Cuban Ex-Guerilla is Consultant for Venezuelan Economic Reform

Cuban economist and ex-guerilla combatant Orland Borrego, who fought alongside Che Guevara during the Cuban revolution, will be advising Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro on how to establish a “total re-structuring” of the Venezuelan economy. 

By Z.C. Dutka -
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Orlando Borrego (right) with Che Guevara (archive)
Orlando Borrego (right) with Che Guevara (archive)

San Francisco, July 8th 2014 ( - Cuban economist and ex-guerilla combatant Orland Borrego, who fought alongside Che Guevara during the Cuban revolution, will be advising Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro on how to establish a “total re-structuring” of the Venezuelan economy.

Borrego, 78, who holds a doctorate in economics from the Soviet Union Academy of Sciences in Moscow, will work beside Venezuelan vice-president Jorge Arreaza and vice minister of planning, Ricardo Melendez, to conduct the “profound revolution in public and state administration; the revolution within the revolution,” announced by Maduro on July 1st.

The government “shakeup,” as denominated by the South American president, will also include an “exhaustive revision” of the national budget, in the leader’s newest attempt to eradicate corruption and inefficient spending.

Alfonso Marquina, a national assembly legislator and member of far-right opposition party Justice First, referred to Borrego’s appointment as another of Maduro’s “castro-communist schemes,” while asking reporters, “is that the consultant you’d bring… a person responsible for the economic failure the people of Cuba have suffered?”

While the ex-guerilla easily confirms the Venezuelan opposition’s worst nightmares, Borrego’s presence has had a mixed effect on government supporters, who remain alert in their attempts to decipher each new appointment as a possible shift toward the right or a deepening of the socialist politics.

The announcement comes shortly after Cuba takes steps to broaden its own economy. At a conference held yesterday in Caracas, Cuban ministers met with public and private Venezuelan investors to discuss the terms of the nation’s new Foreign Investment Law, in effect since April. Cuban commerce minister Rodrigo Malmierca recognized Venezuela as its first trade partner under the new law, which aims to stimulate economic growth in Cuba by over 5%, while maintaining a social focus.

Who is Orlando Borrego?

Once Cuba’s industry minister and a public defender in the 1950 economic military trials, Borrego has spent the last few decades writing and teaching at the University of Havana.

Reportedly the man entrusted by Che Guevara to safeguard and publish Guevara’s critique of the Soviet economy written just before his assassination, Borrego was considered by his peers to be one of the most loyal, incorruptible revolutionaries of the time, according to US biographer Jon Lee Anderson.

Still, some left-wing Venezuelans are wary of how his politics might clash with their Bolivarian revolution. In social media, some have loosely referred to the Cuban economist as the man who “opposed worker’s control” in 2005.

Borrego was brought to Venezuela in 2005 as a consultant during Chavez’s experiments with worker cogestion (generally translated as co-management). The government programs meant to incorporate workers into enterprise administration in part facilitated the high-profile cases of internal corruption in the state-owned petroleum and aluminum industries, PDVSA and ALCASA.

At the time, Borrego came out as a critic of cogestion in that context, asserting that the kind of state needed was one that “exercises its functions responding to the interests of society as owner of all the means at its disposal and in search of greater efficiency, quality and efficacy of social production.”

Though his centralist stance set him at odds with many workers, it was at a time when even cogestion advocates such as Carlos Lanz admitted that many people’s interest in the subject stemmed from their individual “hope of getting some material benefit out of it,” as opposed to a deeper understanding of Chavez’s intention to direct production toward social need, not profit.

By some accounts, Borrego’s 2005 critiques convinced Chavez of the need for expanded social property, though the latter considered of equal significance worker participation in production and community participation in distribution. Together, the three elements made up Chavez’s “socialist triangle”.

In 2006 the Cuban economist published a book which upheld most of Chavez’s ideals and presented many of his own regarding the Venezuelan economy, titled Toward Socialism: Problems in the Economic System and the Management of Enterprise.

In it, Borrego affirmed, “A revolution that does not propagate discussion at its heart is condemned to failure.”