January 5, 2013

Venezuela’s 29 million people are praying for their ailing Commandante Hugo Chavez – half that he will survive his latest bout of cancer, and the other half that he won’t.

The flamboyant Chavez is reporting to be failing rapidly with “severe” respiratory complications after his fourth cancer surgery since 2011 in Cuba. Both the Venezuelan and Cuban governments have remained very secretive about the condition of the 58-year-old Chavez.

Watching any human battle the terrors of cancer is always heartbreaking. But Chavez’s prolonged illness is also causing rising economic and political uncertainty in both Venezuela and Cuba.

President Chavez styles himself leader of Latin America’s socialist “Bolivarian revolution,” an ex-military officers who vows to use Venezuela’s great oil wealth to uplift his people. Venezuela’s per capita income is a modest $13,000. By comparison, South Korea, a nation with no natural resources, has a GDP per capita of $30,000. Many Venezuelans subsist on $2 per day. They are Chavez’s most ardent supporters.

The dire illness that has afflicted Chavez has thrown Venezuela into political turmoil. He was due to take the oath of office for a second six-year term on 10 January.

Venezuela’s constitution provides for new elections if the sitting president dies. But there is confusion over what would happen if Chavez remains in a Cuban hospital. Will Vice President Nicolas Maduro take office – or not? The president of the National Assembly says he will assume office. Military officers are making coup noises.

All this would be merely of local interest if Venezuela was not one of the world’s most important oil producers. Lucky Venezuela literally floats atop of sea of oil and natural gas. It may even have larger oil reserves than Saudi Arabia.

Venezuela’s petroleum reserves from the region of Lake Maracaibo are estimated at nearly 300 billion barrels. Oil sands contain some 100 billion bbls of oil – more than Canada’s Alberta oil sands. Venezuela is the world’s eighth largest exporter of oil and Latin America’s leading producer of natural gas.

In spite of the long, bitter feud and name-calling between Caracas and Washington, Venezuela remains a primary oil supplier for the United States. Caracas even owns the US petroleum refiner and marketer, “Citgo.” Ironically, another leftist state, Angola, is also now a leading oil supplier for the energy-devouring US market.

Cuba’s leaders are also watching President Chavez’s health crisis with mounting concern. Venezuela supplies Cuba with an annual $3.5 billion subsidy, including 15,000 bbls of oil daily. Venezuela is also building a large refinery in Cuba that will strengthen its economic independence. In exchange for oil, Cuba has provided Venezuela with 30,000 doctors.

The Soviet Union used to supply Communist Cuba with free oil until its collapse in 1991. Cuba wholly relied on this Soviet petroleum and sold the rest to earn hard currency. Commandante Chavez has always been a huge admirer of Cuba; he regards Fidel Castro as a father figure. So he was quick to throw a lifeline to sinking Cuba after Soviet aid evaporated. Washington was furious, to say the least, and sought to bolster internal opposition to Chavez’s populist socialist regime which is despised by middle and upper class Venezuelans

If Chavez loses his fight with cancer -and this could come in days – or if he is incapacitated, a new government in Venezuela may either sharply lessen or, if the rightist opposition wins office, completely end aid to Cuba. This would leave Cuba in desperate straits. Cuba does not have enough hard currency to buy oil on the open market.

Havana’s plight might offer Vladimir Putin off in Moscow a nifty way of needling Washington, which has lately been stepping on Russia’s toes in the Caucasus and Syria. China may also be tempted to quietly rescue Cuba as a tool for future use if the US challenges Beijing over Taiwan or the South China Sea. Imagine the uproar in America if Chinese Navy vessels began patrolling off Miami just as the US 7th Fleet patrols the Taiwan Strait.

This column wishes Col. Chavez a speedy recovery. He is a big pain to Washington, a mixed-up socialist, and a blowhard, but he’s also colorful, bighearted and amusing in a world full of dull leaders.


copyright Eric S. Margolis 2013


This post is in: Cuba, Latin America, Oil, Venezuela, World Leaders

4 Responses to “Chavez’s Illness may Sink Cuba”

  1. With both China and Russia having a keen interest in Cuba and its surrounding waters, plus the proximity to the US mainland and the huge debt the US owes China, there is very little, that the US can do to prevent either from coming to Cuba`s aid.
    Sure, president Chavez is a big piece on this chessboard, but has enough back-up from the rest of his party, to stay in power.
    It irks the US, that they can`t commandeer some countries, like they like to do, as with most others and thanks to NATO they still have the cooperation and heel-licking of most European countries, but there the masses also are sick and tired of the American tyranny. The Bilderberg consortium may be very rich, but all peoples have limits as to what they can be coerced to do.
    Another big adversary to the US is the internet. What used to take days or weeks and in some cases months, can now be transmitted instantly.
    It is like a surgical knife, it can save a life, but also take one.

  2. Mike Smith says:

    China is drilling for oil off shore of Cuba… who knows, they might be a net exporter in a few years. With Russian and Chinese investment / assistance it could happen quickly.

    It seems to me US foreign policy continues to alienate Latin America, I can only hope they take the step of kicking the US ( and Canada the way Harper is acting ) out of the OAS. Let Cuba in and call in the organization of Southern American states… or just drop the American. I think Simon Bolivar would see the present US as the Spain of his day.

    I hope Chavez pull through, I find him less of a ” blowhard ” than most of the US government. Particularly after watching them talk about torture ( if we don’t investigate it, it didn’t happen ) gun control ( more guns = safety ), fiscal cliff ( lets just put off any hard decision )

  3. George Rizk says:

    Remembering how the right wings favorite president Reagan reacted to the leftists in Nicaragua, and how we currently don’t make war against Venezuela just to depose its socialist president? I wish we were smart enough to do the same not to interfere in Syria, Libya, Iran, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia,……With crumbling economy, and high debts, we can no longer afford to waste money and soldiers to chase imagined threats.

    • Mike Smith says:

      Without those imagined threats and enemies made through foreign policy, suddenly people will start to ask questions like ” why do we need so many foreign bases in countries that want us to leave ” or ” why do we really need something like the F-35, or that many F-22’s or how many submarines, etc ”

      Then other countries will start to ask ” hey, if they aren’t buying that crap… why should we “… especially since the price per unit will jump if the US doesn’t buy their own.

      A bunch of real rich people who employ alot of middle class people would have to find another way to make money… having an economic / political impact at home

      Suddenly without a whole bunch of fear to influencing Americans and keeping them from asking the right questions about their government and how it conducts itself, BIG THINGS would start to happen, and if that government doesn’t turn its guns on their own… change would occur.

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