What a Maduro Presidency Means for Venezuela, Cuba and the U.S.

Maduro took an aggressive tone against the United States during the last months of Chávez's life, suggesting that the U.S. had poisoned the former Venezuelan president and caused his cancer. Just hours before announcing Chavez's death, Maduro also expelled two U.S. military attachés from Venezuela, accusing them of espionage and of plotting to "destabilize" Venezuela.

Most analysts however, believe that these attacks against the U.S. were part of a plan to boost Maduro's popularity by unifying his supporters against a foreign "enemy."

Now that the elections are over, there is some hope that Maduro might want to normalize relations with the U.S., which has not had an ambassador in Venezuela since 2010.

"I don't see what he has to gain by having a bad relationship with the U.S., other than rallying Venezuelans around a nationalist kind of appeal," said William LeoGrande, a professor of International Relations and Latin American politics at American University. "That's good for the election but it's not too practical once the election is over."

Difficulties in the Venezuela-U.S. relationship are mostly constrained to the diplomatic arena, as the country continues to sell oil to U.S. refineries, for much needed funds.

But a recent report by The New York Times also suggests that this could change under Maduro's leadership. The Times reported on Sunday that Maduro handed a handwritten note this weekend to former U.S. Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson, who was in Venezuela as an election observer. In the note, Maduro said that he wanted to "normalize" relations with the U.S., and wanted Richardson, who was also the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N, to help. But then, after the election, Maduro once again took an aggressive tone towards the U.S., saying that a spate of opposition protests were part of a "U.S.-led plot," to destabilize the country. It's hard to say whether this is just Maduro talking to get his base riled up. What is clear, is that he finds himself in a delicate spot, given his country's economic situation.

He may not be able to afford that tone much longer.

What it means to Cuba

Cuba has had a big stake in Venezuela, since 2000 when Chávez signed the first of dozens of cooperation deals with then-island leader, Fidel Castro.

Currently, Cuba gets 110,000 barrels of oil from Venezuela each day at highly subsidized prices. In return for this generous amount of petrol, which makes up two thirds of Cuba's oil consumption, the island provides Venezuela with doctors, sports trainers and security advisers.

Although Maduro is a staunch ally of Cuba's communist regime, some analysts suspect that economic problems at home might force him to reconsider how much aid is given to Cuba.

"Every year, the Venezuelan government is spending about 20 percent more money than it brings in. That's just a huge deficit and it's one of the reasons Maduro had to devalue the currency," said William LeoGrande from American University.

"They're going to have to cut [expenditures] someplace and politically its easier to cut foreign aid than to cut domestic programs," LeoGrande said.

Aid to Bolivia and Nicaragua, could also be cut for similar reasons. That would lower Venezuela's profile in Alba, the block of socialist nations that is attempting to create an alternative to U.S. dominance in the region.

However, not everyone is so sure that Cuba will suffer cutbacks under a Maduro presidency. Maria Teresa Belandria, an international relations professor at Venezuela's Central University, says cutbacks on Cuban aid would anger the more radical members of the president's party.

"Maduro ran for the presidency, as Chávez's successor," Belandria said. "To cut aid would be to disobey Chavez's orders, and to not fulfill his mandate."

-- This embed didnt make it to copy for story id = 18969383.
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...