Cuba Doubles Down in Venezuela: It Is the Real Power

“Daniel Ortega is just another tyrant, not even at the height of the great tyrants, but a simple, vulgar, corrupt, tyrant”.

Mexican historian, author and editor Enrique Krauze analyzes the crises in Venezuela and Nicaragua. File photo by Michel Amado Carpio from the Guadalajara Book Fair

Carlos Salinas Maldonado

14 de febrero 2019


Enrique Krauze is excited to talk about Nicaragua. He states that it touches on a topic that was “very important” in his life because, he says, he openly supported the Sandinista Popular Revolution, the guerrilla movement widely supported by society that ended in July 1979 with the tyranny of the bloody Somoza legacy.

He asks his assistant, Leticia, to look for the articles that were published in the eighties in the magazine Vuelta – of which he was secretary of their newsroom – in which the support to the revolution was expressed by great intellectuals such as the Nobel Prize for Literature Octavio Paz and the poet Gabriel Zaid. But also, to bring up the criticisms that soon began to emerge by Krauze and others that were worried and disappointed by the “drunkenness” of power of the Revolution’s leaders, and the authoritarian drift that would soon turn the Sandinista libertarian dream into an authoritarian regime.

Krauze evokes in this interview with CONFIDENCIAL from his office those turbulent years and regrets that a “vulgar and corrupt tyrant” – in reference to the dictator Daniel Ortega – has interrupted the arrival of democracy in Nicaragua.

Of that tyrant and his Venezuelan counterpart, Nicolás Maduro, and of what he defines as “hypocritical” foreign policy of the Mexican government, we talked at the headquarters of Editorial Clío – ??located in the beautiful neighborhood of Coyoacán. -, where the Letras Libres magazine is published monthly, one of the most prestigious publications in the region. It is compulsory reading for the Latin American and Spanish intellectuals, with historian Enrique Krauze is its director.

What solutions do you see for the Venezuelan crisis, which has worsened in recent weeks?

The global pressure and the extraordinary feat of the Venezuelan people, with that courage that it has shown us throughout its history since independence, which has been re-expressed now, two hundred years later, is finally going to make Nicolás Maduro have to give in.

I hope it is with the minimum bloodshed. Nobody can foresee it, because in fact we are talking about things that change every day, but if humanitarian aid is denied, the repudiation of the population will be even greater, and I think that will be the moment when the military says: “I can’t do any more.” I do not mean at the top echelons, but there will be a kind of sit-down strike, of refusing to collaborate, of preferring to sacrifice oneself than to murder. That’s what I believe and I do not think it’s very romantic to think about it.

The impact of Venezuela in Cuba

But there is one very important element: the intervention of Cuba and its influence in the Venezuelan Army.

Undoubtedly, Cuba is risking its life in Venezuela, because Cuba is the real power in Venezuela. I do not understand the degree of humiliation to which these corrupt military leaders have come to let themselves be dominated by the intelligence elite of another country. Of course, Cuba is going to fight there. But someone said, against the complete will of a people you cannot govern. And that is what is happening for a long time and much more now. And if, in addition to that, the rejection factor of the whole world is added, all the conditions for a peaceful transition are given.

It does not seem that Cuba wants to give up its influence with the military.

If they decide to repress, the universal repudiation will be infinitely worse. The only thing that I don’t want to happen is a US military intervention, because that would give a historical oxygen (to Maduro). The United States is playing a role, and as you well know, I am a fierce critic of (Donald) Trump, of whom I believe is a perfect fascist. However, here he has played a multilateral path that I hope will continue to be so. What I am formulating, more than an opinion, is a hope: that Venezuela will democratize itself and with-it Nicaragua too. And let us get closer to the never realized dream that all of the Americas will become democratic.

What impact will the end of the Maduro regime have on Cuba?

Very big. That’s why I say that it’s obvious that its life is at stake. We are talking about the supply of oil. If Cuba lived on the Soviet subsidy for so many years and then the Venezuelan subsidy, very generous in the years of Hugo Chavez, now dwindling, but still very important, tens of thousands of barrels per day.

Losing this could isolate Cuba and lead this generation of Miguel Diaz Canel (designated president of Cuba) to the conviction that the economic reforms must be seriously implemented. And I would hope in this list of illusions – but possible – that the United States does not make the mistake of suffocating them, but rather, establishing a bridge with them.

As Obama did.

Unfortunately, I see it being difficult with Trump, but life goes by quickly and the horizon of 2020 is already there and I think there is also a possibility of a transition in Cuba. And that is where, curiously, the Mexican government could play a good role as long as it corrects many of the worrisome features that are now appearing of authoritarianism and concentration of power, which worries us democrats and the liberals of this country.

When talking about intervention, how should it be in the case of Venezuela? And that brings me to the approach of the Government of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has decided to speak of non-intervention and neutrality.

I do not agree with the attitude of the Mexican government, which only accompanied by Uruguay, thinks that this is a negotiating table, when here it is about legal channels that have been respected (as the decision of Juan Guaido to follow what is established in the Constitution of Venezuela). There is the possibility of having elections within a relatively short period of time.

That is the position of Spain, which has a socialist government. The time of the negotiations has passed, and it has for many years. And if Spain failed [in its mediation], no one can.

But there are two important players, which are Russia and China. What I hope is that both understand that it is in their benefit – especially China, for its long-term plans, because Russia is more opportunistic – to have a Venezuela in a new economic and political position, to pay its debts and to have a stability in the medium term, which is for the benefit of all the nations of the world.

Ortega, a tyrant

Let’s go to Central America now. How does a character like Daniel Ortega fit into the Latin American political tradition and in the context that this region now lives?

Here you have a very old subject in me. To begin with, I want to say that I saluted the Sandinista Revolution, I wrote in the magazine Vuelta in favor of the Sandinistas saying that I expected it to be a democratic revolution, to do justice. But very soon I started to be disappointed and when everyone was drunk with power, when even Sergio Ramírez was part of that drunkenness, we in the magazine Vuelta – to the honor of Octavio Paz and Gabriel Zaid, above all – pointed out that the Sandinistas had to legitimize their revolution and the only way was elections. In 1984, Zaid wrote an essay: “Nicaragua, the enigma of elections”, which is important to be published again. And Octavio Paz went to Frankfurt to declare that he was asking for elections in Nicaragua, for which the Mexican left burned him in effigy.

So you are talking with the editorial secretary of Vuelta magazine, who defended Nicaraguan democracy when no one was defending it, or when it was said that those of us who defended it were Ronald Reagan’s route companions.

At what point do you decide that the revolution was not what you expected?

Very soon. Like Mario Vargas Llosa: at the beginning of the eighties it began to be clear. I had a very serious controversy with Tomas Borge in Mexico. I opposed them. Very soon I stopped believing in the vocation for freedom and democracy of the Sandinista commanders. They seemed slavish to Cuba, small caricatures of Fidel Castro.

We celebrated the return of democracy in Nicaragua [1990], the whole subject of Violeta Chamorro. Later, I was not surprised at all that Ortega has become a tyrant, not even at the height of the great tyrants, but a simple vulgar, corrupt, tyrant.

Doesn’t he fit in the line of the left populists or authoritarians who have governed in Latin America?

No. Chávez, for example, had a certain populist aura. López Obrador is a populist, but a populist who has a project, although I do not agree with that project in many ways. In addition, he has a very authoritarian sense, but he is a leader that comes from the bowels of Mexico.

Ortega is a tyrant. Ortega does have universal repudiation. I don’t know who is more repudiated, if Ortega or Maduro. Maduro is better known because the Venezuelan tragedy is immeasurable, it is gigantic, but I think that Venezuela is in the run-up to the collapse and that is going to help Nicaragua.

I hope that the Nicaraguans will react and rebuild their country with the spirit of the great moments of freedom and democracy of that country, of that journalism, of the literary glory not only of Rubén Darío, but of my great friend Pablo Antonio Cuadra.

Let’s return to Mexican politics in the face of these two crises, that of Venezuela and Nicaragua: can the “Estrada Doctrine” be argued as a foreign policy in the 21st century?

Of course not. They talk about the self-determination of the people, well, of course! What more self-determination than having had elections that elected an Assembly that this man (Maduro) failed to recognize! What’s more self-determination of the people than having a tsunami of people on the street protesting against this (Maduro)! What else? Peaceful resolution of conflicts, they say! Go tell that to the man whose national guards massacre the students. Please!

Lopez Obrador, Mexico and the OAS

The Mexican foreign ministry said that Mexico will have a foreign policy focused on human rights. In the case of Nicaragua, there is a report from the GIEI experts sent by the OAS that points to Ortega having committed crimes against humanity. And Mexico does not pronounce itself.

It is a perfectly hypocritical position. And it is a position that is only explained by ideological reasons. That’s to say: “We are from the left and we are with the Cuban tradition”. It is an indefensible ideological position. Europe already pronounced itself. That is important, let us leave aside the United States, because everything is stained by the repulsive and racist figure of Donald Trump, who if he is not a tyrant like Ortega it is because there is still in that country a House of Representatives, a Judicial Power and a press and media that contain it. And a democracy of 241 years.

What will be the political cost for Mexico if it maintains its current foreign policy?

For now, not much, because Lopez Obrador is enjoying a very broad democratic bond, because the performance of previous governments – especially the previous one, of former president Enrique Pena Nieto – was disastrous and because there is a real enthusiasm, almost euphoria that is popular with him.

I am concerned about many aspects of his political behavior. I see in him prefigure types of domination that I do not like, that are neither democratic nor liberal. In the short term the costs will not be very large, but yes: there is a sector of the public, the critical mass, which is growing.

Within the OAS scenario, what can be done now? Can this body achieve democratic regimes in Nicaragua and Venezuela?

I think the difference between what the OAS did in the shameful times of (José Miguel) Insulza to the current times of (Luis) Almagro is enormous. I think that both the OAS and the Lima Group have done a lot. We have to keep pushing and I think there is an international consensus in that sense. Now what I hope for are concrete actions. And now I’m focused on the humanitarian aid arriving [in Venezuela].

The Army has blocked it.

As you can see, the perspective changes day by day. We’re going to let the days go by. I want to be optimistic, I prefer to be. I find it hard to believe that a situation where the Army itself tolerates and that guarantees the siege and the hunger of a population is sustainable. If the Army establishes a blockade of the Venezuelan people, it would be another chapter in the history of Latin American infamy.


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