Under the headline For Aging Castro, Chávez Emerges as a Vital Crutch, the Journal article said, Worries of such an alliance have grown since Indian and radical groups forced Bolivian president Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada to resign last October. To back up this claim, the Journal reporters asserted that Evo Morales, one of the leaders of peasant groups that revolted and brought down the Sánchez de Lozada government, has close ties to both Mr. Castro and Mr. Chávez.
A second major theme of the article was summed up in its subhead, which read: Cubas ballooning debt to Venezuela serves as form of life support. It claimed that Cubas short-term oil debt to Venezuela has grown from $96 million in November 2001 to $752 million today. The big-business daily raised a hue and cry about this alleged debt of Cuba, which is a pittance compared to the U.S. foreign debt that now exceeds $6 trillion.
As further evidence of a Cuba-Venezuela subversive axis in the Americas, the Journal pointed to the opposition by both governments to the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and a conference held at the end of January in Havana to oppose U.S. imperialisms attempts to impose this trade pact. About 1,200 people from throughout the Americas took part in that gathering. (See article in last weeks Militant.) Washington is trying to impose the FTAA in order to eliminate the protective trade and investment policies of the semicolonial countries in South America, in particular, opening them up to even greater exploitation by U.S. imperialism while maintaining tariffs that subsidize U.S. businesses. The U.S. rulers will use the trade pact as one more tool in their drive to reinforce Washingtons domination of these semicolonial nations and strengthen their edge over rival imperialist powers around the world.
In separate press conferences in early January Roger Noriega, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, and U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell accused Cuba of actions to destabilize Latin America. These government officials said that Havana was collaborating with Caracas towards this end. Noriega warned that, Those that continue in destabilizing democratically elected governments, interfering in the internal affairs of other governments, are playing with fire.
The Journal writers also assert that Venezuela has become the biggest financial supporter of Cuba since the Soviet Union. They wrote that Cuba has a debt of $752 million for oil shipped by Venezuelas oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), and that the Venezuelan government is making no effort to collect it. Claiming to have access to internal documents and people close to the company, the authors wrote that Cuba receives oil in preferential terms. This includes having 90 days to pay for shipments as opposed to 30 days for other buyers, they claimed, adding that Cubas debt represents 80 percent of the roughly $931 million owed to PDVSA by all its customers.
The Journal article described PDVSA director Ali Rodríguez as a former leader of a guerilla group that fought the Venezuelan government in the 1960s and 1970s. It also complains that this year the state-owned company plans to slash investment in exploration while boosting funds used by the government on social programs, including building homes for the poor and combating illiteracy.
The article quotes Venezuelan minister of energy and mines Rafael Ramírez denying that Cuba is delinquent in paying for its oil shipments. There is no delay at all, Ramírez said.
We dont mind that Cuba was a client, said Edgar Paredes, just as long as it paid its bills and the terms of the contract were transparent. Paredes is a former director of PDVSA. He was among thousands of management personnel fired from the state-owned company last year for leading a U.S.-backed bosses strike that aimed unsuccessfully at toppling the Chávez government.
This same Edgar Paredes was involved in the suspension of oil shipments to Cuba in April 2002, said Lázaro Herrera Martínez, a diplomat at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., in a February 5 interview with the Militant.
Cuban government responds
In an editorial Granma had published May 30, 2002, the Cuban daily responded in some detail to accusations similar to the Journals that had been leveled against Cuba by El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish-language sister publication of the Miami Herald. The Miami daily claimed at the time that the Venezuelan government had terminated its oil contract with Cuba because of the systematic failure on the part of the island to meet its payment obligations.
The Herald published these allegations shortly after the U.S.-backed military coup that tried unsuccessfully to bring down the Chávez government. During the two-day coup in April 2002, a statement issued by a top official of PDVSA announced there would be, Not one more barrel of oil to Cuba. According to Herrera, this official was none other than PDVSA director Edgar Paredes. PDVSA did suspend all oil shipments to Cuba on April 12, 2002, the second day of the coup. After Chávez returned to power following mass mobilizations of working people that sharpened divisions in the military, PDVSA did not immediately resume oil shipments.
The 2002 Granma editorial said that the Cuban and Venezuelan governments had signed a contract Oct. 30, 2000, for the sale of crude oil and its derivatives, establishing the terms and conditions of the supply of a total of 53,000 barrels per day for a five-year period. That quantity amounts to 33 percent of the countrys consumption, it noted. The contract stipulated that the bulk of the supply would be paid within 90 days, and payment on the restbetween 5 percent and 13 percent of the totalwould be deferred for a period of a few years with two years grace.
When the PDVSA officials, who were part of the effort to oust Chávez by declaring a lockout in the state oil company, terminated oil shipments to Cuba, Havana was current in its payments for the oil supply, Granma stated. As for payments, as of that same date [April 11, 2002] and in line with the agreement signed, Cuba had made cash payments of $439.7 million. Given the large increase in oil prices, the deferred part then amounted to $127.7 million, which…would begin to be paid off starting next year.
The Venezuelan government had extended these terms not only to Cuba but to a number of other countries in the Caribbean under the Caracas Energy Agreement to partially alleviate the debt burden many semicolonial countries faced because of rising oil prices on the world market, which is dominated by finance capital.
The Caracas Agreement was a just Venezuelan initiative to partially alleviate that situation, and the respect merited by that country and its president obliges Cuba to give special consideration to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the 2002 Granma editorial said. For our part, we have not spared any effort, sacrifice, and expense to cooperate with that sister nation and we will continue doing so.
PDVSA restarted oil shipments to Cuba in August 2002nearly four months after the failed coupand these have continued uninterrupted ever since.
In response to the February 2 Wall Street Journal article, the following day Granma published a front-page editorial titled, The cynical campaigns of the U.S. government.
Cuba has met its financial obligations to Venezuela and will not fail to pay a single penny for the oil it has received and continues to receive from that country in accordance with the agreements signed by the two governments, it said.
Granma explained that the Journals allegations are part of Washingtons escalating offensive against Cuba and Venezuela. The U.S. government, it said, has been falsely accusing Havana and Caracas of seeking to destabilize other Latin American countries as a pretext for U.S. military aggression against the two nations.
The U.S. government is seeking to blame Cuba and Venezuela for social instability that in reality is caused by the economic crisis devastating Latin America today, Granma said.
The cause is not to be found in imaginary, macabre plans by Cuba and Venezuela, the editorial stated, but in the real results of the imperialist policy of imposing on the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean a vicious model of the most savage capitalism. Such conditions are unsustainable and intolerable, said Granma.
The Chávez government has drawn the ire of Washington and its backers in Venezuelas capitalist class because of measures it has adopted that have threatened the prerogatives of finance capital. These have included an agrarian reform law and a bill strengthening state control of oil and other mineral resources that are part of the countrys national patrimony. In fighting to implement these measures and defend their interests, working people in Venezuela have gained more self-confidence and developed higher expectations, which is what scares Washington and the Venezuelan bourgeoisie. While working people have twice defeated attempts by the wealthy classes in Venezuela to overthrow the nationalist government of Chávezthe April 2002 coup and last years bosses strikethe pro-imperialist opposition in Venezuela is not sitting with its arms crossed. Its next salvo in its drive to oust the government is a referendum to recall the president. But as Venezuelans workers and peasants have proved already, this will not be easy.
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