What happens if Venezuela cuts off its massive oil subsidy for Cuba and Nicaragua? That at last is possible.
Americans are so preoccupied with ISIS and terrorism right now that we are barely noticing a huge shift in the politics of Latin America. Among other things, Cuba’s future is suddenly in greater doubt, as is, therefore, the Obama-Clinton foreign policy toward our southern neighbors.
In recent days the left-leaning, pro-Iranian government party in Argentina lost power to a relatively centrist, pro-American coalition, while the leftist party in power Brazil is succumbing to unprecedented corruption scandals.
But the biggest development lately is Sunday’s overwhelming rejection of the far-left, pro-Iranian, Cuba-bound Chavista government in Venezuela. Hugo Chavez’s heir, Nicolas Maduro, remains president, but the opposition coalition is close to obtaining two-thirds’ control of the legislative branch. Some 20 seats in the 167 member National Assembly are still undecided. But even if the coalition — with 99 seats so far — doesn’t reach the two-thirds goal, it still can make major changes. Political prisoners can be freed, for example. The deep corruption of the Chavez machine can be exposed and stopped. Inflation can be slowed.
As is, the opposition are claiming that their own reading of the results already shows that they will reach the two-thirds level.
Yet more interesting to Americans, perhaps, is the possibility that the vitally important oil subsidy that Venezuela provides Castro’s Cuba — some 80,000 barrels a day — might come to an end. During the Cold War the USSR shipped oil to Cuba in return for sugar and diplomatic and military support. When the Russians ended the arrangement in the 1990s Cuba went into a deep economic slump. Until, that is, the populist revolutionary in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, came to the rescue.
Currently Venezuelans send oil from their vast reserves and Cuba sends conscripted doctors and plenty of intelligence and military officers to Venezuela. There is little or no advantage in this arrangement, however, to a nation whose legislature is at odds with the Castro alliance. Indeed, it will be hard to return Venezuela to true democracy until the Communist influence from Cuba is removed. The newly successful opposition knows that and already speaks of reallocating the Cuba/Nicaragua oil subsidies to domestic needs.
Will the oil stop flowing to Cuba, then? And if it does, what will happen to the Castro regime? The new relationship with the U.S. that the Obama Administration brokered has not transformed Cuba’s moribund socialist economy or ended the efforts of enterprising individuals to leave. Cuba today has little or no economy other than tourism and subsistence farming. Without free oil, the regime is in danger.
Republicans in this country, meanwhile, are in political danger of forgetting the need for outreach to Hispanic voters next year. Here, however, is an issue where a change will be noticed and appreciated by a large share of Latino voters. A new president, they should argue, should offer his hand to countries in South America — and the Caribbean — that finally are ready for constructive change.