El Nuevo Herald
February 20, 2008
While relations between Cuba and Venezuela are expected to remain friendly, experts said Raúl Castro may seek to end the island's dependence on Hugo Chávez's oil.
Posted on Wed, Feb. 20, 2008
Fidel Castro's resignation and the likely rise of his brother Raúl will not mean visible changes in Cuban-Venezuelan relations, but could have important repercussions for the government of Hugo Chávez in the short run, analysts say.
Venezuela will continue to be a strategic priority for Havana, thanks to the supply of 93,000 barrels of crude oil and derivatives a day, but the heavy dependence on energy is increasingly seen as a vulnerability unacceptable to a pragmatic leader like Raúl Castro.
At the same time, relations between Cuban and Venezuelan military men, which during Fidel Castro's era were frequently tinged with political and ideological activism, will enter a phase of strict professional cooperation, mostly because of the lack of ''chemistry'' between Raúl Castro and Chávez, experts said.
''Publicly, there will be no changes and no signs of disagreement between Havana and Caracas,'' said Eugenio Yáñez, an analyst and author of numerous books on Cuba's nomenklatura, ''but there are signs that Raúl Castro is looking to expand relations with other countries that could serve him as energy sources'' in the event that Chávez cannot continue to send oil to the island.
According to Professor Jorge Piñón, a Cuban expert at the University of Miami's Center for Hemispheric Policy, if the supply of Venezuelan oil stops, Cuba ``would have barely 17 days of oil derivatives in storage and 35 days of crude.''
With Fidel Castro offstage, Piñón said, Raúl Castro will likely open the door to energy accords with Brazil, not only to expand plans for deep-water exploration for oil, but also to produce ethanol from sugar cane.
To Rafael Huizi Clavier, Venezuela's former armed forces inspector general, Fidel Castro's absence will change particularly military relations between the island and Venezuela.
''The meetings of Venezuelan military men with Fidel were political meetings, with a lot of ideological influence, a lot of propaganda. With Raúl, things are different. There is more talk about professional topics, without reference to political themes,'' Clavier said.