Venezuelan vote bad news for Cuba: analysts

 

 Jean-Herve Deiller, Agence-France Presse

 

....Venezuela's disputed election result is bad news for the communist regime in Cuba, which became heavily dependent on oil and hard currency from Caracas under its late leader Hugo Chavez, analysts say.

 

Nicolas Maduro won a much closer than expected election to succeed Chavez, but deadly protests have erupted after liberal opposition leader Henrique Capriles demanded a recount.

 

"Cubans can't be cheering this result. They have to be worried that Maduro proved so politically weak. The opposition has the momentum and will define the agenda," said Michael Shifter, head of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank.

 

With Maduro entering office with a much weaker mandate than his colorful predecessor, the Castro-led regime may not enjoy the same economic benefits, potentially threatening the communist island's lifeline.

 

"The sympathy effect for Chavez was fleeting, and Capriles was able to capitalize," Shifter said.

 

A clause in Venezuela's constitution allows for a possible referendum to revoke a president half way through his six-year term, a consideration that will weigh on Maduro's foreign policy, after his narrow election win.

 

"The outcome could accelerate Cuba's reform process," Shifter told AFP, alluding to the likely need for Maduro to focus his efforts on domestic policy.

 

"The (Cuban) government will be compelled to pursue other economic options."

 

Venezuela supplies Cuba with two thirds of its oil on extremely good terms: in exchange for 100,000 barrels of crude a day Havana has sent some 40,000 experts to Venezuela, notably in the health sector.

 

Worth some $6 billion a year, the deal is Cuba's biggest source of cash, well ahead of money sent home by expatriate Cubans ($2.5 billion), tourism ($2 billion) or exports of nickel, tobacco and drugs (less than $2 billion).

 

During the election campaign Capriles repeatedly attacked the "gifts" sent from Venezuela to Cuba, calling Maduro "Cuba's candidate" and demanding that Caracas cut off oil supplies to Havana.

 

"Cuba can't hope for anything good from political instability in Venezuela," according to Cuban academic Arturo Lopez-Levy, from the University of Denver.

 

"The Cuban government would do well to accelerate its reform process and the opening up of its economic system, to prepare for various scenarios, all of them less favorable than the current situation," he told AFP.

 

Paul Webster Hare, British ambassador to Cuba from 2001-2004 and a former deputy head of Britain's mission in Caracas, added: "Cubans will know now that the Chavista movement depended on Chavez for its leadership and momentum.

 

"The Cubans will now conclude that their time for depending on the largesse of Chavismo is limited," said the ex-diplomat, who now teaches international relations at the University of Boston.

 

The lesson of Venezuela's disputed post-Chavez election should also be borne in mind by Cuba's new number two, Miguel Diaz-Canel, the designated successor of President Raul Castro, according to Hare.

 

"The key lesson may be that for Miguel Diaz-Canel to assume smoothly the mantle of the Castros will be much tougher than they may have supposed," he said, noting that he has until 2018 to prove himself fitted to the new reality.

 

Diaz-Canel, 53 this month, "may need to start talking more about the material ambitions of Cubans," and "tell fewer fantasy stories" about the state of the country, 54 years after the Revolution.

 

Marking the second anniversary of the 6th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, which launched economic reforms, the official daily Granma said Tuesday that "the tasks facing us are among the most complex and important."

 

"They will have the biggest impact on reform of the Cuban economic model," it added, without elaborating on the challenges facing the country.

 

Venezuelans citizen line up at their embassy in Havana to vote in the presidential election, on April 14, 2013. Venezuela's disputed election result is bad news for the communist regime in Cuba, which became heavily dependent on oil and hard currency from Caracas under its late leader Hugo Chavez, analysts say.

 

 

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