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Posted August 17, 2004 by publisher in Castro's Cuba

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By CBS News Producer Portia Siegelbaum

Unlike his arch enemy, President Bush, Cuban leader Fidel Castro is known for his nocturnal work habits. So it is not hard to imagine that Castro stayed awake late Sunday awaiting the results of the recall referendum that would determine the fate of his friend and ally, Hugo Chávez.

No surprise then that the early Monday edition of Cuba’s official Communist Party daily, Granma heralded the embattled Venezuelan president’s win with a bold red front-page headline, “Chávez ’s Decisive Victory”.

Although President Castro has not yet commented on the referendum results, he announced last week that he was postponing the celebration of his 78th birthday for two days, because he wanted it to coincide with Chávez ’s election “triumph.”

The outcome of the referendum, touted on Cuban TV as “proof of Venezuelan democracy”, was an object of great interest to many Cubans for several reasonsónot the least being that Cuba imports 53,000 barrels daily of Venezuelan crude oil and derivatives.

That’s nearly half of all the oil consumed by the country. Under a special deal signed in 2000, Cuba gets practically all that oil on preferential terms. Part of the cost is paid with the services of thousands of Cuban professionals ranging from doctors to athletes.

The importance of this cannot be underestimated. The collapse of the Soviet Union cost Cuba 255,000 barrels of crude daily on preferential terms. Over the past ten years, Cuba’s oil and gas production has risen from under 20,000 barrels per day to some 75,000 barrels, but that meets only half of the island’s needs.

However, when asked why Chávez’s survival was important to Cuba, Prof. Carlos Alzugaray put it in broader terms. “First of all, because it’s one of the political processes taking place in Latin American and the Caribbean that really represent an effort to break away from prevailing neo-liberal policies in order to benefit the people of Venezuela and not the multinational corporations”.

Alzugaray who is coordinator of International Strategic Studies at Havana’s graduate school of International Relations, says, “In a certain sense this is a vindication of the Cuban way, and by that I do not want to imply in the least that the Venezuelan process is an exact replica of the Cuban one, because it is not. As a matter of fact this is one of the fallacious arguments of the opposition.”

It was precisely the fear that Chávez was turning his oil-producing country into a carbon copy of Castro’s Cuba that convinced many affluent Venezuelans to cast their votes for his ouster. And in South Florida, Venezuelan exiles opposing their left-leaning President received many statements of moral support from anti-Castro Cuban exile groups. Those Cubans were preparing to welcome a Chávez defeat as a blow to Castro.

Miami, reportedly, had the largest polling place outside and even inside of Venezuela. More than 15,000 Venezuelans living in Florida or nearby states were expected to cast ballots there.

Like the Cuban exiles, the Venezuelan community is split along economic and ideological lines. The son of a former Venezuelan President and leader of the Democratic Coordinator Group organized the anti- Chávez campaign and voter-registration drive prior to Sunday’s referendum. Chávez supporters in South Florida organized groups dubbed Bolivarian Circles for the 19th century Venezuelan liberator Simon Bolivar. Chávez refers to his style of government as a “Bolivarian Revolution”.

Castro and Chávez share admiration for Bolivar and according to Alzugaray they also share a common enemy. “Obviously, the Bush Administration has been behind all the efforts to overthrow President Chávez, as it has been behind the efforts to bring about regime change in Cuba,” he says.

Chávez, elected in 1998, has survived a coup d’etat, a national strike and now a nationwide referendum, although senior opposition leader Henry Ramos Allup is screaming “fraud.” International observers including former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Organization of American States head, Cesar Gaviria are backing the referendum results.

Events in Venezuela are always given extensive coverage in the state-controlled Cuban press. Cuban TV played a key role in getting out accurate information during the 2002 attempted coup. It was able to contact Chávez’s daughter by telephone and broadcast live her description of the President’s kidnapping and her insistence that he hadn’t resigned as claimed by the opposition.

Now the referendum is the top story on Cuban TV and radio, overshadowing even reports on the clean-up of damage from Hurricane Charley. On Sunday, there was live coverage of several hundred Venezuelans voting at the Venezuelan Embassy in Havana. Predictably, most of themóstudents or patients receiving medical attention in Cubaósaid they were voting for Chávez because thanks to him they have access to health care and higher education. This evening Cuban TV viewers will be treated to a two-hour special round table on the results of the referendum.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on August 17, 2004 by Ralph

    I hailed the victory,more then Chavez himself,the victory of
    the poor people of Venezuela,whose are the majority of vene-
    zuelan,it has been unquestionable fair and free recall referen-
    dum,which has been endorsed by Carter himself,on behaf of more
    200 official of Carter Foundation,who closely followed the poll
    through the country,The American states organization has said
    the same,not fraud whatsoever,others,like SUMATE,who are not
    among the chavez supporters,has said its results coincide with
    the results of the Electoral Centre,the opposition,like Henry
    Ramos and others have claimed over what they,just only they,have
    called gigantic fraud.It seems to me that has been a gigantic
    loos and they have to concede it.But now I herd in tv5,that the
    american goverment has also questioned the recall results,that
    its shameful,unacceptable,unfair and overblown and they are
    responsible for any bloodshed in the strets of Venezuela.Chavez won and that is a fact.Now chavez must do more for the poor in
    Venezuela,even He has done something,but speaks much.His project
    of goverment has to bring many of the dregs of venezuelan society to the middle class,they desperately need that and they
    deserve that chavez project go far the speeches,chavez could be
    a benchmark in the latinoamerican politics or a defaulter,we will see,Chavez indeed won nothing,his supporters,the poor who
    have the deserved hopes of changes for the better in that very
    rich country,the are the genuine winners.Venezuela is a demo-
    cratic country,and the people of Venezuela have given an example
    of democratic feelings and democratic behaviour for all of us,
    American inclusive.CNN has not confirm the Bush goverment posi-
    tion,maybe tv5 was inexact.We will see further.

  2. Follow up post #2 added on August 18, 2004 by Ralph

    I must to say that the information of tv-cinq yesterday was
    not accurate enough,Us gov among the Amigos,an organization
    with include Brazil,Mexico,chile an others to support the -
    venezuelan people as a whole,hhave accepted the preliminary
    results in venezuelan presidential recall but in order to vanish
    any chance of political instability have asked the international
    observers for make an audit to compare partially the electronically results to the paper ballots, I am posting this,
    because yesterday,I was unclear about the American position in
    that regard,and it is important to the future of Venzuela to build a climate of stability in the country and in that Americans play a key role.God willing,next thursday everybody
    will know the results of the audit,even some minor disparities
    could be appreciated, that could never change the victorious NO.
    Fedecamaras and others opposition parties have concede the triumph of the NO,but some from CD simpoly doesnt want to accept
    it.It seems to me like Carter has said any allegations of fraud
    in the recall referendum has no merit.


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