Since 1999 many have insinuated that Venezuela is being governed from Havana. For those who still doubted such an insinuation, 12 years later it has become a crude reality. One Wednesday, June 18th 2011, Hugo Chavez traveled to the Cuban island to receive “a corrective surgical procedure” after suffering from a “pelvic abscess”. Two days after his supposedly successful operation, the Venezuelan mandatory is still in Cuba. Meanwhile, in Venezuela the National Assembly, which is dominated by pro-Chavez politicians, declared that “Chavez is completely authorized to remain in the Republic of Cuba because of his sudden health situation, and he may remain there until he is once again in conditions to return to Venezuela”, thus approving his power to dictate laws all the way from the island. And Chavez has not wasted time in trying to show off that he is still the one calling the shots. He already gave the green light to a law which would allow duplicating the indebtedness of Venezuela for 2011. Now, Venezuela really is being ruled from Cuba, literally.
This, which seems to be more part of a circus than of a government, has led many Venezuelan dissidents to express their discontent, rightfully feeling a sense of worry in regards to the present and future of their country. The Venezuelan civil lawyer Sonia Guanipa Rodriguez explains that “thanks to the existence and work of a National Assembly which is illegitimate in nature and practice, and which approved an unconstitutional law, we are in the presence of continuous violations of the Constitution. Caracas is where the organs of national power are concentrated and such authority can be exercised throughout the Republic“. The activist indicates that, based on the law, there is just one small important detail: “Constitutionally, Cuba does not form part of Venezuela“, she declares. “This situation just confirms the fact that Chavez does whatever he wishes to do without considering the law, following the example of his ‘revolutionary heroes‘”.
And it is these same “revolutionary heroes” which have educated their Venezuelan student to continue their twisted path step by step. When the Russians arrived to Cuba in the 60’s, the Castro-revolutionary discourse of “breaking ties with the imperialists” became submerged in hypocrisy and irony. The Cuban dictator and the tyranny he installed on the island furiously opposed North American presence on Cuban soil due to matters of sovereignty. But quickly, the broken record about independence and sovereignty evaporated. While many Americans were expelled from the country (or in many cases executed), now the new authorities were welcoming the Russians with arms wide open so that they could impose their Soviet ideology over a people who did not understand their language. The Russians closely worked with the new Cuban dictator in order to train the political police and the armed forces. In other words, Soviet presence on the island sought to further install and “perfect” that vigilant stare over the Cuban people. Now, the Cubans which reside in power have taken on that same role in Venezuela to assure that the “Cubanization” of that country is going down the “right” path. “The alarming part of having these Cuban agents present in Venezuelan society is that they have been placed by the regime not only in sectors of security and national defense, but have also been trained to be registrars and notaries and in fields of identification“, says Guanipa Rodriguez. “Wherever you look, there are Cuban soldiers barking orders to Venezuelan soldiers- in the Armed Forces and in the training process of agents of the newly formed National Bolivarian Police, just to cite a few examples. This has never been seen before in Venezuelan history“, points out Rodriguez, classifying this as a “betrayal to the nation of the XXI century“.
Meanwhile, in Cuba many have noticed the cynicism behind the declarations of Hugo Chavez in regards to “the excellent public Cuban health system”. One of these Cubans who does not coincide with the declarations made by Chavez is dissident and former political prisoner of conscience Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia. “Upon hearing the words by Hugo Chavez Frias, as a Cuban I am completely offended because for everyday Cubans, who are the majority of people living in this country, public health is an ongoing problem which gets worse and more complicated each day“, affirms the pro-human rights activist. “In other words“, Ferrer Garcia continues, “the public health system, like so many other things in this country, functions very well when it comes to someone from the nomenclature or a foreigner- and even more when they are politician friends of the Castro brothers“. But for Cubans which have absolutely no links to the dictatorship the reality is quite different. In conversation for this interview Jose Daniel Ferrer cited various cases of deaths caused by medical negligence in Cuban hospitals, including the atrocious deaths of numerous elderly patients from the Mazorra psychiatric ward in early 2010 after they died due to negligence during a severe cold front which swept across the island. Similarly, he mentioned the horrid case of various women in labor who recently died in Palma Soriano (also because of medical negligence) and also pointed out that there have also been many cases in which, “due to the absence of an ambulance many people have not been treated in time resulting in their deaths“.
Some of the deceased patients of the Mazorra Psych Ward
Although Chavez is enjoying first class medical treatment, Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia daily witnesses the opposite for the Cuban people, both in the streets and in the prisons. Ferrer, who was jailed just for his peaceful anti-Castro posture during the Black Spring of 2003, recalls that, “during those 8 years behind the bars, I witnessed the scarce medical attention given to the penal population of the country- prisoners who die due to lack of adequate medical attention, prisoners who have died from completely preventable diseases, and many prisoners who suffer sharp pains in the middle of the night and because the guards tell them that at that time there is no available doctor and even threaten them with beatings so that they do not continue demanding attention for their grave pains“. The cases seem never-ending not only for operations, births, or mental patients but also for procedures which are considered basic in the majority of the world. Ferrer recounts, “if someone has a tooth ache many times they cannot receive adequate dental care, or if they manage to visit a dentist many times there is no anesthesia, or an awful job is done and in just three days the filling falls off. Those who need dental operations are often told that there is only enough anesthesia for operations which are more urgent“.
These cases are not isolated. In the island, the death of dissident Orlando Zapata Tamayo after a savage beating given to him by prison authorities during his extensive hunger strike proves that the authorities not only denied his right to freedom but also his right to medical attention. Currently, there is also the case of Jorge Cervantes Garcia, a dissident who is currently on hunger strike as a protest for his unjust arrest. His mother, Alba Garcia, informed various media outlets that her son is on the verge of death and it was only a few days ago that the Cuban authorities transferred him to a hospital in Santiago de Cuba. Yris Tamara Perez Aguilera, wife of dissident Jorge Luis “Antunez” and member of the Rosa Parks Movement for Civil Rights, was beaten this past 25th of May just for participating in a peaceful march. Yris is still suffering from the effects of the vicious blows she took on her head. Both her and her husband have tried finding medical attention but various hospitals have already denied her assistance just because they are a dissident couple.
For Venezuelans, it is worrying to know that the model which Chavez has been installing in the country follows the example of the Cuban dictatorship. Although the mandatory assures that in Venezuela there is no dictatorship, dissidents (and any democrat in the world) note that, as Sonia Guanipa Rodriguez says, “In a democracy there is a perfect independence of public powers but this is not the case in Venezuela. Here, only what Hugo Raphael Chavez Frias says is what goes. He is the one who controls public powers“. But ever since he arrived to Cuba, Chavez has not been seen in public, or in photos or television. Ever since Chavez assumed power, the so-called revolution which he has promoted seems very similar to that of Fidel Castro. Both have blamed the frustrations of the most marginalized members of society on “the imperialist enemy which is the United States”, have divided the country politically, have caused the unnecessary deaths of far too many citizens, have created long and dark prison sentences for those who dissent, and both have governed by using uncertainty. In 2006 when it was made public that Fidel Castro suffered from a serious disease, the island was submerged under a state of mystery- that same mystery which so many other dictators around the world have used in order to create confusion and fear among their people. It also happened in North Korea with Kim Jong II and is now happening with Hugo Chavez Frias.
For Cubans like Jose Daniel Ferrer, it is also worrying to know that the model which has caused the suffering of more than 11 million Cubans has been spreading throughout all of Latin America. “To our brother Venezuelans, I strongly urge that they take note of what has been happening in Cuba for more than half a century. Without a doubt, what Hugo Chavez intends to install in that sister nation is a regime which emulates that of the Castro brothers. I do not intend to interfere in the internal issues of Venezuela but I am very attached to the suffering of that sister nation“. He points out that, “Castro is the tyrant in chief of all of Latin America“, inspiring other figures such as Evo Morales of Bolivia, Raphael Correa of Ecuador, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, and many others. Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia joins Venezuelans in solidarity and warns, “be very careful of how far you let this man consolidate a communist dictatorship similar to the one under which so many of us Cubans have suffered for many years and which has completely destroyed our nation“.