the
replacement of the Defense Minister, the government appeared to be in
much better control. In mid-August 2005, Chavez boasted publicly that he
no longer saw any chance of a military coup against his government. The
president followed this with a change of leadership in the National
Guard and by the complete replacement of nearly all of the top military
command of FAN.21 The president finally introduced a police law that
ensures the restructuring and centralization of the institution in the
hands of the executive.22
In the meantime, Chavez continues to lead the country toward his “own
model” of Cuban inspiration23 as well as a continental “emancipation”
movement. Chavez’ propaganda on alleged U.S. aggression and attempts to
assassinate him, as well as Venezuela’s willingness to “repel and
respond” to any attack by the Bush Administration is being used as a
justification to gain control over the military, to tightening political
control over the population at large and to welcome Cuban military
advisors and security personnel.24
3. Significance of Venezuela for Cuba
The Cuban decision to baptize 2005 as “the Year of the Bolivarian
Alternative for the Americas” should not be seen as a simple gesture of
political sympathy. The economic survival of the Castro regime depended
during the first half of the present decade on an initial supply of
53,000 b/d of oil under an agreement between Cuba and Venezuela signed
on October 30, 2000. Castro sees Venezuelan economic support as an
indispensable help to muddle through the difficult times after the
collapse of the Soviet Union and to insure a smooth succession and to
avoid any transition in the island. This helps explain the direct
involvement of the Castro government, and of its intelligence
19 Cadena Global, Thursday, March 10, 2005.
20 Quoted by Union Radio, Wednesday, March 16, 200.
21 See Ministerio de la Defensa de Venezuela anuncia renovación de altos
mandos en los cuatro componentes. Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias (ABN),
September 20, 2005/Caracas. http://www.aporrea.org .
22 See El
suceso ocurrió el pasado 27 de junio. Fiscalia acuso
formalmente a 25 policías por Caso Kennedy. Cadena Global, August 17, 2005.
23 References of a “modelo propio” of socialism could be related to the
advice given Chavez from people like Marta Harnecker, director of the
research center Memoria Popular Latinoamericana (MEPLA) based in Havana.
Harnecker is well known as author of hard-line Marxist texts that were
widely published throughout Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s. She
has spent the last 10 years writing about the local Brazilian PT
governments with emphasis on Sao Paulo.
24 See “Casa Militar reforzó seguridad en torno al Presidente Chávez.”
Cadena Global/ABN, March 15, 2005. See also statements by Vice President
Rangel quoted by Cadena Global, March 17, 2005; “Defensa Endogena. Desde
la urbanización el paraíso se constituye el embrión de lo que serán las
unidades de defensa popular siguiendo la línea dictada por el Presidente
Chávez.” El Universal, March 13, 2005.
© 2005 ICCAS
services helping restore Chavez to power in April 2002. Venezuelan oil
exports to Cuba have become vital and are now at 90,000 barrels a day.
Independent studies have shown that Venezuelan oil exports to the island
are an unpaid subsidy despite references to payments by Cuba. The
quantity of Cuban health personnel, sports trainers and teachers sent to
Venezuela or the “free” treatment of Venezuelan citizens at the island’s
hospitals does not even come close to pay for Venezuelan oil sent to
Cuba.25 Authorities from both countries took a long time in recognizing
what other more realistic estimates were saying: that the supply of
Venezuelan crude to the island had risen to no less than 70,000 to
80,000 barrels a day beginning with the most intense phase of the
electricity crisis on the island in 2004.26 Venezuelan government and
PDVSA executives were manipulating public information to try to
undermine the close Cuba-Venezuela relationship and the true amount of
crude supplied to Cuba.
In September 2004, coinciding with the electricity crisis in Cuba,
Venezuela’s Energy and Oil Minister spearheaded a “mission” to Cuba to
“strengthen binational cooperation.” Cuba and Venezuela approved 116 new
cooperation projects in 15 sectors. The meeting reviewed the existing
collaboration program between Havana and Caracas and agreement was
reached for future projects. The meeting was opened by Cuba’s Vice
President Carlos Lage and Venezuelan Ambassador to Cuba Adan Chavez,
brother of the Venezuelan president. The communiqué explained that
“according to the Integral Cooperation Agreement, Venezuela sells Cuba
some 53,000 barrels of oil daily at preferential prices and thousands of
Cuban health, sports and education professionals and technicians are
collaborating in Venezuela.” Though no analysis of the energy agreement
was mentioned publicly, PDVSA sources in Caracas as well as in Mexico
City spoke of recent increases to Cuba. The media published an official
PDSVA communiqué playing down recent increase in oil exports.27
It appears as if Venezuelan and Cuban officials collaborated in an
attempt to conceal the extent of the Cuba-Venezuela oil agreement. At
the same time, it was reported that Venezuelan trade with Cuba had risen
to some 1 billion dollars in 2003, but it was not specified how much of
that corresponded to oil. Another example of the vagueness of the
information available for this item is the following table which shows
the type of disaggregate data on exports by destination issued by
official Venezuelan governmental sources. Note that despite the “total
export” denomination, the figures corresponding to public sector iron
and oil exports were omitted, while private sector ones were included.
In fact, the former were provided by the Banco Central de Venezuela28
only as an aggregate, without going into detail about the relative share
of receiving countries. Cuba is not even mentioned as supposedly
included into “others.” There was no clear information in this regard on
PDVSA’s website or on that of the Minister of Energy and
25 Gerardo Reyes: Chávez garantiza el petróleo a Castro, El Nuevo
Herald, April 20, 2003; Patricia Ventura Nicolás. Jose Toro Hardy
rejects the oil agreement on the island. ‘El pais pierde con Cuba.” El
Universal, http://www.eluniversal.com, February 3, 2002.
26 See report by Hans de Salas on a study by the Cuban and
Cuban-American Studies Institute, University of Miami, in Casto Ocando.
Apuntala a Castro el crudo venezolano. El Nuevo Herald, February 20, 2005.
27 See “Pdvsa reporta exportaciones en 2,7 millones de barriles.” El
Universal, http://www.eluniversal.com .October 5, 2004.
28 http://www.bcv.gov.ve . See statistical information. © 2005 ICCAS
Oil. Total FOB goods exports for 2004, according to BCV, were 39,371
million dollars, of which public sector oil exports contributed 27,640
million dollars (70.2%). Oil accounted for 94% of public exports.29
Therefore, with the information on Venezuelan exports by the National
Statistics Institute (INE), is impossible to show exactly how much oil
Cuba receives from Venezuela.
Total Venezuelan Exports, according to country of destination,
Country of Millions of % Millions of % %
Destination US$ US$ Variation
Total 2,777 100 4,188 100 50.8
Colombia 328 11.8 532 12.7 62.2
United States 1,094 39.4 1,840 43.9 68.2
Netherlands 119 4.3 150 3.6 26.1
México 176 6.3 225 65.4 27.8
Ecuador 95 3.4 128 3.1 34.7 Japan 57 2.1 76 1.8 33.3
Brazil 55 2.0 74 1.8 34.5
Peru 40 1.4 65 1.6 62.5
Italy 51 1.8 58 1.4 13.7
Republic 37 1.3 42 1.0 13.5
Chile 21 0.8 33 0.8 57.1
Puerto Rico 23 0.8 28 0.7 21.7
United Kingdom 18 0.6 34 0.8 88.9
Others (include 663 23.9 903 21.6 36.2
Figures are provisional.1/ Excludes oil and iron exports of the public
sector and includes oil exports of the private sector. Source: Servicio
Nacional Integrado de Administración Tributaria (SENIAT). Processed by
the National Statistics Institute (INE).
http://www.ine.gov/ve/comercio/comercioindice.asp . Guillermo Alfonso
Given this, studies have become necessary based on indirect
calculations, which have helped conclude the increase in oil exports to
the island in 2004.30 Media sources have confirmed the fact that in the
same period a generalized increase in crude exports occurred without
Venezuela apparently knowing why. More importantly, independent studies
have concluded that Cuba would be selling on the world market part of
the oil received from Venezuela as a way to obtain dollars estimated by
some to be close to 1 billion dollars annually. Five years into the
agreement, experts say, Cuba’s oil-related
29 See Guillermo Alfonso Martín, Op. Cit.
30 Report by Hans de Salas. Op. Cit. © 2005 ICCAS
debt, to Venezuela, exceeds 2.5 billion dollars.31 In sum, the Chavez
government has become the successor of the Soviet oil subsidy to the
Venezuela’s economic support has allowed Castro to recentralize
political and economic control. The partial liberalization of the last
decade has come to an end. The circulation of the dollar has ended. The
number of foreign companies operating in Cuba has been reduced. And the
number of Cubans allowed to operate independently of the state,
cuenta-propistas, has been gradually reduced. Cub
a is undergoing a
Chinese type cultural revolution, albeit less violent, where an aging
and sick leader attempts to create the conditions for a succession to
his brother Raul and the military. Castro’s objective, helped by
Venezuela’s aid, is to prevent a transition in Cuba toward a market
economy and a free society.33Venezuela’s support has come to alleviate
Cuba’s chronic problems. These include: an anticipated failing electric
grid, a disastrous sugar industry, an apathetic label force, and in
general, a failed economic system. The drop in remittances and Bush’s
policies and mutual disasters have come to aggregate a difficult
Together with “counter reform” associated with the “battle of ideas”
model and symbolized politically by a Union of Communist Youth
Congress-UJC at the end of last year and the Bastion 2004 Military
Exercise, triumphalism has returned to the rhetoric of regime about the
future of the Cuban economy and its social “programs.” Castro has signed
oil exploration agreements with China, Canada, and Spain. There is
significant hope for Cuba’s offshore oil reserves and the possibility
that in a few years Cuba would be self sufficient in its petroleum needs.34
The launching of the so-called Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas
–ALBA in Havana in December 2004 was the culmination of the strategic
alliance between two caudillos. The agreement provides for a “legal
umbrella” for accelerated integration between the governments of Chavez
and Castro and for “reciprocal assistance.”35 Other
31 Much before the peak in bilateral economic relations, estimates by
independent Venezuelan experts indicate that at the end of 2003, Cuba’s
debt with Venezuela was close to 1 billion dollars. See Marianna
Parraga. Cuba acumula deuda de $891 millones con Venezuela. El
Universal, Caracas, January 14, 2004.
32 Report by Hans de Salas. Op. Cit.
33 See Mar Marin. Fondos/ Han cerrado unas 100 empresas de capital
mixto. Cuba pone orden en inversiones extranjeras. Las alianzas con
China y Venezuela han hecho que el país sea más selectivo a la hora de
escoger. EFE/El Universal, Caracas, June 17, 2005.
34 See “CVG explora proyectos de aluminio con Cuba.”
http://www.eluniversal.com, October 10, 2004; Gobierno aumenta convenios
con Cuba. http://www.eluniversal.com, September 29, 2004; Cuba y
Venezuela aprueban 116 nuevos proyectos de cooperación,
http://www.eluniversal.com ; “Cuba’s Energy Challenge: Fueling the
Engine of Future Economic Growth” by Jorge R. Piñon. Institute for Cuban
and Cuban-American Studies, March 2004.
35 See The Agreement between the president of the Bolivarian Republic of
Venezuela and the president of the Counsel of State of Cuba for
Expansion of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, signed on
December 14 in Havana. The Agreement is not transparent and gives the
idea that it really hides much of what could happen under the legal
umbrella. For example, its Article 3 is quite vague: “Both countries
will prepare a strategic plan to guarantee the most beneficial
productive complement on the basis of rationality, use of the advantages
existing everywhere, resource savings, expansion of useful employment,
access to markets or other considerations sustained in true solidarity
that empower the forces of both.” Or Article 4: “Both countries will
exchange integral technological packages developed by each in areas of
common interest, which will be provided for use based on principles of
mutual benefit.” In sum, they lack details. Article 6 provides legal
coverage to every type of company in both countries without providing
any details about the companies themselves. Another part talks about
opening bank accounts in each country as well
© 2005 ICCAS
terms of the agreement include the lifting of tariffs and taxes, access
to 100% of investment property in Cuba by Venezuelan government
investors, access to Cuban ports, for Venezuelan ships. But the topic of
“open skies” stands out as it grants Venezuelan airlines the same
benefits and permits as it grants Cuban government airlines, including
passenger operations in the island. For some years now, CARICOM country
airlines such as Air Jamaica have requested similar treatment. However,
these concessions were never made based on claims of national
sovereignty and the exclusive control by Cubana de Aviación. An
agreement of this sort usually is not allowed in other countries given
the competition for national companies. Governments generally try to
avoid granting licenses to foreign companies to transport passengers
Cuba enjoys an important subsidy allowing it to pay 29 U.S. dollars for
a barrel of Venezuelan crude at a time when prices are skyrocketing on
the world market. Venezuelan energy assistance is key to ensuring Cuba
access to dollars, and at least allowing a modest increase of 3% for the
island’s economy in 2005.36 It also helped Castro cushion the effects of
the reduction of Cuban-American remittances to the island and to
negotiate more independently with other countries in Europe and elsewhere.
In a series of speeches in 2005, Castro focused on a program of
distributing pressure cookers and rice cookers, together with promises
of future sales of electric stoves and other appliances in the short
term. In those speeches, Castro made it clear that the time of power
shortages was over, that this was one of the miracles of the Revolution.
He said over and over that the country would continue to receive
supplies and products from Venezuela. Castro constantly invoked Chavez’
name, underscoring the close coordination and exceptional mutual support
existing between Venezuela and Cuba.37
Chavez’ visit to Cuba in April 2005 further cemented the relationship.
As part of the “First Cuba Venezuelan Meeting on the application of the
Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas,” 49 agreements were signed,
which included a “strategic” plan that represented a “flexible
instrument” that would continue to further political and economic
integration. According to official figures, more than 300 million
dollars were added in bilateral contracts, while Cuba would acquire from
Venezuelan 412 million dollars in products. An increase in Venezuelan
oil to the island was openly recognized to be no less than 80,000
barrels a day.38 Other highly publicized agreements were signed valued
at up to 200 million dollars.
The agreements were far reaching. They encompassed areas such as basic
industry, telecommunications and informatics, the iron and steel
industry, air and maritime
as an agreement on reciprocal credit that is also too vague and which we
can assume serves to facilitate some sort of subsidy from Chavez to
Castro. The part on Venezuelan share includes “Cuba’s participation in
the consolidation of binational endogenous centers” without explaining
what it is about. The Agreement’s text “reinforces” “legal coverage” of
Cuban participation in missions by the Hugo Chavez government. One part
is dedicated to foreign policy strategies, which will be discussed later.
36 See The Economist Intelligence Unit. Cuba. Country Report 2005.
http://www.economist.com; Faraco questions Venezuela’s “suicide” debt.
El Universal, Caracas, April 5, 2005.
37 Speech by Fidel Castro on International Women’s Day, Convention
Palace, Havana, March 8, 2005; speech by Fidel Castro before Party and
Government leaders, representatives of peoples’ org
anizations and FAR
and MININT combatants, Convention Palace, March 24, 2005. Source: TV Cubana.
38 During this visit, Castro came to mention that since the very
beginning of the agreements years back, Chavez had proposed to him the
shipment of some 100,000 b/d, which he was opposed to, consequently
signing for half the amount.
© 2005 ICCAS
transport, agriculture, water resources, culture, sports and television.
There were several agreements on the oil alliance between PDVSA and
CUPET. PDVSA opened an office in Havana. Joint ventures were organized
to build or expand tank terminals as well as the joint refining of oil
for distribution to other Caribbean countries. It was announced that
Venezuela might help finish the Cienfuegos refinery to process
Venezuelan oil for distribution to the Caribbean and build another
refinery in Matanzas near the island’s main tank port. An agreement was
signed to build a lubricant plant in Cuba. Brazil’s Petrobras was
invited to participate in this “joint venture.” PDVSA would also
undertake oil drilling, pumping and refining in Cuba’s economic zones in
the Gulf of Mexico, where, among other public and private companies,
Repsol, Sherrit and even Petrobras have interests. Another agreement had
to do with providing Cuban land for a branch of the Banco Industrial de
Venezuela to be built in the island.
The number of agreements contained in this so-called Strategic Plan show
a degree of unprecedented coordination between the two governments. Cuba
and Venezuela are integrating politically, economically, and militarily.
Obviously, these agreements would have legal ramifications if the
existence of any of the two regimes were to come to an end.39
Beyond sporadic official reports containing partial information, both
governments seem to try to keep other countries from knowing the extent
of their relationship. Perhaps Chavez is concerned about the reactions
of Venezuelans as the extent of his subsidies to Cuba is known.40 The
figures announced at the First Cuban-Venezuelan Meeting for Expansion of
ALBA, showed that Venezuelan trade with Cuba in 2004 grossly over the
1.4 billion exceeded that with China (approximately 1.3 billion) and
Spain (some 879 million). But since the relationship between Venezuela
and Cuba is based on exchange of expertise, medical, educational, and
military, for there to be even an approximate figure is extremely
difficult.41 To complicate the inconsistencies of the available data
Castro, during a speech on July 26, 2005, said that trade with Venezuela
exceeded three billion dollars.
In any case, the strategic political variables associated with creating
better conditions for “socialist construction” in Venezuela and the
expansion of its continental political influence must dominate Castro
and Chavez’s thoughts above economic rationality. Also, Chavez’ support
for Castro is allowing Cuba to freely reexport Venezuelan oil –
petroleum that does not necessarily have to reach Cuba’s coasts and can
be reexported directly to other destinations as long as the revenues go
to Cuba. This could perhaps take place through a concessionary
“platform” granted by Cuba and Venezuela to Asian partners such as
China. Oil export and reexport agreements to the Asian giant probably
39 See Final Declaration of the First Cuba- Venezuela Meeting for
application of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas.
http://www.camaracuba.cu. See also Lorena Gonzalez. Pdvsa suscribió 9
documentos del Alba en Cuba. Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias/ABN,
Friday, April 29, 2005. http://www.apporrea.org; Venezuela ha elevado de
53 a 90 mil barriles diarios suministro de crudo a Cuba. Pdvsa y Cupet
firman acuerdos. El Universal, Caracas, April 29, 2005: Pedro Pablo
Peñalosa. Diplomacia/Al MRE le cuesta precisar el numero de acuerdos
bilaterales. Se incrementa presencia cubana en Venezuela. El Universal,
May 8, 2005.
40 See Orlando Ochoa. ¿A quien le venderemos el petróleo? El Universal,
Caracas, Friday, April 29, 2005.
41 See Guillermo Alfonso Martín. Notas sobre el intercambio comercial
Cuba-Venezuela y socios principales de Venezuela en el 2004. México
City, April 2005 (draft).
© 2005 ICCAS
would involve certain guarantees and agreements by Cuba (for example,
permission for oil drilling) as well as Venezuela to China. China, in
turn, would have to manage the situation carefully not to jeopardize its
relations with the United States. Shortly before Raul Castro’s Asian
trip in 2005, the Chinese SINOPC Group and its Shengli Administration
spent some 400 million dollars on gas and oil drilling in Cuba. It was
around this time that Cuba closed an oil production agreement with the
Chinese group. In mid-August 2005, Venezuelan Energy and Oil Minister
Rafael Ramirez stated that since the beginning of the year, Venezuela
had sold 14 oil tankers to China that could hold 2 million barrels of
The “Chinese move” by Venezuela could create a complex oil trade
triangulation that would benefit Cuba. Current oil prices in the world
market would allow the Chavez government to pay for such programs
including transportation costs.43 Recently, the Banco Exterior de Cuba
has opened a branch in Venezuela under the name Banco de Exportacion y
Comercio, S.A.44 Venezuelan support has also made it possible for Cuba
to regain geopolitical influence in its immediate vicinity by becoming
the administrative center for redistribution of oil in the recently
created PetroCaribe. That same support has allowed the Cuban government
to secure other multilateral projects such as a recent agreement with
Venezuela and Brazil for ethanol production.45
On the home front, the Castro government announced a program for the
construction of at least 100,000 houses a year beginning in 2006. The
Cuban leadership is capitalizing on the beneficial relation with
Venezuela and reinforcing among the island’s population the idea that
the worst of the “special period” is almost over.
The FAR is also benefiting from the relations with Venezuela.
Intelligence and other services are being provided by Castro’s Interior
Ministry (MININT), which have resulted in generous “under the table”
compensations from the Chavez government. Castro has increased the
budget and made available more resources to the military. More police
are being recruited throughout the island. Recently, several hundred
students from public safety training courses at the Basic National
Police Academy (PNR) – have graduated and assigned to urban patrols.
4. Cuban Involvement in Venezuela and the “Consolidation” of the Chavez
In the latter part of 2005, the Castro regime had more than 40,000
“internationalists” in Venezuela advancing the Chavez government’s
populist policies. Of the 40,000, 20,000-30,000 are public health
workers, together with more than 5,000 sports trainers and thousands of
others in various areas. Part of the Venezuelan subsidy to Cuba includes
airfares, room and board, professional stipends and others expenses, for
42 See “Es un precio que hay que pagar por la soberanía.” Ramírez: We
will suspend oil to the United States if the aggression continues. Op. Cit.
43 Author’s interview with Jorge Piñon, Miami, Florida, August 2005. See
also, China and Cuba firman convenio para producir petroleo. El
Universal, Caracas, Monday, January 31, 2005.
44 See Cesar Contreras Altuve. Cuba abre un barco comercial en
Venezuela. Ultimas Notic
ias, Caracas, August 23, 2005.
45 See Venezuela construirá quince centrales azucareros. Cadena
Global/DPA, September 22, 2005.
46 See Pedro Pablo Peñalosa. Diplomacia/Al MRE le cuesta precisar el
numero de acuerdos bilaterales. Op. Cit.
© 2005 ICCAS
The high levels of defections among Cuban workers, particularly in the
area of health, have led to a Cuba-Venezuela agreement on Legal Matters,
announced in December 2004. The agreement allows Cuba and Venezuela to
arrest citizens from each other country, and appoints the ministers of
justice of both countries to conduct criminal investigations and
trials.47 The agreement has extended Castro’s repression into Venezuelan
Agreements in progress in past months include the so-called “Labor Plan
between the Pedro Gual Institute of Higher Diplomatic Studies of
Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry, and the Raul Roa Garcia Higher Institute
of International Relations of Cuba’s Foreign Ministry,” signed in Havana
on October 8, 2004. Members of the Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry will
travel to the island to undergo diplomatic training.48 Other agreements
relate to Venezuela’s media sector, including Cuban advisors to the
Bolivarian News Agency – ABN. A Media Cooperation Agreement between
Venezuela and Cuba was signed by Prensa Latina, Cuba’s news agency, and
the Bolivarian News Agency. The agreement states that the Cuban agency
Prensa Latina must help restructure and reactivate the ABN, as well as
advise the ABN “on the information side of the news, in training
personnel and in training in new multimedia technologies.” According to
Venezuelan officials, the agreement would help “internationalize” the
ABN since they hope to have “a network of correspondents abroad and
spread the truth about Venezuela and gather information of interest to
the Venezuelan people.”49
Probably the most strategic aspect of Cuban collaboration has been the
least publicized. Cuba’s intelligence operatives are helping Venezuela’s
Interior Ministry in “Mission Identity” to ID new citizens by the
National Identity and Foreign Office-ONIDEX. Since 2003, the Interior
and Justice Ministry of Venezuela created an institution made up of
youths trained in Cuba called Frente Francisco de Miranda, to supervise
Colombian nationals and people from other countries.50 Cuban advice
seems to be increasing in matters concerning ONIDEX’s national
With increased petroleum wealth, growing internal control, and increased
Cuban support, Chavez now makes references to his unlimited tenure,
offering as a likely date of his retirement the year 2030.51 Chavez
continues to repeat the logic of the Cuban model. Besides his growing
control over the military and the creation of the “Territorial Guard”-
47 See Eligio Rojas. Tildan de inconveniente Tratado Penal con Cuba. The
agreement was published in the Official Gazette last December, but its
content went unnoticed. Ultimas Noticias, January 25, 2005.
48 See Pedro Pablo Peñalosa. Diplomacia/Al MRE le cuesta precisar el
numero de acuerdos bilaterales. Op. Cit.
49 See El ministro Izarra confirmo que Telesur firmara un acuerdo de
cooperación con la emisora qatari Al-Jazira. El Universal,
http://www.eluniversal.com , March 25, 2005.
50 See Cedula Facil /48 mil nacionalizados influyeron en elecciones de
Tachira. El Universal, Caracas, January 23, 2005; see also, Gustavo
Azocar. Intervenida dirección de la Onidex Tachira. El Universal,
Caracas, Tuesday, August 16, 2005; Cuba apoyara modernización de Onidex.
El Universal, Thursday, August 18, 2005.
51 See Sara Carolina Diaz. El presidente advirtió que estará en el poder
hasta el año 2030 y no hasta 2021. “Nuestra tarea es salvar al mundo del
imperialismo.” El Universal, Caracas, Tuesday, August 16, 2005. Another
report refers to the words of President Chavez, saying, “correcting the
date of his retirement, he said ‘I have to continue until 2030’, in
order not to repeat that he is spinning his wheels and return to the
Pantheon absolved by history. “Hasta entonces no hay descanso y solo
entonces si podré retirarme.” See Cadena Global/EFE, August 15, 2005.
© 2005 ICCAS
recent steps have included: a stepped-up offensive against the media and
the beginning of a series of confiscations and expropriations of
“unproductive lands.” The Venezuelan president has declared an “all-out
war” against large landowners and warns that private property will not
be something untouchable in the country.52
5. A new continental political axis.
The growing Cuban-Venezuelan integration has been particularly
noticeable in foreign policy and the Venezuelan power projection.
Venezuela has been expanding its “oil diplomacy” while Castro
intelligence apparatus is infiltrating and destabilizing countries in
the region, particularly Bolivia and Colombia. Castro has transferred to
Cuba’s embassy in Caracas a team with expertise in penetration and
destabilization plans, including people like Felipe Gil Chamizo, Cuba’s
Political Adviser in Venezuela, considered one of the most important
analysts of the Americas Department; widely associated with the Latin
American left and the Foro de Sao Paulo and Foro Social Mundial
organizations. Cuban Embassy websites dedicate significant space to
Chavez’ speeches as well as “Bolivarian” programs and policies.
Recent Chavez’ involvements in Colombia, mainly through FARC, and in
Bolivia in support of Evo Morales are widely known. In recent months
there are reports of a Chavez network in Mexico (Friends of Venezuela
Network in Mexico) and in North America.53 The intense anti-ALCA
campaign and an attempt at creating an alternative regional integration
pole through “ALBA” are obsessions of the two leaders set on creating a
new strategic Havana-Caracas axis that reminds one of the anti-American
projects of Castro in the 1960s.
In early 2005 in Porto Alegre, Chavez said that the delay in launching
ALCA was “a victory for all peoples.” In Chavez’ “strategic map” of
Latin America, the old Castro idea of continent-wide exporting of
revolution has been practically revived. Chavez assumes the existence of
two counter axes: Caracas, Brasilia, Buenos Aires or the “Bolivar axis.”
This axis was strengthened by Tabare Vazquez’ victory in Uruguay and a
possible of Morales, in Bolivia. Opposing this group would be the
“Monroe” axis “dominated by the Pentagon” and made up, according to
Chavez, of “Bogotá-Quito-Lima-La Paz-Santiago.” “Our strategy,” said
Chavez, “must be to break that axis, and create South American unity.”
“I do not think,” emphasized Chavez, “it is a dream, I believe that
never before in America has there been a situation like this. Three
years ago, it was just Cuba and Venezuela, but now the situation has
This helps explain the strengthening of ties among Chavez, Castro and
leaders of the most radical social and political movements in Central
and South America. These include the Sandinista movement in Nicaragua,
the FMLN in El Salvador, and the leftist Indigenous groups of the Andean
region, such as Evo Morales’ Movimiento al Socialismo in Bolivia,
Pachacutik and CONAIE in Ecuador, and the so-called ethno-Caceres
movement of the Humala brothers in Peru.
Strategically, several of Chavez’ trips to Cuba in 2005 appear to have
been carefully prepared as attempts to coordinate continental strategies
and actions with certain allies of
52 See Chavez: En Venezuela se acabara el latifundio. Cadena Global,
September 26, 2005; Protestan contra militarización de propiedad
privada. Cadena Global, September 26, 2005; “Firman decreto de
expropiación de silos de Polar.” El Universal, Caracas, Monday,
September 26, 2005.
53 See Castro Ocando. Redes chavista penetran en EEUU. El Nuevo Herald,
March 20, 2005.
54 See Taller de Alto Nivel “El Nuevo Mapa Estratégico.” Op. Cit.
© 2005 ICCAS
the new Castro-Chavez axis. Objectives included the organization of NGOs
and hemispheric transnational social movement networks that would
organize a “resounding resistance” to the Summit of the Americas in
Argentina – a mobilization and destabilization mechanism that must not
be underestimated given the already high level of organization, agendas
and capacity for action inside several Latin American countries. These
movements identify Castro, Chavez and other continental leaders as the
new “revolutionary vanguard” of the “anti-imperialist struggle.” Hence,
a sort of “new Latin American international” led by Castro and Chavez is
organizing and directing the next stage of subversion in countries like
Nicaragua, El Salvador, Ecuador and Bolivia, with plans to spread to
other nations in the region and, altogether, defend and propagandize the
“Bolivarian Revolution” and the “ALBA” project.
One of the novelties of the ALBA continental strategy is the so-called
Bolivarian Congress of the People and the Parliamentary Network for the
Bolivarian Alternative of Latin America and the Caribbean (REDP -ALBA).
This was organized in accordance with the agreements of the second
Bolivarian Congress held at the request of the parliamentary faction of
the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) in El Salvador in
July 2005. This network is made up of representatives from Argentina,
Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras,
Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Uruguay, Venezuela, El Salvador, the Andean
Parliament, the Latin American Parliament, Central American Parliament
and the so-called Indigenous Parliament of America. The objective is to
support Venezuelan proposals in regional political forums. Such
proposals include the election of the Venezuelan ambassador to the OAS
as president of the Americas Charter task force of that hemispheric
organization. This network is also working for “revolutionary democracy”
as opposed to the current political democracy that exists in a majority
of the countries in the region. There are also specific plans for
influencing elections in which leftist leaders have a chance to emerge
victorious thus “preserving and developing the favorable correlation of
forces that exist in Latin America.”55
Castro and Chavez have also been coordinating policies toward the
Caribbean. There is the recently created PetroCaribe agreement which has
made Havana the center of oil and gas redistribution to smaller
islands.56 There is also interest in projects such as MERCOSUR, where
Cuba hopes to become a member, and in the Andean Community.57
The latest milestone of Venezuelan diplomacy includes new bilateral
agreements with Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil, with emphasis on regional
energy integration and steps toward the creation of PetroSur and
PetroAmerica. This is all part of a South American
55 See ABN, “Manifiesto de El Salvador de Parlamentarias y
Parlamentarios por la Integración y Soberanía de Nuestra América,” at
56 See Petrocaribe Energy Cooperation Agreement,
http://www.mre.gov.ve/Petrocaribe2005/acuerdo_final.htm ; Juan Francisco
Alonso, Today will be signed the agreement to supply crude oil to
neighboring islands. Venezuela will act as president of Petrocaribe. El
Universal, Caracas, Tuesday, September 6, 2005.
57 See MRE Press. Venezuela y Uruguay suscriben declaración conjunta
para el fortalecimiento de la integración binacional. Also see,
Presidentes de Venezuela y Argentina emiten comunicado conjunto para
afianzar la amistad e integración; Raúl Pierri, El Petróleo hace la
Unión. At http://wwwq.ipsnoticias.net /; Chavez y Lula celebraran
encuentro de trabajo y evaluaran acuerdos de cooperación, Agencia
Bolivariana de Noticias (ABN), August 11, 2005; according to Chávez,
“Construcción de refinería Pdvsa-Petrobras podría se este año.”
Jacqueline Gil, Agencia Bolivariana de Noticias (ABN), Brasilia, August
© 2005 ICCAS
“energy ring” that would include construction of an oil pipeline from
“Venezuela’s northeastern gas fields to Rio de la Plata” and an alliance
among South American oil companies. Convergence is sought among the
projects of MERCOSUR, now led by Tabaré Vazquez and the Andean
Community, under the presidency of Hugo Chavez since 2005. There are
other integration projects promoted by Chavez such as CarboSudamerica,
through bilateral agreements with Brazil and Argentina. The main
objective is to build the so-called “South American Energy Arch”
controlling Bolivian gas, a special objective of the Cuban-Venezuelan
Castro and Chavez have been promoting the geopolitical project of
revolutionary expansion, now based on strategic control of energy
resources and distribution means in Latin America and the Caribbean. In
coordinating strategies, formulas have been included for transforming
Venezuelan client and debtor nations into eventual political partners.
As for Bolivia, the project means the country’s incorporation into the
alliance as a full, long-term member. Evo Morales has announced that if
he wins the December elections, he would replicate the government model
established by Chavez, including the experience of the Venezuelan
Constitutional Assembly for drafting of a new Bolivian constitution.58
Chavez is focusing also in promoting the recently created South American
Community of Nations and intergovernmental projects such as Televisora
del Sur – Telesur. This government television network was created with
Venezuelan-Argentina financial support and is headquartered in Caracas.
It began operating in mid-2005 and is expected to operate throughout the
continent in competition with other US and Latin American networks. Its
CEO, Uruguayan journalist Aram Aharonia, calls it the “first project
against telecommunications hegemony in South America,” a network
comparable to Al-Jazira. Before Telesur was launched, Andres Izarra,
Venezuela’s former communications minister, announced the intention of
reaching agreements with the Arab station.59 Telesur’s international
directorate includes Andres Izarra and Ovidio Cabrera, former Vice
president of the Cuban Radio and Television Institute (ICRT) who
directed the “battle of ideas” program and round tables, in Cuba.60 In
the planning is also the Radios del Sur project, intended as a world
Chavez’ controversial ties with countries considered enemies of the
United States such as Iran should be emphasized. The statements made by
the Iranian president during his visit to Venezuela in favor of a
nuclear program and against the United States should be a source of
concern. Chavez is also promoting meetings and alliances with the
recently created South American Community of Nations and the Arab League.62
58 Karem Gull/Cadena Global, August 11, 2005.
59 Minister Izarra confirmed that Telesur will sign a cooperation
agreement with the Al-Jazira. El Universal, http://www.eluniversal.com ,
March 25, 20
60 See Blanche Petrich. Telesur: A Counter-Hegemonic Project to Compete
with CNN and Univision. Agencia Latinoamericana de Información y
Análisis 2-Alia2, March 2005, http://www.alia2.net .
61 See Sara Carolina Diaz, The president warned that he would be in
power until the year 2030 and not until 2021. “Nuestra tarea es salvar
al mundo del imperialismo.” Op. Cit. See also, Cadena Global/EFE, August
62 Cadena Global/DPA, March 13, 2005; Cadena Global, March 23, 2005.
© 2005 ICCAS
Castroism has been and continues to be one of the main inspirations for
Hugo Chavez. The final destination of Chavez’ “Bolivarian” project seems
to be a Castroite type dictatorship of Venezuela.
© 2005 ICCAS
* Hernán Yanes Quintero was born in Havana and holds a doctorate in
political science from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de México-UNAM.
For years he taught social sciences in Cuba. He was a researcher at the
Centro de Estudios sobre America (CEA) in Havana, where he worked with
institutions of various countries and joined the boards of two
international NGO networks and academic centers in the Caribbean. He has
published extensively on governmental and democratic issues in Latin
America, transnational civil society in the Caribbean and civil-military
relations in Cuba.
© 2005 ICCAS
Institute for Cuban &
© 2005 ICCAS
University of Miami
Occasional Paper Series