Bellwether

What if Cuba and Venezuela merged? A marriage not made in heaven

John Moody

Venezuela’s socialist dictatorship is destroying the country at an alarming speed. Food is scarce, medical supplies nearly nonexistent. Two of every hundred newborns dies. Crude oil production, its only significant export, has plunged to 2 million barrels a day. What to do? Merge with its only regional ally, Cuba.

The notion of uniting Venezuela and Cuba – Venecuba or Cubazuela are the names commonly used -- has been bandied about ever since Venezuela’s late dictator, Hugo Chavez, embraced Cuba’s then-president, Fidel Castro. Raul Castro, who succeeded his brother as master of Havana, is now the main benefactor of Chavez’s inept heir, Nicolas Maduro. And Cuba’s influence on Maduro as he steers his country to ruin is nearly complete.

Cubans oversee the Venezuelan National Guard that keeps Maduro and his thinning clique of cronies from being overthrown. National identity cards, which citizens are required to show, are issued by Cuban military officers. Some opponents of the government allege that valid IDs are being sold to known Islamic terrorists. Cuban advisors also direct food distribution and increasingly, the inefficient state oil industry.

“The Cubans who are counselling them are experts,” says Dany Bahar, a Venezuela expert at the Brookings Institution. He believes that Maduro relies on help from Havana because he knows he can’t survive on his own. Maduro’s approval rating is generally thought to be below 20 percent and violent protests against his rule are on the rise.

To keep the Venezuelan military on his side, Maduro has commissioned some 2,000 generals – more than NATO has. Those uniformed supporters are among the targets of U.S. sanctions imposed by President Trump earlier this year. But since most of Maduro’s inner circle keeps its illicit wealth in Europe, the American sanctions don’t bite as deeply as they should. The ultimate U.S. weapon – a complete embargo of Venezuelan petroleum – could be counterproductive.

“The long term effect of a U.S. embargo would be devastating to Venezuela for years to come,” says Bahar. “It would give the regime an excuse to say ‘America is killing our children’. And the Cuban propaganda experts will make sure pictures of children starving to death go around the world.”

It wouldn’t be the first time that Venezuela has been part of a greater union. Simon Bolivar, the 19th century revolutionary who liberated parts of South America from Spanish domination, called the territory he ruled from Caracas to Bolivia "Gran Colombia."That didn’t last long.

Nor will a merger with Cuba. Latin American countries that have turned to Marxist-style socialism inevitably fail, as Cubazuelans have learned to their collective misery.

John Moody is Executive Vice President, Executive Editor for Fox News. A former Rome bureau chief for Time magazine, he is the author of four books including "Pope John Paul II : Biography."