Founded by Drew Pearson 1932
Cold War ends with Castro and Chavez
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
WASHINGTON – Most Americans have no reason to mourn the passing of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, and there is some hope that what comes next in that oil-rich country may be a less virulent version of Chavez’ dictatorial socialism, one that can accommodate a more cooperative relationship with its democratic neighbors.
Dead of cancer at 58, he promised the poor more than he delivered, letting them share in a minimal way in the country’s oil profits. He fell far short of his promise of a revolution, and he over stayed his time in office, allegedly fixing elections to ensure victory.
Cuba’s Fidel Castro was his mentor, and they seemed to speak with one voice in their denunciations of America. Chavez the socialist and Castro the communist had little light between them. Together, they were the anachronistic embodiment of a Cold War long over. Indeed, Chavez, reminiscent of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev pounding his shoe on a desk at the United Nations in 1960, is most remembered in the U.S. for his excoriating remarks about Pres. George W. Bush during a 2006 speech in that forum.
Critics call Venezuela “Cuba with oil,” a slap at the mismanagement of the county’s economy and its giant oil reserves and an acknowledgement of the two countries’ kinship and similarities. Relying almost solely on oil revenue, Chavez caused Venezuela to suffer from the “oil curse,” a label given to nations that failed to invest black gold revenue in industries that could ensure a prosperous post-oil future.
As a member of the oil cartel, OPEC, Venezuela under Chavez has consistently urged the cartel to prop up prices by reducing output. The cartel has been something of a yoke around the U.S. economy for decades, but the good news is that OPEC is losing power in part because of oil discoveries in other parts of the world, notably Canada and Russia. Also, the U.S. is producing more oil than it has in decades, and using less, as cars become more efficient, and fuel standards increase.
Throwing his oil weight around is how Chavez maintained his international presence. He also attempted some positive and possibly cynical public relations moves, donating 200 million gallons of heating oil over eight years to Citizen’s Energy, a charity founded by former Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy.
Chavez also sold 100,000 barrels a day to Cuba at cut-rate prices, more than Cuba needed so it could turn around and sell the excess at a profit. You could say Chavez’ socialism extended to Cuba and Cuba’s communism extended to Venezuela, because in return Fidel and now his brother Raul supplied Venezuela with doctors and nurses. It was a cozy arrangement, but now Fidel is out of power and his brother, who is not nearly as doctrinaire, has loosened the reins on the Cuban economy, not enough but it’s a start.
The passing of Chavez and the retirement of Castro marks the end of an era in Latin America, and the beginning of what President Obama hopes could be a more fruitful relationship between the U.S., Venezuela, and Cuba. Chavez’ designated successor, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, will face the voters within 30 days and it’s likely that he will win on the strength of his association with Chavez on an expected sympathy vote.
Maduro has been more conciliatory to the U.S. in his past comments, and administration officials are discounting as domestic politics his bizarre assertion that the U.S. somehow gave Chavez his cancer. Hatred of the U.S. and fear that the capitalistic bully will come in and seize their oil resources is a time-honored feature of Venezuelan politics, and Maduro is tapping into that sentiment as he faces a competitive election.
But actions are what will matter for both Raul Castro and Nicolas Maduro, two leaders who most likely will attempt to lead their nations out of the Dark Ages of their predecessors’ Cold War delusions.
© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND