Lessons from the Cuban snow job

Not the way to go about it

Not the way to go about it

It is too soon to tell just what the recent détente between the US and Cuba will produce, but there are already a few lessons the folks currently governing in Caracas can take from it.

The first is that the announcement creates the first real gap between Caracas and Havana in years.

As Quico rightly pointed out yesterday, Caracas does nothing without consulting Havana first. The Cubans are involved in every major policy decision that Venezuela makes. The two counrties are so in sync that they are occasionally thought of as one.

But after eighteen months of secret negotiations that Venezuela was not privvy to, it’s clear that this is an unbalanced relationship.

An element of trust between the two governing cliques has been broken, and it may take a while to repair. And even though the elites kiss and make up, the people down below – the bureaucrats, the operatives, the middle-ranking officers in the Armed Forces – may end up being a tad more suspicious about the earnestness of their Cuban handlers. The opposition needs to exploit this.

Another point that Venezuelans need to learn is that high-stakes diplomacy happens in the shadows.

Cuba did not announce to the world that it was meeting with the US. Pope Francis did not tweet about the secret meetings in the Vatican, and Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird was not parading the delegations around Ottawa. Talks were held … in private, away from the psychotic masses and the absurd rallies. No bluster, no huffing and puffing, just … talking. That’s how you get things done in serious circles. That is something chavistas are simply incapable of doing.

A final lesson is that if Venezuela really wishes to get on Washington’s good graces, it will have to make some concessions, just like the Cubans did.

There are scores of political prisoners in Venezuela, including Leopoldo López, perhaps the continent’s most prominent prisoner of conscience. Unless Caracas is willing to show some generosity and free these folks, talks to improve relations will remain one-sided, no matter how many insulting, deceitful op-eds Diosdado Cabello’s English-speaking mistress writes for the New York Times.

The US-Cuba agreement was a watershed moment for the continent. It is the result of months of high-stakes diplomacy played by skilled professionals.

That doesn’t seem like a game that our ill-prepared leaders are capable of playing.

23 thoughts on “Lessons from the Cuban snow job

  1. I’m not sure that Chavistas do not know how to conduct secret negotiations – although I do concede we Venezuelans love the spotlight and for us it is very, very difficult to keep mum.

    What I am afraid more is that the chavista leadership does not know how to sell any outcome that could come from secret negotiations, and THAT is a real problem.


    • My two cents:
      Eighteen months of secret negotiations between Cuba and the US means they began talks in May or June 2013, barely two or three months after Hugo Chávez died. The chavista leadership is in far worse shape than I’d thought, let alone the MUD. The real losers: us!


  2. Since pretty much the beginning of the Cuban revolution, Havana has only wanted one thing from Washington – to play the role of external enemy convincingly enough to keep the population fearful and hence willing to accept the suspension of its civil and political rights. Every time there was a chance of a thaw, Fidel sabotaged it. That’s above all what Chávez learned from Fidel – how to stay in power by antagonising the US just enough to maintain the tension but not provoke anything truly regime-threatening.

    But that has now changed, thanks to the demise of the Soviet Union and the catastrophic state of the Venezuelan economy. Fidel either couldn’t or didn’t want to block it this time. So what does Venezuela want from the United States? Until yesterday, the answer came out of the Cuban playbook. But the Cubans just ditched the playbook, without so much as a text message to Caracas. So … carry on as before? Ask the Cubans for the new playbook? Make it up as you go along? And why would you continue to take instructions from the Cubans when they are capable of changing the rules without telling you?

    These, as a great man once said, are all questions ….


  3. I have a hunch that the regime really would welcome an improvement of relations with the US govt , simply because financial conditions may ultimately force it to try and make international financial deals which chances of success improve if they dont have a contentious relation with the US . Its a difficult thing to do because they have been attacking the ’empire’ for so long that their followers are going to get confused , and can you think of a worse time for the regime to confuse its followers. ?? Im not sure they can do an about face without much loss of face . !!


    • Bill, it’s all the more difficult because the regime does not have experts of any kind anywhere. It is common knowledge how ALL the companies they have seized have gone broke or almost because the gov’t only appoints down-to-earth live-or-die followers, nobody with technical knowledge let alone managerial experience. They have a Secretary (Minister) of Education that publicly declared that the revolution could not educate people too much because then they would turn into oligarcas… maduro himself was Minister of Foreign Affairs for quite some time and did he learn anything about high-stakes diplomacy (or even Diplomacy 001)? All you have to do is hear any of his declarations or speeches at rallies to realize that he is just a well dressed tirapiedras. So I agree with Gabriel: these guys do not have what it takes to negotiate in equal terms. While they had the unlimited checkbook they went around buying political support here and there, but now, naked and resourceless to the bone, all they can do is go round-and-round pretending they’re thinking and waiting for el imperio to impose its terms… It’s an extraordinary chance for a great political move by the opposition, but then again they seem not to have what it takes either.


  4. I have to hand it to Obama, whether achieved intentionally or not, what a beautiful looking hand: peace in Colombia, relations with Cuba, diplomatic deflation of Venezuela, lowered of oil prices… Bravo!!


  5. The value of Cuba from a chavista perspective would seem to come from it’s intelligence and propaganda apparatuses, as well as from its experience with the communist experiment in areas like education and healthcare and culture. Technologically and financially Cuba is not emblematic of progress. Those were areas where Venezuela could reciprocate, but evidently left much to be desired. A less than ideal marriage. The USA will make a better partner.


    • Maduro practically acknowledged it during the Mercosur meeting last Wednesday. Venezuelan media was caught completely off guard by the events. It’s pretty clear.


      • You’re right, Juan–A Lame Duck President recognized a Lame Ass Nation, and left a Horse’s Ass President in the dark.


  6. I think that even when it appears that the chaburrismo was just as stupid to not notice “la china” castro was sign, the real imbeciles are still the chavista base, those who are constantly stomped by the hegemon corp censorship to keep their brains washed.

    It’s common sense for the chaburro “leadership”, keeping hidden and censored every bit of information regarding the biggest backstab from the castros since they ordered to kill the wax doll on 2012 to make him a martyr, after all, that’s hegemon corp’s duty, to censor as much information as possible.

    You actually think that cuban people knew any better than chavista base about this? Hahahahahah! Of course not, in fact, right now, they’re “celebrating the return of the heroes” that supossedly “put on their knees the evil empire”; go ahead, ask any cuban “de a pie” who is Alan Gross, and none of them’ll know anything about him at all.


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