Can Castro survive without Chavez?

Sunday Telegraph:
Away from the constitutional wrangles and impassioned crowds of Caracas, the future of Venezuela after Hugo Chavez is being plotted this weekend in an elegant pre-revolutionary mansion in Havana's old playboy quarter.

The firebrand Venezuelan president is fighting for his life in a nearby hospital, stricken by severe respiratory problems and a lung infection after his latest round of surgery for cancer.

His illness left him unable to be sworn in for his fourth term as president last Thursday, having won a close-fought election in October.

But for his Cuban hosts, much more is at risk than simply the loss of a fellow left-wing Latin American radical who has long venerated Fidel Castro. His death would also put at risk the remarkable oil-fuelled largesse that has allowed Cuba to cling to its experiment in tropical communism.

Thanks to the close personal relationship between Mr Chavez and Mr Castro, energy-rich Venezuela supplies more than 100,000 barrels of dirt-cheap oil a day to Cuba - an estimated 50 per cent of the island's petroleum needs.

Venezuela also hires tens of thousands of Cuban doctors and teachers to work in its barrio slums, propping up the Cuban economy to the tune of some $6 billion a year in total. Without that subsidy, Havana would have long ago been forced to introduce market reforms to its communist regime.

Nothing has been heard or seen of Mr Chavez for more than a month and few expect him to recover - if indeed he is still alive. So it is little wonder that Cuba is desperate to exercise maximum control over his passing - and in particular manoeuvre a handover of power to Nicolas Maduro, his vice-president.

Mr Maduro, who arrived back in Havana on Friday night for fresh talks at the government-owned "protocol villa", shares Mr Chavez's absolute loyalty to Cuba. But there are others within the Venezuelan elite who are less convinced of the merits of subsidising Cuba with an economic lifeline at a time when inflation and debt are soaring in Venezuela itself, despite the country's oil wealth.
Chavez has peed away much of Venezuela's oil wealth and what survives is held together with baling wire and bubblegum.  A ruinous explosion and fire devastated Venezuela's largest refinery.   Much of the infrastructure is in poor shape and the oil fields are seeing significantly less production at a time when US production is expanding.  Venezuela now has to import gas and diesel fuel from the US.

Together Castro and Chavez have done a bang up job of proving communism and socialism do not work.  Were it not for what remains of Venezuela's oil market, Chavez would have been competing with Zimbabwe for setting inflation records.  At home he has a homicide rate higher than the deal count in most war zones.  Corruption is rampant and his country facilitates the transport of dope to countries around the world including to al Qaeda affiliates in West Africa.

The sooner Chavez and the Castros meet their demise, the sooner their people will have a chance to recover from their economic disease.


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