The “Cubanization” of U.S. Policy Towards Venezuela
|Written by Jake Johnston|
|Wednesday, 26 March 2014 14:49|
Venezuelan opposition politicians and their allies in the U.S. frequently decry Cuba’s alleged influence on the Venezuelan government. Ironically however, there seems to be an important and growing nexus between the Venezuelan opposition and the anti-Cuba lobby in the U.S. Cuban-American lawmakers recently introduced sanctions legislation targeting Venezuelan officials that appears to be designed to push U.S. policy toward Venezuela in the same direction as policy toward Cuba.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reports on the Venezuelan opposition’s ire for Cuba and the role it has played in the ongoing protests in Venezuela:
Enraged as they are by their nation’s leaders, many of the protesters who have spilled onto Venezuela’s streets have their eyes fixed on another government altogether, one they resent perhaps just as bitterly as their own: Cuba’s.
Their rancor is echoed by the Cuban opposition, which has thrown itself behind the Venezuelan protesters’ cause with gusto, sharing photos and videos of protests and police abuse on Twitter, urging Venezuelans to resist and even rapping an apology for what they call Cuba’s meddling.
The Venezuela protests have “energized” members of Cuba’s opposition, reports the Times. Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, an anti-Castro blogger in the U.S., told the Times, “The fate of Castro-ism may be at play in Venezuela…What we were not able to topple in Cuba, we may be able to topple there.”
Yet despite near constant claims from the Venezuelan opposition that Cuba is in control of their country (for instance, when it was announced that Venezuelan congresswoman Maria Corina Machado would be investigated and possibly stripped of her position, she responded that “It’s clear to me that it was the Castro brothers who gave the order”), the Times notes that:
Such convictions are held by critics in both countries, although they offer little hard evidence to back their suspicions. And while some former Venezuelan military officers say that Cubans are involved in decision-making in the armed forces, some protesters go further, professing to see what they call “the hairy hand” of Cuba everywhere: saying they have detected Cuban “infiltrators” at street protests; seeing a Cuban hallmark in the tactics of Venezuela’s armed forces; and circulating unsubstantiated Internet reports that Cuban special forces, or Black Wasps, are operating in Venezuela.
The Times report follows a number of pieces from the Tampa Bay Tribune, which discuss the relations between anti-Castro exiles, specifically in South Florida, and the opposition in Venezuela. In early March, Paul Guzzo wrote:
From Tampa to the Senate floor in Washington, and throughout the United States, Cuban Americans who defend continued isolation of the Communist island nation are throwing their support behind Venezuelan Americans in their efforts to bring order to the South American country.
The Tribune reports on Casa de Cuba, an organization that has existed since the 1980s. Recently, the organization has shifted its resources to Venezuela:
Ralph Fernandez, a Tampa attorney who has supported Casa de Cuba since its inception, said, “The fact is we got involved too late in Cuba. By the time our fight began Castro was already fully entrenched in the Cuban government.
“But that is not the case in Venezuela. We can inspire and create change there. It is not too late.”
Casa de Cuba has provided Venezuelan opposition supporters with full access to its center at 2506 W. Curtis St.
Reno and Fernandez said Casa de Cuba leaders are teaching these new allies how to organize demonstrations, speak to the media, lobby elected officials, raise money, support clandestine missions, make contacts abroad and distinguish between supporters and spies.
“It has been a perfect relationship,” Reno said.
One resident of Doral, Florida, home to one of the largest Venezuelan populations in the U.S., recently faced boycotts and other harassments after she pointed out that many of the pictures circulating on social media about Venezuela were actually faked. Tim Padgett reports:
Her case isn’t isolated. Boycotters also insist, for example, that a high-end restaurant in Coral Gables is owned by the son of Venezuela’s Supreme Court president. And that the owners of a Doral sushi restaurant are supposedly relatives of Venezuela’s First Lady, Cilia Flores.
In each of those cases, however, the claims appear to be patently false.
And to many observers in Miami, it’s déjà vu – reminiscent of personal attacks suffered a generation ago by anyone who dared disagree with the hardline Cuban exile community.
As the Times points out:
the notion that Cuba’s future is at play in Venezuela is tempting hard-liners from both sides, including influential Cuban Americans, to polarize the conflict further, said Arturo López-Levy, a former Cuban security analyst who lectures at the University of Denver.
“Compromise is not a word in the lexicon of the Cuban revolution,” or of the Cuban exile community, Mr. López-Levy said.
As both the Times and the Tribune note, the support for the Venezuela opposition has also come from U.S. lawmakers that have long supported a more aggressive policy with regards to Cuba. The Times reports:
[Senator Marco] Rubio, a fiery defender of the American economic embargo of Cuba, introduced legislation with two other senators this month that would authorize $15 million in new funding next year for human rights and civil society programs in Venezuela and require President Obama to impose sanctions on people involved in serious human rights violations.
In the House of Representatives, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has been among the most vocal in denouncing the Venezuelan government. The sanctions legislation she introduced a few weeks ago, which has 15 co-sponsors (11 are from Florida), outlines an extremely aggressive approach to the Venezuelan government and in fact, took some passages directly from the 1996 Helms-Burton act [PDF], which strengthened the embargo against Cuba. The legislation calls on the U.S. government to outline a strategy to ensure that Venezuela is, among other things, “substantially moving toward a market-oriented economic systems based on the right to own and enjoy property,” and “are committed to making constitutional changes that would ensure regular free and fair elections,” sentences taken word for word from Helms-Burton. But the passages seem divorced from the reality in Venezuela, where regular elections are held and private sector growth outpaced public during Chávez’s presidency.
Even the short title of the Venezuela legislation, the “Venezuelan Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act” matches that of Helms-Burton, which is known as the “Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996.”
The Tribune reports on concerns about the high-profile role being played by the anti-Castro lawmakers:
Attorney Martinez sees another concern; The resolutions are sponsored by Rubio, [Menendez] and Ros-Lehtinen, all of whom are among the most vocal anti-Castro leaders in the U.S.
Martinez said their involvement, coming on the heels of polls showing the majority of the U.S., in favor of, improved relations with Cuba, may point to ulterior motives.
By vilifying the Venezuelan government and tying Cuba to it, the pendulum could swing back to the side of preserving the embargo against Cuba, he said.