I am often asked why I write about Venezuela when my blog is about Cuba. It’s a reasonable question. When I wrote the initial postings, I thought the blog would be only concerned with Cuba, the locale of virtually my entire novel (Caracas is mentioned only in passing as a safe haven). Because I have read the news from Cuba and the blogs of dissidents who bravely write from there, I have observed that Venezuela’s affiliation to Cuba helps explain much of what is happening in Cuba. I have come to the conclusion that one cannot begin to understand current-day Cuba, without also attempting to understand current events in Venezuela. The two countries have become so closely aligned that it is difficult to distinguish between the foreign and domestic policies of each country. The loss of the Soviet Union as a sponsor for its feeble economy had propelled Cuba into the welcoming arms of Hugo Chávez, who has returned the affection by idolizing the Cuban state and its leaders.
When the Castro government lost its support from the Soviet Union, its economy lost is sole source of financial stability. Enter Chávez, who supplies Cuba with oil in exchange for technical assistance in the form of teachers, doctors and other university trained professionals. Cuba then exports the oil on the world market. Chávez regards Cuba as a revolutionary democracy, not a dictatorship, and has publicly stated that Venezuela is “traveling on the same sea” as the Cuban people, a sea of happiness and of real social justice and peace.” Many Venezuelan government agencies are staffed with Cubans, and when Venezuelans are in need of specialized medical care, they come to Cuba by the tens of thousands. Chávez’s recent cancer surgery is but the most prominent of such medical tourism visits.
It appears that Chávez regards Cuba as an extension of Venezuelan territory, since he has not asked his Executive Vice President to take over during his convalescence in Havana. The Venezuelan constitution provides in Article 234: “A President of the Republic who becomes temporarily unavailable to serve shall be replaced by the Executive Vice-President for a period of up to 90 days, which may be extended by resolution of the National Assembly for an additional 90 days. If the temporarily unavailability continues for more than 90 consecutive days, the National Assembly shall have the power to decide by a majority vote of its members whether the unavailability to serve should be considered permanent.”
By his inaction of not appointing the Executive Vice President to act, Chávez has demonstrated that he believes that his presence in Havana does not constitute a temporary unavailability, i.e. Havana is Caracas is Havana.