How Canada's coddling of Cuba is helping Venezuela's dictator
Avik Jain, Ottawa Citizen
Canada prides itself on maintaining a strong relationship with Cuba. However, while the current government is happy to condemn abuses in Saudi Arabia and the Philippines, it has remained silent when it comes to the Cuban dictatorship. Cuba is a key player in propping up the Venezuelan regime, and Canada can no longer stand by and do nothing.
More than two million Cubans fled the island in four mass waves between the 1960s and ’90s. Draconian regulation and nationalizations enacted by the communist regime proved to be catastrophic; malnutrition levels rocketed, and many professionals left their jobs to become taxi drivers and prostitutes. The regime was forced to open the island up to tourism by the mid-1990s to avoid revolt.
Despite its domestic economic reforms, Cuba has continued to support violent pseudo-revolutions internationally. Today, the regime of Raúl Castro and Miguel Díaz-Canel is engaging in the hyper-Cubanization of the nation with the largest petroleum reserves in the world.
In Venezuela, the socialist regime that came to power 19 years ago has implanted itself indefinitely. Expropriations, state-sanctioned looting and price controls have exploded poverty levels. Shortages are dire: From toilet paper to medicine, the Venezuelan people have had to do without basic necessities for years. The state lavishes its revenue, much of it obtained from drug smuggling, on the security forces. Meanwhile, the Venezuelan people must fend for themselves. Three million have fled the country. The parallels to Cuba are hard to ignore.
Under the government of Hugo Chavez (1999-2013), crime, debt and inflation soared in Venezuela. He engaged in unsustainable social spending on the basis of crude oil while seizing media outlets and private companies. Under Chavez-designated successor Nicolás Maduro, Venezuelan statism has begun to closely resemble – and surpass – Cuban misery. There are no more free elections. Newspapers must buy ink and paper from the regime, and the last major independent television station could soon lose its licence. Hundreds of protesters have been shot every year for the last four years. The SEBIN, Venezuela’s secret police, frequently engages in rape and torture.
The Cuban regime has long been at the centre of Venezuela´s reforms. The Venezuelan security system is trained and supported by thousands of Cuban agents in the country. When Venezuela had functioning public hospitals and schools, the socialist regime preferred to import Cuban doctors, nurses and teachers rather than train Venezuelans. In exchange, Cuba was – and still is – plied with millions of barrels of free oil. However, the Cuban regime appears to desire a colony rather than a benefactor.
It is no coincidence that Maduro seems unbothered by the exodus of more than three million Venezuelans. He is mimicking Fidel Castro’s strategy during the construction of state socialism: Compel the rich and educated to leave the country, push out the millions that the state welfare system cannot support, jail and exile opposition leaders, and make the remaining population completely dependent on state handouts. To-date, every nation seems helpless when it comes to halting his creation of another miserable dictatorship in our hemisphere.
While Canada stands with the Lima Group and gives aid to Venezuelan refugees, all of Canada’s political parties are mum about Cuba’s immense role in the manufacturing of the greatest refugee crisis in the history of the Western hemisphere. In addition to imposing more sanctions on Venezuelan officials, Canada must threaten to sanction Cuba should Havana continue to bolster the dictatorship in Caracas. Canada is the largest supplier of tourists to Cuba; President Díaz-Canel cannot afford to irritate his nation´s economic lifeline.
By putting Cuba in its place, Canada has the opportunity to exert real force in stemming the continuation of a continental tragedy. Democratic allies, including Argentina, Peru and Colombia, would welcome a consistent human rights policy from Canada as they deal with millions of refugees.
Avik Jain holds a BA from McGill University and an MA in Latin American Studies from Boston University. He teaches literature at the Italian School of Peru.
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