News has just leaked out of the bravery of a Venezuelan tanker captain who has been arrested by Maduro’s intelligence services for refusing to deliver a cargo of diesel fuel to Cuba. His crew was threatened with court martial and treason charges and forced at gunpoint to deliver the fuel under the command of a temporary captain.
But why did the captain refuse to carry out his orders, and why was an oil shipment to Cuba deemed important enough to justify the attention of the intelligence services?
There is huge resentment in Venezuela of Cuban interference in their country’s affairs. Venezuelans see the Cubans as partly responsible for their suffering, both directly and indirectly. Cuba has been a close ally of the regime for almost twenty years since Chavez and Castro signed a bilateral agreement in 2000 for Cuba to receive oil in return for providing an array of military, inteligence and other services. Cuban intelligence officers have pemeated the Venezuelan military apparatus over the year, as part of a concerted effort by the Maduro regime to prevent a military uprising. Cuba also provided a healthcare programme called Barrio Adentro, using doctors bound to near indentured servitude, but this has largely collapsed.
Without the supervision of the military apparatus by Cuban officers and intelligence operatives, Venezuela’s military would already have relieved Maduro of power. The regime sees Cuba as a guarantor of its survival, and oil shipments to Cuba maintain the deplorable relationship. But those shipments have decreased dramatically as Venezuela’s oil production collapses. Therefore, each shipment has become vital to regime survival, hence the deployment of the intelligence services to ensure the safe passage of oil to Cuba.
The motivations behind Cuba’s relationship with Venezuela are obvious. Cuba is an international pariah and has faced extreme financial difficulties since the Soviet Union collapsed, taking its funding with it. To prop up its own ailing regime, Cuba replaced Soviet subsidies with Venezuelan ones. Therefore, the impending collapse of the Venezuelan state and its dwindling oil production represent an existential threat to the Cuban regime.
Cuba also faces other challenges besides shrinking oil supplies. One of Cuba’s largest sources of foreign currency is its healthcare export programme which brings in some $8 billion per year to the Caribbean nation, most of this revenue generated by approximately 30,000 Cuban doctors serving abroad. The treatment of these doctors is appalling: their families are kept hostage in Cuba, and doctors receive 10-25% of their salaries, much of which is often withheld by the state until their return to Cuba.
Luis Almagro, Secretary-General of the 35 state-strong Organisation of American States, has denounced it as a “modern system of slavery that cannot go unpunished” and a formal complaint has been filed at the International Criminal Court in the Hague, highlighting the crimes of "slavery, persecution and other inhuman acts." A recent BBC investigation has revealed that 57% of doctors surveyed did not volunteer to join a medical mission, but felt obliged to do so, and 91% were watched over by Cuban state security and required to pass on information about colleagues.
Anyone opposed to US intervention in Venezuela should be equally opposed to the ongoing Cuban intervention. Due to the co-dependency between the two states, restoring freedom in Venezuela may well involve restoring freedom in Cuba, a country that has a terrible human rights record and abuses its own citizens. As part of an EU approach, Britain has been promoting investment there in the hope of improving the quality of life of its citizens and promoting reform. However, this has not had the desired effect. The regime takes 95% of the salaries of workers employed by foreign tourist companies, rendering efforts to enrich the general population worthless.
Fixing the Venezuelan crisis will mean tackling the 60 year old Cuban question. Investment in totalitarian regimes does not make them freer, it only gives them more resources with which to maintain the apparatus of repression. A sensible approach would be to clamp down on Cuba’s modern slavery, and to take lawful measures to prevent Maduro sending Cuba any more oil. Regimes will fall when they cease to become profitable for their leaders and their cronies. The Venezuelan regime is already starting to crack amidst a rush of desertions, and there are good prospects that the Cuban one will collapse too.
More information on the Venezuela Campaign can be found on their website.