Venezuelan opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, has been questioning the value of ties built by the regime of Hugo Chavez between Venezuela and Cuba over the last fourteen years.
Recently, Capriles posed a simple rhetorical question to clarify his hesitations over the value of working so closely with the communist nation, by asking, “If the Cuban government is so good, why do so many Cubans leave?”
Early in his administration, Chavez initiated an agreement with Cuba in which Venezuela agreed to provide 96,000 barrels of oil per day to Cuba (at what has been described as “very favorable prices”) in exchange for the services of medical professionals provided by the state of Cuba. Venezuela has been ranked as one of the most corrupt regimes in the region.
Capriles has confronted this political agreement, and has stated that if Venezuela needs doctors, they should pay for them. More directly, Capriles noted that beyond the simple economics of the situation, the end result is that “[Venezuelans] are financing a political model,” adding there will be “no more gifts for other countries.”
Perhaps more seriously, Capriles has confronted the more volatile issue of the officially sanctioned presence of Cuban soldiers within Venezuela’s military.
Cuban soldiers were brought in as part of a range of partnership programs initiated by Chavez with the communist country. It is estimated that as many as 4500 Cuban soldiers are stationed in Venezuela, as well as officers at the highest levels who are known to have directly advised and influenced Chavez.
Capriles promised to confront this issue head on, saying that, “upon assuming the presidency, and upon becoming commanding officer of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces, Cuban soldiers in our military will leave. There will not be foreign interference from any foreign nation in our military”
He noted that in Cuba, “there is no democracy, and [Venezuelans] have a lifelong commitment to have increasing and better democracy.”
Venezuela is holding presidential elections on April the 14th to replace Hugo Chavez, who recently passed away after a long bout with cancer.