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    Chávez’s defeat could have major impact in Cuba

    Posted on Wednesday, 10.03.12

    Chávez's defeat could have major impact in Cuba
    By Juan Tamayo

    Cuba would undoubtedly suffer a devastating economic punch if Venezuelan
    President Hugo Chávez, whose subsidies to Havana are estimated at more
    than $4 billion a year, loses his reelection bid Sunday.

    But a Chávez defeat has a long-shot chance of carrying a thin silver
    lining, some analysts say. It could boost Cubans who favor deeper
    economic reforms so that their country can stand on its own two feet and
    might even fuel domestic desires for free elections in the island.

    Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski has made it clear that
    if he wins the vote, his oil-rich nation will halt the massive
    assistance that the socialist Chávez has been providing to his foreign

    "Not one drop of free black gold will leave the country," Capriles said
    to the French Liberation newspaper in a recent interview. Polls in the
    nation of 30 million people have split in their predictions for a winner
    in Sunday's balloting .

    Venezuela pays Havana an estimated $5.1 billion a year for the services
    of the 30,000 Cuban medical personnel, 15,000 teachers, and other
    advisors deployed in the South American nation, according to documents
    obtained recently by El Nuevo Herald.

    The payments – estimated at $114 billion or $113,333 for every Cuban
    deployed in Venezuela and 4.4 percent of the island's Gross National
    Product in 2010 – arrive in Cuba in the form more than 100,000 barrels
    of oil per day plus cash and shares in Petroleos de Venezuela S.A.
    (PDVSA), the Venezuelan government's oil monopoly.

    In turn, the Cubans have helped Chávez stay in power, providing the
    backbone of the free medical and educational services that have made his
    "21st century socialism" popular among Venezuela's poor.

    Havana's dependence on Chávez is so profound that Fidel Castro, who has
    not been seen in public since March, reportedly has been writing letters
    to the Venezuelan president urging him to make sure he stays in power.

    "If the counterrevolution manages to … get you out of there and grab the
    people's power, the persecution and destruction will be widespread. They
    will not forgive anyone," Castro wrote in one letter, according to a
    recently published book.

    A Chávez defeat also might push Cuba toward adopting deeper economic
    reforms than those currently espoused by island ruler Raúl Castro, said
    Pedro Burelli, a Chávez critic who follows developments in Caracasand

    "It would kill any ideological illusions left in Cuba for socialism in
    Venezuela," Burelli said, while strengthening the voice of those Cubans
    who want more reforms and weakening "those who want to preserve the
    current antiquated system."

    Even a Chávez victory in a closely fought ballot Sunday might push Cuba
    toward moderation, said Arturo Lopez-Levy, a former Cuban government
    analyst now lecturing at the University of Denver's Josef Korbel School
    of International Studies.

    Given the relative pluralism of Venezuelan politics, Havana should seek
    "more fluid relations" with all political forces in the South American
    country "beyond its logical ideological preference," Lopez-Levy said in
    an email to El Nuevo Herald.

    The narrow gap predicted between Chávez and Capriles, the academic
    added, also should teach Cuba to avoid "a repeat of the excessive
    dependence on a single market, as happened until 1960 with the United
    States and afterwards with the USSR."

    The competitive Venezuelan balloting might even eventually help to
    promote "more competitive elections in Cuba," Lopez-Levy added.