The Cubans-in-Venezuela Deniers

Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Excerpt by Victoria L. Henderson in PanAmPost:

Why does the mention of Cuba’s influence in Venezuela throw otherwise reasonable people into a seeming state of incredulity?

This week, Moisés Naím (a former minister of trade and industry for Venezuela and a former executive director of the World Bank) published an article in the Financial Times arguing that the “enormous influence that Cuba has gained in Venezuela is one of the most underreported geopolitical developments of recent times.”

I shared Naím’s article on my Twitter feed, one of many articles I have posted on the ongoing crisis in Venezuela. Oddly, none of the articles I have shared about state repression and censorship by the Venezuelan regime has elicited as much push-back from the intellectual and media set as those articles I have shared drawing attention to Cuba’s role in the Venezuelan crisis.

An article I tweeted a few weeks ago on the Cuban connection in Venezuela prompted a series of responses (some public, some private) from people who suggested that Cuba is a “red herring” of the “extreme right wing” in Venezuela and Latin America more broadly.

In response to my tweet of Naím’s recent article, a distinguished Associated Press reporter on Latin America (seconded by a reporter from Al Jazeera) responded: “documentation/testimony, please” — ostensibly referring to the need to further substantiate Naím’s claim.

That such a distinguished reporter would ask me for documentation instead of Naím seems a bit odd. Perhaps the reporter was simply taken aback that a scholar outside of the Miami and Washington enclaves would give airtime to an argument portraying the Cuban regime in a less-than-flattering light.

As I see it, there are two main points of contention with respect to Naím’s article: one is whether Cuba does, in fact, play a critical role in Venezuela; the other is whether this role has been underreported in the media (and the latter, it seems to me, is the main point of Naím’s latest article).

With respect to Cuba’s role in Venezuela, Naím quotes Juan José Rabilero, ex-head of Cuba’s Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs). A neighborhood surveillance and intelligence-gathering network, CDRs were established to ensure “revolutionary vigilance”: “Militia battalions will be created throughout Cuba,” explained Fidel Castro on launching the CDRs in 1960. “Each man for each weapon will be selected. A structure will be given to the entire mass of militiamen so that as soon as possible our combat units will be perfectly formed and trained.”

Naím notes that Rabilero, giving a speech in the Venezuelan state of Táchira in 2007, confirmed the presence of 30,000 cederristas (members of the CDRs) in Venezuela. Surely even a skeptic will accept statements about Cuba’s role in Venezuela when these statements come from officials themselves?

Additionally, Naím reports having received information from a Latin-American minister of defense who alleges Cuba’s infamous G2 intelligence service is active in Venezuela. This corresponds with statements from former allies of ex-President of Venezuela Hugo Chávez and with secret recordings released by the Venezuelan opposition.

As I have argued previously, one can oppose or embrace Cuba’s presence in Venezuela, but the grounds for denying its existence are circumspect.