Is Venezuela taking the Cuban road?

September 26, 2008

I was a participant in the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network brigade to Venezuela in December 2006. I was lucky enough to squeeze into the packed presidential palace compound when the official national elections results confirmed an overwhelming victory for socialist President Hugo Chavez.

The late hour, the crush of red t-shirted bodies and the constant pouring rain couldn't dampen the excitement and enthusiasm of the assembled crowd waiting to hear their president deliver his victory speech.

Within minutes Chavez appeared on a balcony above us. The cheering, whistling, and shouting rose to a crescendo. After waiting a few moments for the noise to slightly subside Chavez began to address the crowd. With his fist raised in the air Chavez said that the victory must be first of all dedicated to the revolutionary people of Cuba and their (then) president, Fidel Castro. And we all went wild.

Internationalism and international solidarity are central concerns of the Venezuelan revolution. In recent years Venezuela has massively expanded its economic, health and education assistance programs throughout Latin America and has championed the cause of Latin American integration.

Venezuela now provides more economic aid to the region than the vastly wealthier United States. And unlike US "aid", Venezuela's programs do not pressure recipient countries to open their economies to exploitation by multinational corporations under the guise of "free trade".

Venezuelan aid has even reached into the US itself through the provision of subsidised heating oil to poor families in a number of US cities.

Of all the nations in the world it is with Cuba that Venezuela has forged the strongest bonds of mutual assistance and solidarity. Support and admiration for Cuba's 50 year challenge to US imperialism is widespread among the working people and poor in Venezuela.

This is especially remarkable given that an unrelenting propaganda campaign against Cuba has been a feature of the US-backed opposition's attempts to regain power in Venezuela.

From Chavez's first electoral victory in 1998 onwards, the Venezuelan opposition — largely composed of the wealthy elites fearful of losing their power and privileges — has accused Chavez of seeking to "Cubanise" Venezuela. Accordingly Cuba has been presented as a kind of living hell, where the people are said to be starving, scared and desperate to re-establish a capitalist economy.

German Sanchez's Cuba and Venezuela: An Insight into Two Revolutions, explains why this hysterical campaign has failed so miserably. The book provides a comparison of Venezuelan and Cuban revolutionary experiences which stresses their respective distinctiveness while underlining their fundamental political compatibility.

Sanchez, the Cuban ambassador to Venezuela since 1994, indicates that one of the reasons he wrote his book was that he had identified some hesitancy among the Venezuelan "new left" to re-examine Cuba in light of the ongoing revolution in Venezuela.

If this is true it must be even more the case for some sections of the English-speaking left internationally, who still uncritically accept the Cold War spin of Cuba as an undemocratic police state. This leads many — even among those who view Venezuela positively — to underestimate both the symbolic influence of Cuba and the practical relationship of solidarity between the two revolutions. The publication of this book in English invites a serious reappraisal of Cuba in light of its significant role in the growing rebellion in Latin America.

The first section of the book outlines the development of the Cuban Revolution and provides a useful summary of its advances and victories, its errors and subsequent reorientations. In the face of US aggression, including an illegal blockade of the island nation, Third World Cuba has achieved First World health and education services (provided free of charge to all Cubans) while making inroads against the racism and sexism rampant in pre-revolutionary Cuba.

Sanchez stresses the uniqueness of the Cuban Revolution. The form of Cuba's revolutionary development in the 1960s cannot be simply repeated elsewhere in Latin America today. Furthermore, Sanchez rules out any idea that Cuba's revolution can be recreated, copied or exported to other nations, including Venezuela.

"The Cuban revolution does not aspire to be a model for other countries: its history cannot be repeated. It is not feasible to export or import revolutions as if they were merchandise", he writes. Rather "with its own ideas and imagination, and indispensable leadership, each national community will create the forms of its own liberation and well-being".

But Sanchez also emphasises that the Cuban experience, which compares favourably to the dire poverty and inequality existing across Latin America, still has significance for revolutionaries today and should be studied. "The Cuban example, even amid the blockade, and with all its transitory errors and defects yet to be overcome, has tremendous validity in the 21st century", he argues.

He points to Cuba's success against the odds in creating a fertile, flexible socialism supported by the great majority of Cubans and contrasts it to the undemocratic model of the Soviet Union, which collapsed. "Our detractors refer to the 'Cuban dictatorship' echoing that 'Made in the USA' slogan to confuse the unsuspecting", Sanchez writes.

"The laws and decisions of the Cuban state are based on a popular consensus, without which it would have been impossible to maintain our social system under the ferocious attack of the United States. One may disagree with our political system, but nobody can deny that Cuban society is governed by constitutional norms and legitimate laws and institutions — adopted in a sovereign and democratic manner by Cubans."

Cuba and Venezuela also includes a thorough synopsis of the crucial role Cuba has played in the success of the Venezuelan social missions. After the inspiring people's victory over the opposition coup attempt of April 2002 and the failure of the oil industry lockout that December, the revolutionary forces led by Hugo Chavez recognised that they needed to go on the political offensive.

It was essential to provide a concrete improvement in the social and economic status of Venezuela's poor majority who had so staunchly defended the Bolivarian revolution. Chavez turned to Cuba for help.

The social missions, first launched in 2003 and coordinated on a community basis by Venezuelans themselves, have provided the means to broaden support for the revolution by sharply reducing poverty. The health-focused Mission Barrio Adentro would not have been possible without the solidarity and assistance of Cuba.

Through Barrio Adentro more than 14,000 Cuban doctors, 8000 sports instructors and 3000 dentists were working in 2007 to provide free health care to 17 million poor Venezuelans. Their wages are paid by the Cuban government while the Venezuelan government meets other costs.

Cuba has also committed to train 40,000 Venezuelan doctors over the next 10 years. It is this kind of concrete solidarity that has led to the failure of the Venezuela opposition's scare campaign against Cuba.

So does this mean Venezuela is taking the Cuban road? This question itself tends to pose the whole situation incorrectly.
Chavez himself has denied this and stated many times that the Cuban Revolution is Cuban while the Venezuelan revolution is distinctly Venezuelan.

Sanchez predicts that in the joint pursuit of constructing societies where meeting human and environmental needs is the priority, "Cuba will be become steadily more Venezuelan and Venezuelans will have Cuba much closer".

This goal is clearly shared by Chavez, who in a meeting with Cuban leader Raul Castro in Havana in October, 2007, anticipated a future joining of the two countries into a confederation.

Ultimately, genuine socialism is impossible unless it transcends national borders and becomes an unstoppable international movement of solidarity. It's far more appropriate to describe Cuba and Venezuela as taking the same road together towards a new socialism of the 21st century and helping each other get there step by step.

We can be sure there is a standing invitation to the working people of other nations to join them on this difficult, but essential, journey.

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.