Venezuela Campaign: Trading oil for repression

The Venezuelan and Cuban totalitarian regimes have built a symbiotic relationship based on oil, in which Venezuelan oil keeps Cuba’s centrally planned economy afloat, and Cuban military, intelligence, and political services allow Maduro’s regime to counter and suppress political dissent.

Every day more disturbing facts about the relationship between Cuba and Venezuela emerge. The New York Times has just published an exposé about how Cuban doctors in Venezuela are instructed to use the provision of medical treatment as a means of political control. This ranges from handing out medicine in return for sign-ups to the ruling socialist party, to outright denial of treatment to opposition supporters with life-threatening ailments.

Sixteen Cuban doctors have come forward to discuss these practices. According to one, “It became a form of blackmail: ‘You’re not going to have medicine. You’re not going to have free health care. You’re not going to have prenatal care if you’re a pregnant woman.” The doctors revealed that the Maduro regime established “electoral command centres” inside or next to clinics, with Socialist Party operatives dispatching doctors to pressure residents to vote for the ruling party. Another doctor, Yansnier Arias, told of how a 65-year-old opposition-supporting patient with heart failure entered his clinic urgently needing oxygen. “I argued with my colleagues over and over,” he said. “Yes, of course there was oxygen, but they didn’t let me use it.”

Despite the collapse of much of the Barrio Adentro health programme under which they were employed, there are still thousands of Cuban doctors in Venezuela, because their other main function is to make money for the Cuban regime. The doctors themselves are paid next to nothing, and even some of that is held back in Cuba pending their safe return.  It is estimated that of every $100 Venezuela pays for their services, the Cuban state keeps $96. Billions of dollars have been paid to Cuba for these services.

Cuba is also paid for the 15,000 Cuban military and intelligence officers stationed in Venezuela. They play a vital role in maintaining the regime, and the details become ever more apparent. Ronald Dugarte, a Venezuelan navy lieutenant assigned to the feared counter-intelligence body DGCIM, took concealed video footage of torture being carried out on prisoners.  He confirmed that Cubans control all the intelligence directorates and give orders to Venezuelan officials. “Cuban intelligence performs mixed operations between the Venezuelan and Cuban military. Their job is to monitor all the military units. The moment the Cuban intelligence militia enters, they give orders of how to perform the intelligence work”, he said.

And of course, the Venezuelan regime funds this brutal and horrific repression with oil. Highly subsidised oil shipments to Cuba previously exceeded 100,000 barrels per day. Recently the collapse of Venezuela’s oil industry has reduced this to some 55,000 barrels per day, which still accounts for some 40% of Cuba’s total oil consumption. Cuba has also received ‘investments’ from Venezuela, such as the billions of dollars paid to rehabilitate Cuba’s Cienfuegos refinery so it could refine up to 65,000 barrels per day of heavy Venezuelan crude for both export and domestic use. In 2017 Cuba simply confiscated Venezuela’s 49% stake in this refinery, apparently in compensation for Venezuela’s failure to deliver as much subsidised oil as anticipated.

The collapse of Venezuela’s oil industry is depriving the regime of its black gold. Without the means to fund brutal crack-downs on dissidents, it is surely an inevitability that the regime will collapse. Without access to subsidised oil, the Cuban regime may well follow. We must hope that the seeds for new democratic regimes in the Caribbean have been sown, and that successor regimes learn from the mistakes of their predecessors.

More information on the Venezuela Campaign can be found on their website