The Cuban government could dramatically bolster the case for ending the United States’ embargo if it would pressure Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to adopt democratic reforms — if not resign.
We know that is unlikely. Venezuela’s oppressive regime, after all, was inspired by Fidel Castro. Cuba is dependent on Venezuelan oil.
But while Cuban authorities talk of new freedoms and attitudes, it is assisting a tyrannical Venezuelan government determined to stamp out dissent.
Venezuelan authorities have responded viciously to demonstrations against Maduro, with police arresting hundreds of protesters. Hundreds more were injured, and at least six individuals were killed.
The government clampdown culminated in the arrest Tuesday of Leopoldo Lopez, the charismatic former mayor of Caracas. He could face charges of homicide and terrorism for organizing nonviolent demonstrations.
Protests continued after the arrest. Wire services report National Guard troops fired rubber bullets at demonstrators Wednesday, and unidentified gunmen on motorcycles fired live rounds.
A 22-year-old university student and beauty queen was killed when shot in the head. A priest was beaten by government troops while trying to stop an attack on students. Gunmen fired into a pro-government demonstration, killing one person.
All this is a direct result of Maduro following in the thuggish path of President Hugo Chavez, who died in April.
Chavez vowed to implement “21st Century Socialism” after taking power in 1999. It was no surprise his socialism produced the same economic chaos Castro’s socialism did in Cuba.
Despite holding the world’s largest oil reserves, Venezuela is an economic basket case, with an inflation rate of more than 56 percent and severe shortages of food, medicines and virtually every basic good, even toilet paper. Crime is rampant. Censorship is harshly imposed.
Protesters complain of widespread corruption and accuse Maduro and his cronies of stealing the country blind.
Cuba has been an accessory in Venezuela’s collapse.
Beyond being the model for Chavez’s socialism, Cuba trains Venezuelan officers. Critics such as author Humberto Fontova say KGB-trained Cubans assist the Venezuelan secret police.
Venezuela is Cuba’s largest trade partner. It supplies Cuba 100,000 barrels of oil a day, and in exchange Cuba provides it more than 30,000 medical personnel.
When Venezuela and Cuba signed 51 bilateral agreements in April, Cuban President Raul Castro said the alliance emphasized Cuba was determined “to share our fate with the heroic Venezuelan people.”
Well, the heroic Venezuelan people are now in the streets demanding freedom.
Cuba has tried hard to show it has changed from when the United States imposed the trade embargo in 1960. And it is true Cuba, although no democracy, is hardly the revolution-exporting communist stronghold it was during the Cold War.
The island nation is experimenting with property rights and free enterprise. We believe such progress would gain momentum should the United States end the embargo and increase its presence and influence in Cuba.
Polls show the majority of Americans, even Cuban-Americans, now favor restoring relations with Cuba.
But opponents are resolute and politically powerful, and Cuba’s assistance to Maduro’s despotic regime provides them ammunition.
It may be too much to expect Cuba to disavow its socialist partner. But a serious effort to stop Maduro’s bloody excesses would provide evidence that Cuba is a changed nation, one with a greater appreciation of peace and freedom.