Venezue­lan chaos has its roots in Cuban prac­tices


WASH­ING­TON — Some­thing is not quite right about this sum­mer’s sto­ries from Venezuela, that im­mensely re­source-rich but im­pov­er­ished Latin Amer­i­can na­tion seem­ingly headed to­ward civil war.

The cri­sis seems clear enough. Bit­ter protests have been in­creas­ing by the day for the last three months, throw­ing the coun­try once looked upon as the demo­cratic hope of the hemi­sphere into bru­tal chaos. At least 90 peo­ple are al­ready dead and 3,000 ar­rested. The con­fus­edly “so­cial­ist” gov­ern­ment is try­ing civil­ians in mil­i­tary courts.

But in the most strangely sin­is­ter twist to the con­flict, Venezue­lans are over­throw­ing garbage cans to scrounge for any­thing to eat, as well as dy­ing of dis­eases, such as malaria, long de­feated else­where. Univer­sity stud­ies show that three out of four Venezue­lans lost an av­er­age of 18 pounds in the last three years.

At the bor­ders of Colom­bia and Brazil, Venezue­lans are flee­ing like des­per­ate an­i­mals just to find food. Many of them doubt­less think back on the years be­fore 1999 when refugees from Cuba and else­where fled to their coun­try for free­dom.

Most of the ar­ti­cles in the Amer­i­can press (when there are any at all) warn of a re­turn to the old mur­der­ous and ex­ploita­tive mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ships of yes­ter­year. An age when gen­er­als like Tru­jillo in the Do­mini­can Repub­lic, Peron in Ar­gentina and Perez Jimenez in Venezuela strode the stage like puffed-up, be­medaled roost­ers.

But here is where they have it not only “not quite right,” but ter­ri­bly wrong.

What we are see­ing in Venezuela does not match any of those old analo­gies. In­stead, it is the on­go­ing cre­ation of the “rev­o­lu­tion­ary” Cuba of the Cas­tro broth­ers, which is still ex­pand­ing its es­sen­tially “soviet” struc­tures and sys­tems into South Amer­ica.

The moves have been quasi-se­cret, but they are be­gin­ning to be­come known. For one thing, on July 30, Venezuela will vote on a propo­si­tion put for­ward by the thug­gish for­mer bus driver, Pres­i­dent Ni­co­las Maduro, on whether ap­pointed “com­mu­nal coun­cils” should take over from the present demo­crat­i­cally elected Na­tional Assem­bly. These coun­cils are es­sen­tially the old so­vi­ets of the Soviet Union — cour­tesy of Cuba, of course.

Well-in­formed sources quoted in The Wall Street Jour­nal now say that there are some 50 high-rank­ing Cuban mil­i­tary of­fi­cers, 4,500 sol­diers in nine bat­tal­ions and 34,000 doc­tors and health pro­fes­sion­als in Venezuela with or­ders to de­fend the gov­ern­ment with arms. And Car­los Alberto Mon­taner, one of the most re­spected Cuban in­tel­lec­tual ex­iles, re­cently wrote an ar­ti­cle in Mi- ami’s El Nuevo Her­ald char­ac­ter­iz­ing the sit­u­a­tion as “Venezuela at the Edge of the Abyss.”

These de­vel­op­ments started soon af­ter Hugo Chavez, the for­mer colonel who charmed the Venezue­lan peo­ple with his talk of re­form, his weekly ra­dio chats and his jaunty red beret, took over in 1999.

When I spent hours with him the day be­fore his elec­tion, he was charm­ing and open, vow­ing not to copy oth­ers’ rev­o­lu­tions, but to “cre­ate our own.” Even if he meant it then, he didn’t do it. Soon, the Cubans were ev­ery­where and Chavez was reg­u­larly in Cuba, hug­ging Fidel like a boy in Wrigley Field in Chicago meet­ing Ernie Banks for the first time.

Two things seem to me to be im­por­tant here:

1. Any­one who thought Raul Cas­tro was re­ally giv­ing up spread­ing revo­lu­tion be­cause Amer­i­can tourists are now drink­ing mo­ji­tos at Hemingway’s fa­vorite bar in Ha­vana had bet­ter have a drink them­selves.

2. What we are truly see­ing in Venezuela is the for­ma­tion of a “Mafia state,” with cor­rup­tion that will stag­ger even the most cyn­i­cal mis­an­thrope. Re­spon­si­ble an­a­lysts say that, of an es­ti­mated $1 tril­lion in oil rev­enue re­ceived dur­ing the Chavez-Maduro years, more than $300 bil­lion went to cor­rupt of­fi­cials, many of them gen­er­als in a now crim­i­nal­ized mil­i­tary.

More­over, it’s a Mafia state that can be com­pared only to Rus­sia’s, ex­cept that Venezuela is sit­ting on tril­lions of dol­lars in oil rev­enue and has aligned it­self, not only with Cuba, but also with Rus­sia, China, Iran and Syria.

A small prob­lem here. The U.S. still buys 95 per­cent of Venezuela’s oil, and while the dis­as­trous Chavez-Maduro know-noth­ing eco­nomic pol­icy has de­stroyed its in­dus­tri­al­ized sec­tors, Venezuela turns out, iron­i­cally, to be wholly de­pen­dent upon Wash­ing­ton eco­nom­i­cally. Pres­i­dent Trump has al­ready frozen as­sets of some of the worst Venezue­lan of­fend­ers, many of them also in­volved in the drug trade, and is presently work­ing on whether to sanc­tion Venezuela it­self.

Venezuela was a coun­try that had ev­ery­thing go­ing for it. There was only one thing it didn’t have: enough even half­way hon­est po­lit­i­cal and fi­nan­cial lead­er­ship to rea­son­ably de­velop the coun­try.

That is the mes­sage of the pro­test­ers on the streets, and God bless ‘em.

Georgie Anne Geyer has been a for­eign cor­re­spon­dent and com­men­ta­tor on in­ter­na­tional af­fairs for more than 40 years. She can be reached at

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