“It will be nothing short of disastrous for Cuba if that program came to an end,” Bryan said.
Risa Grais-Targow, an analyst for the Eurasia Group, a consultancy, noted that “all of the partners (in Petrocaribe) are probably very nervous” but “it’s not like you’re going to wake up tomorrow and not have free oil.”
Still, leaders around the Caribbean lamented the demise of a crucial patron.
“I have lost a colleague, a father, a brother, a friend,” Roosevelt Skerrit, the prime minister of the island nation of Dominica, told his nation in an address.
Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina tweeted that Chavez was “a warm and supportive friend of our country.”
Indeed he was. The nation gets at least 30,000 barrels of crude a day under the Petrocaribe program, and it’s run up a $3 billion debt to Venezuela. The soft terms have helped keep its currency stable.
While Chavez failed to attain a dream of a nationalistic and united Latin America with a distinctly anti-U.S. hue, he made sure that Venezuela’s oil wealth was felt through the 10-member bloc he spearheaded, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas, and with targeted trade to such countries as Argentina and Brazil.
Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, maintained strong ties to Chavez, although the relationship was in large part about commerce. Rousseff played a fundamental role in approving Venezuela’s entry into the Mercosur trade bloc last year in a last-minute decision after Paraguay’s suspension allowed such a vote to take place.
In 1999, Brazilian exports to Venezuela were a mere $537 million, but they shot up to $5.1 billion by last year, according to the country’s ministry of trade and development. Venezuelan sales to Brazil barely changed at all during that some period – $974 million in 1999, compared with $997 million in 2012.
Brazilian conglomerates benefited. Steel company Gerdau bought a Venezuelan steel company in 2007. Its chief executive said at the time that he had little fear of Chavez’s nationalizations affecting him.
In fact, Chavez gave preferential treatment to Brazilian businesses. In 2009, just after nationalizing the Argentine company Sidor, part of the Techint group, Chavez said, “We are in a phase of nationalizing companies, except for Brazilian ones.”
In 2008, just after Ecuador had kicked out the Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht, Chavez offered his endorsement at a meeting in Manaus, Brazil, with the presidents of Brazil, Ecuador and Bolivia.
“In Venezuela, this company is behaving very well,” he said, recalling that Odebrecht hadn’t participated in a 2002 work stoppage that shut down Venezuela.
Odebrecht’s projects in Venezuela include constructing part of the subway system in Caracas. It also donated money for a book on Simon Bolivar for Chavez to distribute.
Argentina’s companies also gained from Chavez’s so-called Latin America integration. Exports to Venezuela grew from $247.2 million in 1999 to $2.2 billion in 2012, according to the Buenos Aires consultancy Abeceb. As in Brazil, Venezuelans gained little: Argentina imported $79.3 million from Venezuela in 1999 but just $24.9 million last year.
Argentine agricultural companies provided the majority of exports as they expanded in Venezuela during Chavez’s era.