The unannounced visit to Cuba earlier this week by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, apparently to pay homage to the late Fidel Castro, has rekindled criticisms about the the Cuban government’s strong influence on Venezuela's crisis.
“Mr. Maduro traveled secretly last night to Cuba. Why did he go? He's been to Havana more than Maracaibo or San Cristobal,” Venezuelan opposition leader and Miranda state Gov. Henrique Capriles wrote in Spanish on a Tweet posted Monday.
“Why did Mr. Maduro go?” Capriles added in a video posted Wednesday on Periscope. “To hand over more of our oil? To commit our armed forces even more, asking for reinforcements from the Cuban military so they can continue … to command the Venezuelan military?”
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In the midst of the deepening political crisis in Venezuela, opposition activists in both countries have stepped up their complaints about what they allege to be the noxious influence of Havana over domestic affairs in the South American country.
“The Castro government tests and applies all its repressive technology in Venezuela,” said a declaration signed by 42 Cuban government opponents. “Havana designs the strategy for installing a totalitarian regime, and sends the agents necessary to carry out those objectives. The Chavista regime, plagued by corruption and drug trafficking, has been the perfect ally.”
The declaration signers — including prominent Cuban dissidents Berta Soler, Guillermo Fariñas, José Daniel Ferrer and Antonio Rodiles — added that Cuban ruler Raúl Castro and his son Alejandro, as well as Maduro and his No. 2., Diosdado Cabello, “should be held equally responsible for the disastrous situation in the sister nation.”
For the Venezuelan opposition, the issue of alleged Cuban interference is of such importance, that in a declaration criticizing President Donald Trump's recent mention of a possible U.S. military intervention in their country, the Caracas-based Mesa de la Unidad (Democratic Unity Coalition) alleged that “military and political interference by Cuba has not only affected our sovereignty and independence but is one of the main causes for the government's violence and repression.”
Maduro's trip to Cuba and meeting with Raúl Castro, kept secret until it was confirmed by the Cuban news media Wednesday, highlighted a frequent criticism of the Venezuelan president: that he accepts too much political advice from Havana.
“I believe the proposal for a new Constituent Assembly was created in Cuba,” said Cuban author Carlos Alberto Montaner. “Under the current constitution they could not carry out a communist revolution. They needed a tighter model because the experience of the Cuban government is that if they build a system for defending the political model, they survive.”
Raúl Castro recently congratulated Maduro for ordering the Constituent Assembly in a letter that appeared to sum up his advice to Caracas: resist and appeal to “the unity of the people.”
“Experience shows that each act of terrorism lifts the morale of the people, each attack makes it stronger, each blow strengthens unity,” Castro wrote.
Castro also predicted “days of powerful struggles, of international harassment, of blockades, of restrictions. But they will also be days of creativity and work for revolutionaries and the entire Venezuelan people which, like today … will have us Cubans on the first row of militant solidarity.”
The stability of the Maduro government is vital to Cuba because Venezuela has been its biggest trade partners and provides the island with highly subsidized oil. Although the oil shipments have dropped significantly in recent months, Maduro remains committed to a level of supply that has kept the Cuban economy from total collapse.
The Venezuelan opposition has been denouncing the Cuban presence in the country for years. After the alliance between Fidel Castro and the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Cuba gained a powerful influence over the South American nation, including its national identification system, the PDVSA oil monopoly and many government ministries. In 2012, opposition activist María Corina Machado demanded an investigation of the Cuban military's Cooperation and Liaison Group (GRUCE) in Venezuela, led by Gen. Ermio Hernández Rodríguez.
“As OAS Secretary General, Luis Almargo, said at a Senate hearing on July 19th, there are approximately 15,000 Cuban regime military and security forces who are acting 'like an occupation army from Cuba in Venezuela,’ ” said Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, R-Fl.
“...The world needs to know and stand up against the occupation of Venezuela by the Cuban regime and it needs to support the appeals of the Venezuelan people for democracy and basic human rights,” Díaz-Balart added.
The U.S. government has not taken a clear position on the issue, although it has imposed sanctions on Venezuelan government officials and is drafting new regulations expected to ban U.S. companies from doing business with companies controlled by the Cuban military.
The State Department declined to answer questions about the Cuban meddling in Venezuela. But CIA Director Mike Pompeo recently said that U.S. concerns over the Venezuelan crisis were justified by the presence of Cuba and hostile countries like Russia and Iran.
“The Cubans are there. The Russians are there. The Iranians and Hezbollah are there,” Pompeo said in an interview with the Fox TV network. “This is something that has a risk of getting to a very, very bad place. So, America needs to take this very seriously.”
Jason Poblete, a lawyer in Washington who follows U.S. policies for the Western hemisphere, said Cuba is trying to support the Maduro government at all costs because it is desperate to continue receiving Venezuelan oil.
“Cuba wants to protect the oil,” he said. “If you want to resolve the Venezuelan problem, you have to resolve the Cuba issue.”
Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres