The repercussions of the upcoming election in Venezuela are being felt in Cuba, as Cubans are fearful that it would be devastating to their country if Hugo Chavez were defeated because he has been single-handedly propping up the Cuban economy.
Chavez faces a surprisingly strong challenge from rival candidate Henrique Capriles for the presidential election to be held on October 7. While the charismatic Socialist leader has been president since 1999, he recently survived a bout with cancer and for the first time in years is considered somewhat vulnerable in the coming election, with some polls showing Capriles to be less than 10 points behind Chavez.
Capriles has used an old-fashioned door-to-door campaign to reach the populace, while Chavez and his supporters have attempted to deride Capriles by accusing him of running a U.S.-style marketing campaign. Chavez has gained much of his popularity in Latin America by his willingness to confront and sometimes embarrass the powerful nation to the North, the United States.
In Cuba, the developments in Venezuela are being watched closely by everyday citizens, who fear that if Chavez loses their “umbilical cord” will be immediately cut off and the Cuban economy will be plunged into darkness, just as it was in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Venezuela provides Cuba with about two-thirds of its energy needs, according to Jorge Pinon, a Cuba expert at the Centre for Hemispheric Policy at the University of Miami.
“Cuba currently consumes approximately 147,000 barrels of oil a day and produces approximately 50,000 barrels of crude oil a day, which means a deficit of about 100,000 barrels a day, supplied by Venezuela,” he said in a report on Cuba’s energy future.
The support from Chavez has bee crucial for Cuba over the last dozen years. Venezuela also takes in about 40,000 Cuban professionals, particularly in healthcare, a vital source of financial support.
“The moribund Cuban economy is staying afloat with Venezuelan aid. If that umbilical cord is cut, it would be a disaster,” Cuban dissident economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe told AFP.
“By a very high margin, the (Cuban) population is very worried about that,” he said.
Juan Miguel Estevez, 46, a retired police officer, echoed the concern.
“Of course we are worried. If Venezuela goes down, we fall back into what happened to us after the Soviet Union, head first into crisis. Nobody wants that,” he said.
Venezuela is Cuba’s leading trade partner, with transactions each year that are valued at about $6 billion—three quarters of it in Venezuela’s favor.