Venezuela Obstacle to US Plans for Regime Change in Cuba

According to a report by the US State Department’s Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, access to Venezuelan oil is specifically listed as one of the four economic lifelines to the Castro Regime that must be severed in order to overthrow the Cuban government.

In a report published May 6, 2004 by the US State Department’s Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, the stated mission of which is to identify additional means by which the United States can help the Cuban people bring about an expeditious end to the Castro dictatorship, access to Venezuelan oil is specifically listed as one of the four economic lifelines to the Castro Regime that must be severed in order to overthrow the government. [1]

The first chapter of this 500-page document, Hastening Cuba’s Transition, lists six inter-related tasks considered central to hastening change:

Empower Cuban Civil Society with $36 million dedicated to promoting dissidence in Cuba. According to the document, the U.S. Interests Section will strengthen…opposition through material assistance and trainingand help todisseminate information …that will foster democratic change.

Break the information blockade by allocating $18 million for immediate deployment of the C-130 Commando Solo airborne platform …for the transmission of Radio and TV Martí into Cuba. In this way the notorious anti-Castro broadcast, which for years has been jammed by the Cuban government, will be impossible to block. As Jane Franklin explains in a Znet article, there are different types of C-130s. “The EC-130 (Commando SOLO) is electronically equipped. The AC-130 is armed with devastating firepower; it is one of the most terrifying weapons being used on Iraq. Cubans could never be sure that the EC-130 would not turn out to be an AC- 130. This serious provocation could lead to disaster.” [2]

Illuminate The Reality Of Castro’s Cuba by funding U.S. Embassy public diplomacy sections worldwide to disseminate information abroad about U.S. foreign policy….and the U.S. Government’s belief that Cuba has at least a limited, developmental offensive biological weapons research and development effort.

Encourage International Diplomatic Efforts To…Challenge The Castro Regimeby making available an additional $5 million to [expand] coordination with willing friends and allies..[and] encourage…international initiatives to plan for Cuba’s transition. To this end the US will fund and promote international or third-country national conferences to disseminate information abroad about U.S. policies on transition planning efforts.

Deny Revenues To The Castro Regime by severing Cuba’s economic lifelinestourism, remittances, commodities, and access to subsidized Venezuelan oil.

Tourism: In July of 2004, the Office of Foreign Assets control put into effect measures that virtually eliminated all educational travel, curtailed family visits to once every three years, and redefined the Cuban family by limiting visits to parents, siblings and children. But while these measures got all the press coverage, more insidious plans supported “efforts by NGOs in selected third countries to highlight human rights abuses in Cuba, as part of a broader effort to discourage tourist travel.” An example of this in action is Reporters Without Borders who, funded by U.S. dollars through NED and USAID, enthusiastically protest travel to Cuba at French airports.

Remittances: Like travel, remittances have been restricted to exchanges between family members as defined above. The per-year amount limit has been severly slashed as well. To enforce these new regulations, the document states that the US government will offer rewards to those who report on illegal remittances that lead to enforcement actions… U.S. law enforcement authorities [will] conduct “sting” operations against “mule” networks and others who illegally carry money to Cuba.

Commodities: The report explains that in efforts to deter foreign investment in Cuba in confiscated properties, claims to which are owned by U.S. nationals,[the US government will] aggressively pursue Title IV visa sanctions against those foreign nationals trafficking in (e.g., using or benefiting from) such property, including devoting additional personnel and resources to application and enforcement. Similarly, in order to neutralize Cuban government front companies, a detailed, rigorous and complete country-by-country analysis of policies and actions with respect to Cuba [will be] provided to the President that will be usedto assess whether actions toward these countries in the interest of the US is needed. To this end the US willestablish a Cuban Asset Targeting Group, comprised of appropriate law enforcement authorities, to investigate and identify new ways in which hard currency is moved in and out of Cuba.

Venezuelan oil: Unlike the other “lifelines” that the report spends much ink detailing steps to destroy, the report gives no indication of how the US plans to stop Venezuelan oil from reaching Cuba. In fact, in this 500-page document that provides minute details on every aspect of preparing Cuba for transition and for rebuilding Cuba in its own image, there are two glaring omissions: How exactly Venezuelan oil will be stopped during this preparation and how exactly Fidel will be removed from power. The reason for this vagueness can only be explained by two contrasting scenarios: either the US does not know how it will accomplish these two steps OR they know EXACTLY how… and they are not telling. Let’s come bact to this.

Undermine The Regime’s Succession Strategy  In Colin L. Powell’s foreword to the document he states, “the United States is prohibited by law from providing assistance to a post-Castro transition government unless that government… bars Fidel and Raul Castro from any role in a future government.In Cuba’s transition to democracy, we envision and welcome an active role for the Cuban American community.” And to assure that noone escapes this community’s long awaited oportunity for revenge, the Commission recommends: targeting regime officials for U.S. visa denials and a visa denial watchlists to be provided to other nations. 

Omissions revisited

The Commission blatantly states its central objective is to instigate a change of government in Cuba. It does not tell us how the change will actually occur. The above stated task concerning succession strategy leads us to believe that the plan is to be implemented during Fidel’s lifetime and they are expecting Fidel to survive the transition. In order for this to hold true, the “transition” must come in the form of a violent overthrowing of the present government (that is…barring that Fidel lose upcoming elections… not bloody likely).

The Commission seems to agree. The Commission acknowledges that there will be resistance to the transition…it will therefore require the presence of effective, professional Cuban security institutions that are committed fully to supporting the democratic transition… the United States would be prepared to assist a free Cuba to develop a truly professional civilian police force. Military modernization will also be important.Reliable military forces could help transition authoritiesprevent massive seaborne migration and deliver humanitarian assistance.To thwart popular rebellion among the youth they will keep all schools open during an emergency phase of the transition in order to keep… teenagers off the streets … during this unstable period.

The strategy for minimizing this expected resistance is to strangle the Cuban economy and starve the people until they more than welcome a US “rescue”. (Keep in mind this was also the strategy in Iraq.) The 45- year old US economic blockade against Cuba, even through the worst years following the fall of the Soviet Union, has not managed to spark a popular revolt, so it is safe to assume that the confidence demonstrated in this report that a regime change will occur signifies that the US is now prepared to do something more to insure it catches flame. 

Any number of manufactured pretexts for invasion is easily imagined. For example, the Radio Marti airplane could easily provoke an international incident similar to that of 1996 if the pilot chose not to remember where exactly International airspace ends and Cuban airspace begins. Alternatively, the combination of the hardships the US plans to visit on the Cuban people along with the ludicrous Cuban Adjustment Act that automatically gives Cubans residency in the US if they reach shore, could again spark a desperate exodus from the island. Dagoberto Rodriguez, chief of the Cuban Interest Section in Washington, DC stated in May 2003, “Cuba was warned, officially, that a new wave of illegal immigration would be considered ‘an act of war’. This may then be used as a pretext for US intervention.” [3]

Central to the US starvation strategy is the curtailing Venezuelan oil. Although the report does not explain how this will be accomplished, it is clear to any living person that this will not occur as long as Hugo Chavez is president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. So then can we assume that Chavez is to go also?

It is well known that the US backed the coup attempt against Chavez in 2002. In fact recently released CIA documents prove that the US government knew about the coup in advance and did nothing to warn the Venezuelan President. Even knowing this, the US was the only American government to recognize the new leadership and claim that Chavez had resigned. It has also been well exposed that the NED has been funding the opposition (in much the same way it does in Cuba) including contributing to the PDVSA two-month economic sabotage, beginning in Dec of 2002 and the recall campaign of August 2004 [4].

Ironically the Commission report questions thrice-elected President Chavez’ commitment to democracy and Barrio Adentro Cuban doctors’ commitment to their profession: “…governments that are not ideologically committed to democratic and free market values (e.g., the Chavez government in Venezuela). Reports from Venezuela also indicate that Cuban doctors are engaging in overt political activities…as well as senior political and military advisors [are helping] Chavez strengthen his authoritarian grip on the nation.

Reason to Worry?

Should this report be taken as a blueprint of the future? Are there signs that this plan may be underway? It is hard to imagine with the US bogged down in Iraq would be preparing to take on the leadership of two more countries. However, the Bush administration is not the most rational gang in our solar system. Theoretically one can go back and forth endlessly with “reasons” why they would go through with this and why they wouldn’t (or couldn’t). What we must do is look at what they have ALREADY done and keep this plan in mind when evaluating new developments in the international relations of these three countries.

As stated above, two months after the release of the Commission report the travel and remittance measures contained therein went into affect. Many of these are currently being fought against in court[5]. Similarly, August 14, 2004 the Radio & TV Marti mobile emissary took flight and continues today to menace the airwaves in direct violation of the 1982 Nairobi Convention signed by both Cuba and the US which guarantees “right of each government to control telecommunications in its territory”[6].

In addition: several educational and humanitarian organizations that travel to Cuba such as Pastors for Peace and Cuban American Alliance Education Fund have received threatening letters from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control; the US fined Spanish Banco Santander $20,000 and Switzerland’s largest bank, UBS AG, $100 million for providing dollars to Cuba; more than 60 academics were denied visas to attend the Latin American Studies Association Conference in Las Vegas; payments to ten US companies received from Cuba for the sales of food and agricultural products have been frozen by the U.S. government; and court proceedings against unlicensed travelers to Cuba have begun with the first such case resulting in a guilty verdict and a fine.

This incomplete list of examples may seem like the usual, continual harassment toward Cuba expected from the US. And it could be. But we must remain alert and measure all actions towards Venezuela and Cuba in the context of this plan. In fact some are already doing so. In a January 16 editorial in the Mexican daily La Jornada, the author attributes US probable involvement in and expressed support of the recent kidnapping of FARC leader Granda in Caracas to US plans for Latin American and in particular Cuba.

After the August referendum and the regional elections sweep it appeared that the US might start “playing nice” with Chavez and that this Cuba regime change subtask might be passed over. But the new trade agreements with China that will weaken Venezuela’s dependency on the US market and thus diminish US influence over Venezuela and in turn the entire region including Cuba, has the US in a tizzy[7].

Last week, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Richard Lugar, stated that Venezuela’s oil feed to the US was unreliable and he called for a contingency plan to be developed addressing the possibility of an interruption in oil shipments. While he feigns that his concern is due to “internal instability” in Venezuela, it is likely that this “contingency plan” is more of a feasibility study to establish how the US will survive a stoppage during a period of US aggression aimed at taking over control of the supply [8].

The Granda kidnapping has “fortuitously” given the US a vehicle for demonizing Chavez once again. The office of Colombian president Uribe recently stated, “the United Nations prohibits member nations from providing safe haven to terrorists in an ‘active or passive’ manner.” insinuating that Venezuela is, at least passively, harboring terrorists. Uribe has also stated that he will provide proof, at some unspecified time in the future, that there are 7 other guerrilla leaders and a number of rebel cells inside Venezuela.

Suddenly, the corporate media is once more filled with stories of the “fiery leftist authoritarian” president threatening US oil supplies, harboring terrorists and cozying up to China, Cuba and Iran. Condoleezza Rice yesterday expressed her “preoccupation and irritation” with the Chavez government especially in regards to its treatment of the opposition media and its friendly relationship with Fidel Castro.

In the end, it may just turn out that the sub-goal of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, of cutting Venezuelan oil supplies, may be handed to them as a result of US desperate acts to gain overall control of Venezuela’s oil in reaction to deals with China instead of as the result of their desire to overthrow Fidel. Either way, those who have salivated over Fidel’s demise for 45 years will welcome it and those who have defended Cuba these long decades will have to continue doing what they do best: RESIST!

[1] http://www.state.gov/p/wha/rt/cuba/commission/2004/c12236.htm
[2] Building a Prison and Preaching Democracy: Bush’s Cuba Obsession, June 07, 2004
[3] Guardian Unlimited Friday May 16, 2003
[4] http://www.venezuelafoia.info/
[5] Updates can be found at http://www.lawg.org/countries/cuba/intro.htm
[6] www.austlii.edu.au/au/other/dfat/treaties/1984/35.html
[7] Will Washington Tolerate A Chinese-Venezuelan Petro Pact?http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/articles.php?artno=1356
[8] http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=politicsNews&storyID=7321132)