In an unfriendly op-ed published Monday in the British paper The Guardian, Peter McKenna, professor and chair of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown, chastises the Trump administration by “revealing” something most more-than-casual observers of the escalating situation in Venezuela already know: mitigating the role of Cuba is the real aim of the Trump administration with regard to Venezuela. McKenna, convinced he's stumbled upon a hidden truth, writes:
Clearly, the Trump administration has returned to a Cold War mentality when it comes to Cuba…Indeed, the overarching objectives are right out of the 1980s —destabilize the Cuban government, undermine what’s left of the Cuban revolution and send a powerful message to the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean not to follow in Cuba’s footsteps.
Despite McKenna attempting to frame U.S. dislike of the Castro regime’s hold over the now-starving and chaotic Venezuela as something undiscovered, the role Cuba plays in the suppression of Venezuela — and the destruction of her economically and with respect to human rights — is well known and vocally communicated by Trump administration officials, anti-Maduro Venezuelan leaders, and human rights groups in the U.S. working on the issue.
At a Friday press conference in Washington, DC., The Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba (FHRC), with the help of Venezuelans both named and unnamed, presented a report on exactly why Cuba should be the focus of any effort to help Venezuelans survive the socialist Maduro regime. An excerpt from the report entitled “Cubazuela: Chronicle of a Cuban Intervention” puts it plainly:
When one state cedes to another the control of its military and intelligence sectors, the ideological format of its news outlets, its educational and cultural institutions, customs mechanisms and citizen registers, as well as the issuance of official identity documents, electronic systems for registration and count of electoral votes and other key processes; when it ultimately transfers at no cost tens of billions of dollars in natural resources, and must even buy 18 oil from other producers in order to deliver its quota to that second country – despite lacking the essential quantities to meet its own needs – we can say that we are in the presence of some type of colonial domination.
In short, the report’s authors (including two former government officials who have defected from Venezuela and Cuba) and panel members at Friday’s event – which included Miguel Ángel Martín,Chair, Supreme Court of Justice of Venezuela; Hugo Achá, Human Rights Lawyer & Director of Research, FRHC; General Antonio José Rivero, Former Venezuelan Military Officer; and José R. Cárdenas, Former Acting Asst. Administrator for Latin America at the U.S. Agency for International Development — believe Venezuela’s current problems begin and end with Cuba as “’jinetero’ (pimp) state and its colony Cubazuela.”
The panel, often speaking in Spanish with interpreters, detailed the history of Cuba’s intervention in Venezuela. They discussed ways in which the socialist island nation maintains control through military intervention; how territories have been ceded to foreign criminal groups such as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN), and Hezbollah; and the fact that interim President Juan Guaido is not self-appointed, as many critics claim, but is the rightfully elected interim President following Maduro’s last sham election.
“Venezuela is a failed state controlled by a criminal group linked to drug trafficking and to transnational terrorism,” the panel’s report says. “That group has usurped the institutions, dismantled democracy, taken away sovereignty from the people, and established a regime of terror.”
And, perhaps most notably, the panel members suggested that any support or intervention from the international community should be considered a rescue mission of Venezuela from the grip of a narco-terrorist, transnational criminal organization called Cuba. From the report:
The former commander of one of the main forces of the Farabundo Marti Front of El Salvador, Joaquín Villalobos, argued in an article recently published by El País in Madrid why he considers Venezuela to be a Cuban colony: “Colonialism basically consists of political, military and cultural control, a puppet government and an extractive economy. By manipulating Chavez, Fidel Castro managed to conquer Venezuela. He defined its government model; aligned the country ideologically with Socialism of the 21st century; reorganized, trained and defined the doctrine of its Armed Forces; assumed control of its intelligence and security agencies; sent hundreds of thousands of soldiers, teachers and doctors to consolidate its political dominance; and established the Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of America (ALBA) for the geopolitical defense of his colony. He chose Maduro as the puppet successor to Chavez and established an extractive economy that allowed him to obtain up to 100,000 barrels of oil a day to sustain his own regime.”
While McKenna and critics of those who would wrest Venezuela from the grip of Cuba consider international attention to the situation a form of imperialism, the FHRC report should put that notion to rest.
And McKenna should take heart. Cuban doctors who had been sent to Venezuela as part of the “hugely successful” doctors for oil program are describing the inefficiencies and fraud in that program. Surely McKenna can find reasons to be happy an international coalition is willing to call that out.
As for Venezuela’s economic outlook, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has been working with international finance ministers on securing billions of dollars in trade financing for the new government of Venezuela once Maduro exits.
Venezuela’s future is, frankly, quite a bit rosier than their recent past suggests it might be; but only if, as the FHRC report shows, Cuba would get out of the way, by choice or by force.
Sarah Lee is a freelance writer living and policy wonk living and working in Washington, DC.