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Vol. 80/No. 25      July 11, 2016

(feature article)

Cuba reaffirms ‘strongest solidarity’ with Venezuela

“I reaffirm our strongest and unconditional solidarity with the fraternal people of Venezuela, with the legitimate government of President Nicolás Maduro,” Cuban President Raúl Castro told the Seventh Summit of the Association of Caribbean States meeting in Havana June 4. “They are firmly resisting the destabilizing thrust, and the economic and media warfare undertaken by those who intend to sweep away the political, economic and social conquests that have brought benefits to millions of people.”

Castro’s declaration comes as Washington continues meddling in Venezuela, amid increasing economic and political instability and efforts by pro-imperialist opposition parties to oust the government.

At a meeting of the Organization of American States June 14, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry declared his support for the opposition demand for a referendum that could force Maduro from office. At the same time, he said Washington would hold high-level talks with the Venezuelan government, including on moves to restore ambassadors.

Since Hugo Chávez was elected president in 1998, the U.S. government has backed efforts to overturn the Venezuelan government, including a coup that was defeated by mobilizations of working people in 2002. Maduro replaced Chávez on his death in 2013. Washington and Caracas have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010.

The Chávez and Maduro governments, while maintaining capitalist relations, used oil profits to fund social programs that expanded access to education, health and housing; boosted employment and raised living standards for many workers and peasants. They welcomed thousands of Cuban internationalist volunteers who set up health clinics and schools in working-class barrios and rural areas. Venezuela initiated PetroCaribe, providing Cuba and 13 other Caribbean countries with oil at well below world market prices and took other measures that encroached on the prerogatives of U.S. imperialism. All this has earned the hatred of Washington and much of Venezuela’s capitalist class.

While wanting to see Maduro and his United Socialist Party out, Washington fears the consequences of sharpening political clashes and economic breakdown in Venezuela. Thomas Shannon, undersecretary of State for Political Affairs visited Caracas June 21-23 and met with both government and opposition leaders. The U.S. is “engaging bilaterally to help avert the most dire scenario,” Shannon told reporters in Caracas June 22. It also lacks confidence in the pro-imperialist opposition, which is riven by factional conflicts. Washington wants “to be able to talk to all parties” and “exercise our influence,” Shannon said June 24.

The opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable, which won a parliamentary majority in the December elections, has mounted protests throughout the year demanding a referendum to recall Maduro and force new presidential elections. On May 30, Luis Almagro from Uruguay, who is the general secretary of the 34-nation Organization of American States, issued a 132-page denunciation of Maduro’s government and initiated proceedings that could have led to Venezuela’s suspension from the OAS. The representatives of Nicaragua and Bolivia responded by demanding Almagro’s resignation. Washington did not back suspension and meetings of the U.S.-dominated OAS during June ended without a decision.

The devastating capitalist economic and social crisis in Venezuela is taking a heavy toll on working people, with severe shortages of food, medicines and basic goods, and reports of food riots and looting. Water and electricity are being rationed, causing blackouts. Inflation is running at 500 percent while unemployment stands at 17 percent. Government departments and schools are operating on reduced hours, and some plants have stopped production for lack of materials. Several major airlines have suspended flights to the country.

Venezuela’s economy, which depends on oil for 95 percent of its export earnings, has been hit hard by the world capitalist crisis. Oil prices plunged from over $100 a barrel in mid-2014 to under $30 earlier this year, before rising to around $50 in June. There has also been a big drop in the amount of oil produced. The Maduro government is prioritizing interest payments on its $120 billion foreign debt, with a payment of nearly $7 billion due this year, by cutting back on imports in order to preserve hard currency. Most of the country’s food and medicine is imported.

Some 46,000 volunteer Cuban health workers, teachers and others are working in Venezuela, often in the most impoverished districts. In March, the Cuban and Venezuelan governments signed a “Cooperation Plan” to continue this collaboration until at least 2030.
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