In a surprise visit to Cuba, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro paid homage to the late Fidel Castro just after the 91st anniversary of his birth on August 13, 1926.
Maduro met with Cuban President Raul Castro for a visit to the cemetery in Santiago de Cuba and the mausoleums of both Fidel and national hero Jose Marti. The visit marks a continuation of strong relations between the two socialist countries, who remain regional ideological allies.
It’s no surprise when world leaders meet to talk about the relationship between their countries, especially when those nations are aligned ideologically. But Maduro’s visit comes amidst a tense atmosphere within his own country. Plummeting oil prices, which account for 95% of the country’s export revenues, have forced Venezuelan leadership to severely curtail its essential social programs. In addition, the opposition party grows more popular by the day due in part to the economic downturn and partly because of the perceived unjust consolidation of power by the Venezuelan Supreme Court, which seized power from the opposition-led legislature earlier this year.
In the wake of the visit, opposition leader Henrique Capriles criticized Maduro over the perceived heavy influence of Cuba in the domestic affairs in Venezuela. Maduro’s trip highlighted this frequent source of criticism of the Venezuelan President from the opposition part, in that he takes too much political advice from Castro.
But criticism aside, the partnership between the two nations exists for a reason – aside from the political alignment between the two nations, Venezuela has been one of Cuba’s largest trade partners. The highly subsidized oil that Venezuela provides to Cuba has been a boon to Cuba’s economy, so Cuba has a strong interest in continuing the relationship. The trade relationship is symbiotic, however, in the medical and technical services provided to Venezuela in return.
As Cuba grapples with modernizing its economy, its ongoing relationship with Venezuela will be telling. After all, U.S. President Donald Trump imposed sanctions on Venezuela earlier this year, and the looming threat of a complete embargo of Venezuelan petroleum could prove to be devastating for Venezuela. At that point, it’s unclear what route Cuba would take regarding their longtime economic and political ally. Trump recently rejected the offer to speak to the Venezuelan president, so it seems that relations between the U.S. and Venezuela aren’t getting better any time soon.
Political pundits have postulated a potential merger between the two nations. The prospect seems far-fetched, but isn’t entirely new – the names Venecuba and Cubazuela have been thrown around ever since the late Hugo Chavez embraced the late Fidel Castro.
What is abundantly clear, however, is that Cuba largely benefits from the oil that Venezuela sends its way. As the tension between the U.S. and Venezuela rises, the possibility of a petroleum embargo increases. At that point, Cuba will have to either double down on its commitment to Venezuela or consider other options.