Cuba’s closest ally in the region, and its biggest economic partner, remains Venezuela.
Their relationship deepened in 1999, when Hugo Chavez became president. CCTV America’s Martin Markovits reports.
With Fidel Castro now gone and the U.S. and Cuba moving towards reconciliation, the dynamic of the Cuba-Venezuela relationship could be shifting.
The island nation has been dependent on Venezuelan oil for its struggling economy while a medical doctor exchange program has boosted healthcare options for Venezuelans. This program is just one of a host of initiatives that have flourished between Havana and Caracas since the presidency of Hugo Chavez.
More than 60,000 Venezuelans have traveled to Cuba free of charge for medical care. And there are now more than a thousand clinics in Venezuela staffed mainly by Cuban doctors. This has helped make Venezuela’s health care more universal. Cuba, in return, gets access to much needed cheap fuel.
But this relationship could be challenged as Venezuela deals with crashing oil prices. Discounted oil and other trade deals have helped keep Cuba afloat economically and have made Venezuela Cuba’s most important economic partner since the days of the Soviet Union.
However, their partnership is more than just economic. Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro shared a strong ideological bond– united against U.S economic and political influence in Latin America.
They helped to create trade blocs like ALBA, the Bolivian Alliance of the Americas Peoples that excluded the U.S and reject neoliberal free market principles. But these strong ties have also become a political liability in Venezuela. Anti-government protesters in Venezuela have repeatedly accused Havana of secretly controlling Chavez’s successor, Nicolas Mauro.
They also allege that as Venezuela suffers from deep economic problems, Cuba is benefiting disproportionately from the country’s discounted oil. Yet 15 years of expanding relations have also made Cuba very dependent on Venezuela. 40 percent of Havana’s trade comes from the oil-for-doctors program. This puts Cuba in a vulnerable position, especially if Venezuela’s economy were to collapse.