Cuba anxious about post-Chavez Venezuela

HAVANA, March 14 (UPI) -- Cuba is fervently hoping the death of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez won't disturb the status quo in the Caribbean island's lucrative relationship with oil-rich government in Caracas.

Pronouncements by Cuba's communist elite point to the level of anxiety over the shape of things to come before or after an April 14 special election that Acting President Nicolas Maduro is widely expected to win.


A month being a long time in politics, Maduro is also demonstrating a certain amount of anxiety himself, seeking to prove he's a true inheritor of the Bolivarian revolution of the late leader, who died March 5 after a two-year battle with cancer.

The revolution's fruits are open to question, as oil-rich Venezuela fights a three-year recession, high crime, youth unemployment and polarization between the populist masses still loyal to the Chavez legacy and a much smaller class of business and industry representatives, middle and upper income minorities supportive of change under opposition candidate Henrique Capriles.


Despite widespread skepticism over the Bolivarian revolution project, the Chavez establishment remains deeply entrenched, making a potential power switch to Capriles a forbidding challenge for the opposition.

"I'm not (Hugo) Chavez, but I'm his son," Maduro said as he announced his candidacy before the Electoral Tribunal for the April 14 election.

That line was reinforced in Cuban pronouncements in support of Maduro, an endorsement the newcomer will need, if elected, to take on the mantle of Bolivarian socialism left behind by Chavez.

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Maduro's pronouncements suggest he intends forge Chavez's legacy into a long-term franchise in the style of Peronism in neighboring Argentina. Uruguayan President Jose Mujica says he sees long years of "Chavism" ahead, a style familiar to the Castro brothers in Havana.

In frequent medical trips to Cuba Chavez built close ties with President Raul Castro and worshipped brother Fidel as his senior mentor.

For once Cuba is paying back to Caracas what it received in generous largesse from Chavez and the endorsement is critical for Maduro's effort to fix his credentials in Latin America's socialist bloc.

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Raul Castro said he had "absolute confidence" in Hugo Chavez's successors, the state-led Cuban media reported after his return from Chavez's funeral in Caracas.


"We return satisfied to see how Chavez's great work is being continued and the gigantic support of the people," Castro said. "I am sure and have absolute confidence in the success President Maduro and the other leaders who have come up under Chavez will have," he said.

Chavez helped Cuba with cash, cheap oil and other preferential trade assistance and helped pave the way for Havana to reintegrate in regional Latin American forums. Brazil is helping Cuba, too, with multibillion dollar aid and trade deals but Venezuela's role remains critical as Cuba struggles with a now-on-and-now-off economic liberalization.

Castro's reform program is bogged down because of behind-the-scenes resistance from Communist Party stalwarts who remain entrenched in a state being led toward a Chinese-style socialist market economy.

Chavez spearheaded diplomatic efforts in Latin America for Cuba's rehabilitation as an equal participant in region groupings where until recently the communist state was either barred or isolated.

He offered Cuba assistance as gratitude for medical care during the last days of his battle against cancer.

Chavez drummed up regional opposition to the U.S. embargo on Cuba.

Chavez's departure has injected uncertainty in the relationship partly because Maduro hasn't revealed his politics, except for rhetorical pronouncements in the style of Chavez, and is unlikely to do much until his future is secured in the April 14 election.


With the Chavez establishment left intact, Maduro is banking on convincing the military and the political establishment that his presidency will guarantee a continuation of the status quo.

"If necessary we will resort to arms to defend the revolution of Commander Chavez," Maduro warned. "We are all Chavez, workers of the fatherland, Chavez forever!"

"They (the opposition) have said that we haven't even had a minute of silence for Commander Chavez but we are warning them to learn to respect because the people's heart is in deep pain, the most severe pain you can imagine," Maduro said.

"God forgive them because with their hatred they have no idea of the pain and harm they inflict on the fatherland," Maduro said, echoing the rhetoric of the late firebrand.

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