Venezuela’s Chavez Battles for His Life
by Eric Margolis: Who
Murdered Benazir Bhutto?
29 million people are praying for their ailing Commandante
Hugo Chavez – half that he will survive his latest bout of cancer,
and the other half that he won’t.
Chavez is reporting to be failing rapidly with "severe"
respiratory complications after his fourth cancer surgery since
2011 in Cuba. Both the Venezuelan and Cuban governments have remained
very secretive about the condition of the 58-year-old Chavez.
human battle the terrors of cancer is always heartbreaking. But
Chavez’s prolonged illness is also causing rising economic and political
uncertainty in both Venezuela and Cuba.
styles himself leader of Latin America’s socialist "Bolivarian
revolution," an ex-military officers who vows to use Venezuela’s
great oil wealth to uplift his people. Venezuela’s per capita income
is a modest $13,000. By comparison, South Korea, a nation with no
natural resources, has a GDP per capita of $30,000. Many Venezuelans
subsist on $2 per day. They are Chavez’s most ardent supporters.
The dire illness
that has afflicted Chavez has thrown Venezuela into political turmoil.
He was due to take the oath of office for a second six-year term
on 10 January.
constitution provides for new elections if the sitting president
dies. But there is confusion over what would happen if Chavez remains
in a Cuban hospital. Will Vice President Nicolas Maduro take office
– or not? The president of the National Assembly says he will assume
office. Military officers are making coup noises.
All this would
be merely of local interest if Venezuela was not one of the world’s
most important oil producers. Lucky Venezuela literally floats atop
of sea of oil and natural gas. It may even have larger oil reserves
than Saudi Arabia.
petroleum reserves from the region of Lake Maracaibo are estimated
at nearly 300 billion barrels. Oil sands contain some 100 billion
bbls of oil – more than Canada’s Alberta oil sands. Venezuela is
the world’s eighth largest exporter of oil and Latin America’s leading
producer of natural gas.
In spite of
the long, bitter feud and name-calling between Caracas and Washington,
Venezuela remains a primary oil supplier for the United States.
Caracas even owns the US petroleum refiner and marketer, "Citgo."
Ironically, another leftist state, Angola, is also now a leading
oil supplier for the energy-devouring US market.
are also watching President Chavez’s health crisis with mounting
concern. Venezuela supplies Cuba with an annual $3.5 billion subsidy,
including 15,000 bbls of oil daily. Venezuela is also building a
large refinery in Cuba that will strengthen its economic independence.
In exchange for oil, Cuba has provided Venezuela with 30,000 doctors.
Union used to supply Communist Cuba with free oil until its collapse
in 1991. Cuba wholly relied on this Soviet petroleum and sold the
rest to earn hard currency. Commandante Chavez has always been a
huge admirer of Cuba; he regards Fidel Castro as a father figure.
So he was quick to throw a lifeline to sinking Cuba after Soviet
aid evaporated. Washington was furious, to say the least, and sought
to bolster internal opposition to Chavez’s populist socialist regime
which is despised by middle and upper class Venezuelans
If Chavez loses
his fight with cancer – and this could come in days – or if he is
incapacitated, a new government in Venezuela may either sharply
lessen or, if the rightist opposition wins office, completely end
aid to Cuba. This would leave Cuba in desperate straits. Cuba does
not have enough hard currency to buy oil on the open market.
plight might offer Vladimir Putin off in Moscow a nifty way of needling
Washington, which has lately been stepping on Russia’s toes in the
Caucasus and Syria. China may also be tempted to quietly rescue
Cuba as a tool for future use if the US challenges Beijing over
Taiwan or the South China Sea. Imagine the uproar in America if
Chinese Navy vessels began patrolling off Miami just as the US 7th
Fleet patrols the Taiwan Strait.
wishes Col. Chavez a speedy recovery. He is a big pain to Washington,
a mixed-up socialist, and a blowhard, but he’s also colorful, big-hearted
and amusing in a world full of dull leaders.
him mail] is the author of War
at the Top of the World and the new book, American
Raj: Liberation or Domination?: Resolving the Conflict Between the
West and the Muslim World. See his
© 2013 Eric Margolis
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