Cuba calls the shots; and Venezuela pays the bills. That is the major premise underlying the Report made public last Monday by the U.S. State Department concerning Cuba. Its findings are as much about the Bush Administration's plans for regime change in Cuba, as they are about the alleged threat that Venezuela poses to U.S. national security interests.
The ninety-three page Report was prepared by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, co-chaired by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez. Its recommendations were accepted by President George W. Bush. They include a budget of $80 million during the next two years to ensure a transition, rather than a succession of leadership, in Cuba. The Report also contains a classified attachment that contains a secret plan for regime change in Cuba.
Although the Commission's Report and its recommendations are ostensibly about Cuba, Venezuela is a featured star player in the drama. It mentions Venezuela at least nine different times, always emphasizing Washington's perception that the Chávez government is bankrolling the Cuban government: "Cuba can only meet its budget needs with the considerable support of foreign donors, primarily Venezuela," says the Report.
Subversion in Latin America
Besides keeping the Cuban government afloat, Venezuelan money is allegedly also responsible for subversion in Latin America. The first paragraph of the Report boldly proclaims that "there are clear signs the regime [Cuba] is using money provided by the Chavez government in Venezuela to reactivate its networks in the hemisphere to subvert democratic governments." We are not told which countries the Bush Administration thinks Cuba and Venezuela are subverting, nor are we ever told how.
A good guess may be Bolivia. The South American country recently elected Evo Morales as President. Washington considers him to be a friend of both Cuba and Venezuela. What have Castro and Chávez been up to in the Andes?
Cuba has 719 medical doctors in Bolivia. They go where Bolivian doctors fear to tread. In the most remote areas of the Andean country, Cuban doctors have treated more than 776,000 patients and saved 326 lives. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has pledged $1.5 billion in energy investment to Bolivia. Venezuela is also investing in projects to produce organic tea, coffee, dairy and legal coca products there. The Chávez government recently also donated computers to schools in the remote Chapare region of Bolivia.
Cuban doctors and Venezuelan investments: they are a lethal recipe for subversion in Latin America according to the Bush Administration.
"The Castro-Led Axis"
The Bush Administration Commission compares the Cuba´s relation to Venezuela with its "earlier failed relationship with the Soviet Union, only this time not as the junior partner: Fidel Castro is calling the shots." It of course offers no evidence to support its thesis that President Chávez is anything other than his own man. The Report simply posits the myth as fact.
This "Castro-led axis," the Report finds, "undermines our interest in a more democratic Venezuela and undermines democratic governance and institutions elsewhere in the region. Together, these countries are advancing an alternative retrograde and anti-American agenda for the hemisphere's future and they are finding some resonance with populist governments and disenfranchised populations in the region."
From these flawed premises flows the Bush Administration's foreign policy toward Cuba and Venezuela. The Bush Doctrine is clear: in order to protect its interests in Latin America, Washington must overthrow the Cuban government and replace it with one more akin to U.S. interests. To help overthrow the Cuban government, it is necessary to cut off its money supply. That's where Venezuela comes in.
The Report that the State Department released to the public this week makes it abundantly clear that Washington considers Cuba and Venezuela to be two peas in a pod, and that their relationship constitutes an axis of evil that is detrimental to U.S. interests.
The Threat of Using Title III of Helms-Burton Against Venezuela
One of the more troublesome of the Commission's recommendations is the threat to apply Title III of the 1996 Cuban Liberty and Solidarity Act, known as "Helms Burton", to Venezuela.
Title III gives the United States unprecedented authority over property within another nation's borders. It permits lawsuits in U.S. courts brought by individual citizens against businesses that operate on property the Cuban government nationalized after the 1959 revolution. Concerned about the chilling effect on U.S. relations with foreign governments if it were to implement it, successive U.S. Presidents have suspended Title III since Helms-Burton was enacted ten years ago.
According to the Commission's Report, the White House is now prepared to apply, for the first time, Title III to individual countries that are "engaged in a process of support for regime succession (with Cuba)." This is a not-so-veiled threat to Venezuela, as well other nations who maintain normal relations with Cuba.
Were the United States to apply Title III to Venezuela, it would have profound and long-lasting implications on U.S.-Venezuela relations. Trade between the two nations in 2005 amounted to almost $39 billion. The specter of Miami Cubans suing Venezuela over nationalized pre-1959 property will loom heavily over any future trade ventures between the United States and Venezuela.
President Chávez, reflecting on the U.S. threats against Venezuela contained in the Report, said that "there are no threats that will discourage Venezuela from supporting the Cuban revolution and the Cuban people." "Rather than thinking of a transition plan for Cuba, he added, "the United States ought to elaborate a transition plan for themselves because this is the century that will see the end of the U.S. empire."
The Bush Doctrine for Regime Change
The Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba lays down the gauntlet to Latin America. Under the Bush Doctrine, Cuba's government must be overthrown. Moreover, the United States foreign policy towards other nations in the Hemisphere will be measured by whether these nations support U.S. efforts for regime change in Cuba. Governments that support Cuba risk the wrath of the U.S. government and may be overthrown as well.
The Bush Doctrine makes it clear that legal, political and military options remain at the disposal of the United States government to overthrow the government of Cuba, as well as the governments of the "friends of Cuba." Some of these options are sealed, and we can only suppose their magnitude.
We don't know whether they include another coup d'état such as the one the U.S. launched in 2002 that almost succeeded in deposing President Chávez, or whether Washington intends to activate its Miami-Cuban "assets" to carry out terrorist attacks, or whether an outright invasion is a possibility, or even whether the assassination of President Hugo Chávez is in the cards.
The Bush Doctrine is premised on arrogance and mendacity, but it is consistent with U.S. "diplomacy" in the region. Recent history tells us that it is the United States, not Cuba or Venezuela, that subverts democracy in Latin America. The United States overthrew the elected government of Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 in Guatemala and replaced it with a military dictatorship that left more than 200,000 dead and disappeared. The United States is now shamelessly promoting Guatemala as a prime candidate for a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
The Pinochet government with which the United States replaced democratically elected President Salvador Allende in Chile left a bloody trail of terror from Santiago to the streets of Washington, D.C. where Cuban-American terrorists working for the Chilean secret service murdered Chilean exile Orlando Letelier in cold blood.
Who have been Washington's friends and allies in Latin America? The Salvadoran governments that brutally murdered over 75,000 of their own citizens, the Argentinean military junta that tortured, disappeared or murdered over 30,000 men, women and children, the Uruguayan and Paraguayan dictatorships that participated in Operation Condor with zeal, even kidnapping the babies of some of the clandestine prisoners they were torturing.
To help subvert democracy, the United States recruited, trained and employed terrorists such as Luis Posada Carriles, known as the Osama Bin Laden of Latin America. He was "our man in Latin America," as he helped train the Nicaraguan Contras, as well as the Guatemalan and Salvadoran death squads. In violation of its own international legal obligations, Washington refuses to extradite him to Venezuela to stand trial for 73 counts of first degree murder in relation to the downing of a passenger plane. Instead, the Bush White House shelters Posada in Texas, as the terrorist threatens to tell how he was just following orders.
The Bush Doctrine was formulated by politicians who are not listening to the winds of change in America. The banana republics of yesterday are being replaced by independent and sovereign nations, free of U.S. interference. This continent will soon see a monumental regime change, but that change will come in Washington–not in Havana or Caracas.
José Pertierra is an attorney. He represents the government of Venezuela in Washington, D.C.