Cuba loves to venerate their national heroes. And the province we visited this year is vocally proud of their revolutionary history. Ernesto “Che” Guevara is buried there. Even though I know political publicity is to be expected in Cuba, there was more political signage around Villa Clara than I anticipated. And alongside the clearly recognizable faces of the deceased leaders of the revolution was another surprise – former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. Even casual observers of history will recognize that the ideals of Chavez’s political movement are similar to those promoted by the Cuban government. But I had no idea how connected these two nations have become. So I started asking questions and reading.
Apparently, this all dates back to 1999 when Chávez first came to power. He reached out to Cuba for closer ties in both trade and politics. He actively sought mentorship from the Cuban leader Fidel Castro. The two were close allies. So close that the relationship between the two countries persists, despite their deaths. At one point Cuba sent political advisors to assist Chávez. It seems they are still in Caracas, just like there are still Cuban doctors deployed across the Venezuelan countryside. These connections and the flows of information they imply are vital to both countries. Venezuela is one of Cuba’s largest trading partners, and Cubans rely almost exclusively on Venezuelan oil. Collaborations exist in all sectors. Just as the Cuban people suffered with the decline and the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union, the Cubans will suffer in some form or another if the current situation in Venezuela continues. The Cuban people seem to be taking international involvement in Venezuela personally. I can understand where they are coming from.
The television options in Cuba are pretty limited, and I don’t usually watch television anyway, so I didn’t see much last year. This year I was trying to practice my Spanish, so I watched more just to have something on in the background. One of the main satellite stations is TeleSUR, which is based in Caracas. It was launched over a decade ago by the Chávez government to provide regional news with a socialist perspective. Lots of the regional governments, including Cuba, contribute funding to this media provider. It is pretty fascinating to read about, but even more so to watch.
One afternoon the broadcasting was live. It was airing a speech by current/disputed Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro. This was after the leadership was already in question. He was denouncing lots of things, including the involvement of outsiders in Venezuelan politics. It certainly made me conscious of the actions the U.S. government has taken towards Venezuela in recent months. But since I was in Cuba at that moment, I had to wonder if the Cubans were included in this aspersion or if their relationship is special enough that it was implied Cuba was not included. I have not spoken to enough Cubans, or even read enough, to know these answers. But my roommate and I watched as much of the speech as we could. It was a little ranting. And I struggled a little with the Spanish. But it certainly showed me how the Cuban people can feel close to Venezuela. They see the leaders of Venezuela on their televisions and their streets. Venezuelan leaders are entering the pantheon of Cuban revolutionary discourse. And they can identify with the people who suffer as foreign governments use them as pawns in a global political chess match. I am an evaluator for Venezuela; I feel for the Venezuelan people, just as I do the Cuban people. I don’t honestly know what is going on with their governments. Can there even be such a thing as “who is right”? But sometimes we have to stay conscious of the people at the heart of these stories instead of just listening to the political talking heads. There is almost always more going on than we realize.
|Cuban flag||Venezuelan flag|
- Part 1: The Return
- Part 2: Medical Treatment in Cuba
- Part 3: New Curricula and Thematic Plans
- Part 4: Celebrating 500 Years of Havana
Martha Van Devender is a Senior Evaluator and has been with ECE since 2005. She specializes in education from Anglophone Africa and Latin America. She is also interested in online research and verification tools. Martha is serving as the TAICEP representative for the AACRAO Cuba project and enjoys writing and presenting on this topic.