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In Venezuela: Castro gains power while Chavez ruins nation

By Gustavo Coronel

20.04.05 | In the twilight of his life Fidel Castro has been given an unexpected send-off gift: political control over an important, oil-rich Latin American country capable of inflicting psychological and economic damage to his main enemy, the United States. Such a gift fell in his lap without much effort, as a result of Hugo Chávez ascent into power in Venezuela at the end of 1998. As a radical military officer, Chávez was a fervent admirer of the Cuban revolution. His failed and bloody coup in 1992 was no doubt inspired by Castro's earlier example. After being released from prison, thanks to President Rafael Caldera's monumental error, he first visited Havana in 1994. Castro received him as a Head of State and this was all Chávez needed to become a Castro's ideological satellite. Since then Castro has paid many visits to Venezuela and Chávez has visited Cuba at least 12 times, possibly many more, because he leaves no record of his short hops to the island. He travels to Havana usually at night, the time in which Castro prefers to talk. The early and cheap investment made by Castro on Chávez has paid off enormously. Being treated like a VIP really hooked him. Castro became his mentor and has even served as a moderating influence, as exemplified by the Rodrigo Granda incident, the FARC leader protected by the Chávez regime, a criminal for whom Chávez was willing to break ties with Colombia (Castro helped to resolve this situation by talking with Colombian President Uribe).

Rewards for Castro have been significant. He has Chávez under continuous surveillance by Cuban bodyguards who are loyal to him. He has been allowed to place no less than 20,000 Cuban nationals inside Venezuelan society as teachers, medical staff, sport trainers, accomplishing without one single shot an invasion of our country. Chávez has agreed to let Cuban police to act in Venezuela and to interrogate and investigate Venezuelan or Cuban exiles in Venezuelan territory, something that would have been unthinkable in the democratic Venezuela of the last half a century. Chávez has agreed to give Cuba over 50,000 barrels of oil per day for 15 years, at deeply discounted prices and without even bothering to collect the money (Cuba already owes Venezuela over one billion dollars). Some of the oil is theoretically being "paid" by Cuba through the "services" of those 20,000 Cuban nationals rammed down our throat. Venezuela now votes with Cuba in international organizations. For all practical purposes Venezuela, the "powerful" oil country in the Caribbean, where Internet and cell phones reign supreme, has become a satellite of the impoverished island of Cuba, where Internet has been denounced as a "satanic" creation of imperialism. Castro has added Venezuela to his little empire, while doing a similar job in Nicaragua, through the corrupt Ortega brothers and in Bolivia, through the coca grower Evo Morales. In this manner Castro is now casting a significantly larger shadow over the western hemisphere.

At the same time the Venezuelan nation has been paying the price for Chávez's shameless kowtowing to Castro.

It is perhaps symbolic that the bronze statue of Daniel Canonico, the Venezuelan pitcher who defeated Cuba in the amateur baseball World Series of 1941, has been vandalized in the city of Barquisimeto, stolen by 'unknown persons" to be melted. In the rewriting of Venezuelan history Chávez is engaged in, anyone or anything that has to do with the past is being renamed or destroyed, whenever it does not fit into the "revolutionary" mold. The statue of Columbus in Caracas was pulled down by Chávez followers last October, since Columbus is now identified by Chávez as a mass murderer. Vandals known as "Vikings," due to their unkempt beards and rags, freely roam Venezuelan cities destroying public property in order to sell the materials. Irreplaceable art by Venezuelan master Jesus Soto, recently deceased, has been dismantled by members of this social refuse and sold to junk dealers, under the indifferent eyes of the regime. This sounds hard to believe by outsiders but is no more than the logical result of the doubtful human quality of the members of the Chávez team, recruited from the ranks of kidnappers (Carlos Lanz), male strip teasers (Eliecer Otaiza), former guerrillas (Ali Rodriguez) and die hard Stalinists (Guillermo Garcia Ponce), just to name a few top followers of the leader.

In this environment of deep social decay the nation cannot progress and has not progressed under the Chávez regime. Official spokespersons, usually biased in favor of the government, reluctantly accept that poverty is up 10% under his regime. Housing built by government has decreased from 60,000 units in 1998 to less than 10,000 units in 2004. Not one single kilometer of new highways has been built. Food production is significantly down. Venezuela, in spite of the highest oil income in its history, shares with Cuba, Haiti and Paraguay the lowest places in the scale of Latin American social progress.

What is taking place in Venezuela is a major crime against the nation. This crime will be punished as soon as a legitimate government can be elected in our country. To elect this government a clean, transparent election has to take place. Venezuelans need to pressure for a change in the corrupt National Electoral Council while truly independent international organizations (not the Carter Center, please) have to effectively monitor any future electoral events in our country. The alternative is a Chávez, Castro-type dictatorship in Venezuela and the return of the likes of Ortega (Nicaragua), Bucaram (Ecuador) and Fujimori (Peru) to the regional political scene. Is this what we want for our region?

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