July 26th, 2011
05:00 AM ET

Castro and Chavez: Their last hurrah

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

What got my attention recently was the video above of Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro shooting the breeze in their track suits.

Fidel Castro, of course, led Cuba for 50 years, starting in 1959. His pal Hugo Chavez has been president of Venezuela since 1999.

Chavez has been in Cuba to undergo chemotherapy for his recently revealed cancer.

He could have summoned the very best doctors to his home. He was invited to go to a world class cancer facility in Brazil. But he chose Havana.

Cuba has a cheap and surprisingly good healthcare system, but Chavez's attachment to Cuba is more than just medical - it's political. He's making the statement that he supports the Cuban model.

Unfortunately, that model is crumbling. It is totally out of sync with the modern world.

Chavez has gone so far as to talk of a "Venecuba", a merger between two allied states. These kinds of ideas - these two men - are relics of another era. While much of the region has embraced free markets and free trade, riding a wave of fast growth and rising incomes, "Venecuba" has lagged behind.

Brazil grew at nearly eight percent last year. The Venezuelan economy shrank by two percent. The year before that, it contracted by another three percent, and that's despite OPEC announcing this week that Venezuela has more proven oil reserves than Saudi Arabia. People in the most oil-rich nation in the world actually suffer from rolling blackouts thanks to years of bad leadership.

Meanwhile, Cuba and its finances are in free-fall, surviving only because of Venezuela.

Remember that Cuba has been a basket case for decades, but it was sustained by billions in Soviet aid. Then, in 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed. Havana lost its ideological ally and its major sponsor. The economy contracted by a third and there were dire food and fuel shortages.

Enter Hugo Chavez. When he became president, he immediately sought the blessing of his hero, Fidel Castro. Association with Castro gave Chavez revolutionary street cred. In return, Chavez has virtually written Cuba a blank check.

According to a Brookings Institute study, Caracas ships 115,000 barrels of oil to Cuba at discounted prices every day. That accounts for 60 percent of the island's oil demand. In total, Venezuela's various types of aid to Cuba is said to add up to nearly $5 billion a year. Havana returns the favor by sending tens of thousands of doctors and nurses the other way.

It doesn't sound like a fair trade. In Cuba, there are signs the leadership realizes it needs to wean itself off Venezuela's largesse. Fidel Castro's younger brother, Raul, is now president and is trying to seek out investment from China, India and Brazil. But, structurally, not much has changed in Cuba since 1991. The island nation is still run on socialist principles that have produced shortages, black markets and mass poverty.

Imagine what happens to Cuba without Venezuela's support, and imagine what happens in Venezuela if its people begin asking questions about why they suffer one of the world's highest rates of inflation, a contracting economy and one of the worst crime rates despite having more oil than any other nation in the world. One day, these two countries will look around, see that Latin America is leaving them behind, and face the future.

So remember the images in the video above of the two amigos. They might turn out to represent the last hurrah of a dying world.

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Topics: Cuba • GPS Show • Latin America • Venezuela • What in the World?

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soundoff (191 Responses)
  1. Oleg

    I love our grandstanding in the face of impending default on national debt and abandonment of space program. A government has to be first of all minimally functional in the sense of following up on commitments and having civilization move forward rather than decay. The way we are going now, I am afraid our last hurrah is couple of decades in the past.

    July 27, 2011 at 3:10 am | Reply
  2. James Varela

    My parents fled Cuba in 1960 when my upper middle class grandparents lost almost everything. The source of Mr. Castro' staying power was never the Soviet Union or even the Cuban Military. It is the country's domestic intelligence service and it's vast network of informants across the country. With regard to Mr. Chavez, the same Venezuelan military that tried to depose him in 2002 is no doubt eyeing the situation. They have dreamed of running the country again ever since losing power in 1958.

    July 27, 2011 at 8:23 am | Reply
  3. Luis

    Unfortunately oil prices and Venezuela oil reserves will make the agony much longer.....

    July 27, 2011 at 9:42 am | Reply
  4. Luis

    The single most important item here is: Brazil 8% growth vs Venezuela -2% growth!

    Lula de Silva = Correct!

    Chavez/Castro = Incorrect!

    July 27, 2011 at 10:19 am | Reply
  5. Sergio Echevarria

    how about dropping the embargo you dumb fak!

    July 27, 2011 at 10:24 am | Reply
  6. Yasmani Isaac

    No where in this article it is mentioned the genocidal 50+ year old embargo that the United States maintains against Cuba. How can you expect a small country with just 11 million inhabitants to prosper when it is being sanctioned by the most powerful country in the world and the latter also sanctions foreign businesses who deal with Cuba? This article is not only biased but it also demonstrate a high level of ignorance by the writer.

    July 27, 2011 at 11:07 am | Reply
    • Godfrey

      Castro promised elections right after the Revolution. The US promised to lift the embargo (not a blockade – way different) right after the elections that Castro promised.

      July 27, 2011 at 10:30 pm | Reply
  7. M. Lopez C.

    Come on Fareed Zakaria answer to my questions and Yasmani Isaac questions; stop hiding!! What about the Blockade? You have my email.

    July 27, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Reply
    • Godfrey

      A blockader would mean the US stops other countries from dealing with Cuba. An embargo means only the US itself does not trade with Cuba. The US promised to lift the embargo (not a blockade – way different) right after the elections that Castro promised.

      July 27, 2011 at 10:33 pm | Reply
  8. tere

    This is a very factual, and truthful video which summarizes the situation in Venezuela, even though it does not includes
    all the evils. Chavez has been detrimental for our country, we cannot let him continue his circus in 2012.He has been a disgrace for our country

    July 27, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Reply
  9. M. Lopez C.

    Giselle, if capitalism is so wonderful why don't Cuba refugee's go to Guatemala, or Honduras where workers have no rights and shot on the spot for demanding better working conditions (the only ones keeping count on the death totals is Admesty International). But instead you come here, to the most developed country in the world where your Republican dad's through million of dollars at you. (But if a Mexican kid wonders across the border just flick him right back with an INS agents' boot. That American Capitalism!

    July 27, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Reply
  10. Roy Llera

    http://roylleraphotographers.com/2008/11/15/glimpse-of-cuba-photography-of-the-cuban-spirit/

    July 27, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Reply
  11. ruemorgue

    The end of an era. LMAO

    July 27, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Reply
  12. Ignacio

    What are you talking about?, here in the US, millions of us lost their home, can not effort health insurance, rising prices in gas, food,taxes,etc.No jobs. I am sure can talk like that with your good salary as the "perico" of CNN

    July 28, 2011 at 11:15 am | Reply
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