Venezuela has a special relationship with Cuba. The number of Cuban officials who can be found throughout the Bolivarian government is quite astounding, as is the volume of financial aid that Venezuela grants its Cuban partner. Moisés Naím has a good piece on it at the Financial Times, although it relies too much on a qualitative picture for my taste.
There are two things to note about “Venecuba,” as Hugo Chávez once called the alliance.
The first is that the two countries reached the current level of integration fairly early, around 2008. Evidence? One estimate for 2008 is that transfers to Cuba came to $5.6 billion in payments for Cuban officials working inVenezuela and $2.5 billion in subsidies for oil sold at $27 per barrel. (See page 109.) For 2010, the same source estimated the value of the same two transfers at $5.4 billion for personnel and $2.8 billion for oil. (See also here.) That is not a big change.
Ernesto Hernández-Catás (using a different methodology) gets the same result: not a whole lot of change in net Venezuelan transfers (in billions of current US$) after 2008:
The more qualitative reports of Cuban officials operating inside the Venezuelan state are harder to measure. But it should be noted that the U.S. was worried about Cuban influence in the foreign ministry and the Cuban presence in Venezuelan ports in 2008. Juan José Rabilero, the coordinator of Cuba’s Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, boasted, “We have over 30,000 members of Cuba’s Committees for the Defence of the Revolution in Venezuela” ... in 2007.
In short, the Cuban-Venezuelan relationship reached its peak around 2007-08. That is not to say that the relationship isn’t an astoundingly tight one. It is. It is to say that it hasn’t gotten much tighter since ‘08.
The second thing to note about Venecuba is that there was a lot of talk of deeper union in 2007. The State Department noted this in an internal cable. The political benefits of greater institutionalization were obvious. It would secure Cuba’s access to Venezuelan resources and make it easier for President Chávez to call on Cuban support to help him cement his control over Venezuela. Randy McDonald discussed the idea here.
So what happened? One possibility is that plans to institutionalize the Venecuban links were just hot air. That was true of a lot of Hugo Chávez’s initiatives.
But that isn’t what happened. What happened was that Chávez put the possibility of a federation before the Venezuelan people in 2007 and got beat at the ballot box. Here’s the story. Chávez proposed a series of constitutional amendments to the National Assembly in 2007. In the Assembly, his party added a series of additional amendments. (This almost certainly occured under the supervision of the executive branch.) Among them were reforms to Articles 152 and 153.
The original text of both articles read as follows:
Article 152: The international relations of the Republic serve the ends of the State as a function of the exercise of sovereignty and the interests of the people; they are governed by the principles of independence, equality between States, free self-determination and non-intervention in their internal affairs, the peaceful resolution of international conflicts, cooperation, respect of human rights and solidarity among peoples in the struggle for their liberation and the welfare of humanity. The Republic shall maintain the finest and most resolute defense of these principles and democratic practices in all international organs and institutions.
Article 153: The Republic shall promote and encourage Latin American and Caribbean integration, in the interest of advancing the creation of a community of nations, defending the region’s economic, social, cultural, political and environmental interests. The Republic shall have the power to sign international treaties that implement and coordinate efforts to promote the common development of our nations, and to ensure the welfare of their peoples and the collective security of their inhabitants. To these ends, the Republic may transfer to supranational organizations, through treaties, the exercise of the necessary authorities to carry out these integration processes. In its policies of integration and union with Latin America and the Caribbean, the Republic shall give privileged status to relations with Iberoamerican countries, striving to make this a common policy throughout our Latin America. Provisions adopted within the framework of integration agreements shall be regarded as an integral part of the legal order in force, and shall be applicable directly and with priority over internal legislation.
The new versions would have read:
Article 152: The international relations of the Republic are based on the full exercise of the sovereignty of the Venezuelan state and are governed by the principles of: political independence, equality of States, self-determination and non-intervention in internal affairs, the peaceful resolution of international conflicts, defense and respect of human rights and solidarity among peoples in the fight for their emancipation and the welfare of humanity. The Republic shall develop the finest and most resolute defense of these principles in international organs and institutions, fostering their permanent democratization for the construction of a just and balanced order. The foreign policy of the Republic shall be actively oriented towards the construction of a multipolar world, free from the hegemony of any imperialist, colonialist, or neocolonialist power center. In order to guarantee that this article be carried out, the Foreign Service is declared a strategic activity of the State. Its organization and functioning will be established by law.
Article 153: The Republic shall promote the integration, Confederation, and Union of Latin America and the Caribbean with the aim of configuring a great regional political, economic, and social power bloc. In order to obtain this objective, the State will favor the construction of new models of integration and union across our continent, to permit the creation of a geopolitical space within which the peoples and governments of our America shall construct a single supranational project, which Simón Bolívar called “A Nation of Republics.” The Republic may sign treaties and international conventions based on the broadest political, social, economic and cultural cooperation, supranational productive complementarity, solidarity, and fair trade.
In practical terms I cannot make heads-or-tails of either article ... but as a statement of principle the reform is clear. The original version committed the Bolivarian Republic to defending motherhood in article 152 and enabled the construction of something like the European Union in Article 153. The new version changed that. Article 152 now committed the country to an effectively anti-American foreign policy. Article 153 declared the aim of uniting as much of Latin America as possible into an anti-American confederation.
At the time the reform of Articles 152 and 153 was seen as part of the Venecuba trial balloon.
Anyway, the Venezuelan electorate narrowly defeated the reform at the polls. These reforms were not the main reason for the loss, of course, but President Chávez decided that he had pushed de jure union with Cuba as far as it could go. He had also pushed the de facto alliance as far as possible. And that was the end of that.
But not of Cuban involvement in Venezuela, for better or for worse. To be perfectly frank, I believe that the Cuban presence is both very large and largely inconsequential.