"Cubans found the manna in Venezuela"
"I was very surprised (at Raúl Castro's onslaught on Venezuelan dissenters.) Fidel Castro would not have done that"
- What is your opinion on Raúl Castro's attack on the Venezuelan opposition?
- I was quite surprised. Firstly, because claiming the triumph of Cuba for its election at the Pro Tempore Secretariat of Celac would have been far more important. However, that was not news, but his meddling in Venezuela's internal affairs. I am convinced that Fidel Castro would not have done that, and that in some sectors of the Cuban diplomacy, as well as in some Foreign Offices, that was not welcome.
- Why did Raúl Castro make such comments precisely at a time when Venezuelans are so sensitive to the Cuban issue?
- I think that Cubans have a position of playing to block the game in the Venezuelan politics in the regional ambit. They feel confident because the Latin American and Caribbean community has taken a favorable stance as to the Venezuelan government and has embraced the decision of the TSJ (Supreme Tribunal of Justice, under which the administrative continuity of Chávez's government was ruled). For this reason, Cubans are positive that they may take such a radical stance against the Venezuelan opposition.
- Would it rather show some nervousness by Cuba in the event of transition of Venezuela and losing control?
- I think that nervousness is not about future scenarios. They have always been very prudent, based on their historical experience. They always fail every time they try to meddle in the domestic affairs of foreign countries. When they went into Chile, they spoiled the Chilean socialist democratic project. Writers about the topic have concurrently concluded that month, when Fidel Castro was in Chile in 1972, was detrimental to the government of (Salvador) Allende. When they went into Grenada in 1983, they bet on radicalism against the prime minister, leading to the US invasion. In Africa, when they went into Equatorial Guinea, came home shorn as well. Based on that experience, I reckon that they are pondering on the effects of Chávez's stay in Cuba and its use by the political leaders of the Bolivarian revolution. There are signs that many people in Venezuela think that Chávez has gone too far concerning his stay in Cuba and that Venezuelan political leaders have taken pride in making decisions in Cuban territory and even conceded that such decisions have been made before the Castro brothers. And the Venezuelan opposition has made a political issue of that.
- What is the true role played by Cuba in Venezuela?
- Several times over these 14 years, Chávez has commented wacky things, such as the ultimate merging of Cuba and Venezuela into a federative state. Rather than blaming Cubans, I think that it is the fault of Venezuelan political leaders. Cubans found the manna in Venezuela after having lost the aid from the Soviet Union. They found in Venezuela what they always wanted. In 1959, Fidel dreamed of grabbing Venezuela. He made it by the most unbelievable means; which is the electoral means. Chávez and his followers have had a childish, non-critical position as to Cuba. Cubans, for their part, have insisted on saying that Venezuela lacks the conditions for total radicalism; that there is plenty of money because the middle class would not leave Venezuela, as in the Cuban case; that in the current context, which is not that of the Cold War but globalization, a window should remain open for the opposition. Cubans have rather contained the revolutionary political leaders. The fact of the matter is that the time has come, as President Chávez has spent almost 200 days of the last 350 in Cuba, of a borderline situation. Cubans ought to weigh their next step. Rather than taking a relaxed position, they have closed further, as shown by Raúl Castro's speech. And this will bring along more problems.
Translated by Conchita Delgado
At first she agreed that I use her real name, that she had no problems with that at all. After all, living with HIV had driven her to help others – as a workshop facilitator giving talks and conducting seminars, or as a volunteer for local AIDS Service Organizations like Acción Solidaria (Solidary Action) and Mujeres Unidas por la Salud (Women United for Health, or Musa), a support group network for HIV-positive women. But when we were well into the interview, the realization that she might lose her private health insurance coverage made her change her mind.