03/20/13 - Miami Herald - Castro's longterm, strategic goal
For the Castro brothers Venezuela has always been the coveted grand prize
of Cuban national security policy. Patiently, they plotted and changed
tactics for 40 years until their efforts finally bore fruit with the rise
to power of Hugo Chávez.
Venezuelan oil, credits, and joint ventures - worth on average more than $6
billion annually - have flowed, shoring up the Cuban economy even more
solidly than the subsidies previously provided by the Soviet Union. There
is no reason to believe that Nicolás Maduro, Chávez's anointed successor,
will reduce that commitment if, as seems likely, he is elected next month
to a six-year presidential term of his own.
The objective of winning a strategic foothold in Venezuela was so important
to the Castros that they never gave up even after calamitous failures. One
of the worst was in November 1963 when a three-ton cache of arms and
ammunition destined for local guerrillas was discovered buried on a
Venezuelan beach. After it was proved the weapons had come from Cuba, the
Organization of American States voted economic and diplomatic sanctions
against the Castro regime. With the exception of Mexico, every Latin
American government severed diplomatic relations with Cuba. The cost was
great; but for the Castros the effort was worthwhile.
Despite failure after failure, they never doubted that with Cuban support a
sibling revolutionary regime could somehow be boosted into power in
Caracas. With that accomplished, it was thought in Havana, any such regime
would feel a duty to reciprocate with massive economic aid. This strategic
vision has not changed since January 1959.
It was only 21 days after seizing power when Fidel ventured forth on his
first foreign junket as Cuba's unquestioned leader. He went to Caracas.
Greeted as a conquering hero by vast crowds, he delivered a number of
speeches, including one to a stadium full of cheering youths and students.
That was his first taste of international acclaim, and whetted his appetite
for a much larger, catalytic role in Latin America.
Ostensibly, he went to thank President Rómulo Betancourt for the assistance
Venezuela provided his insurgency. But Fidel's true motives were more
sinister and mercenary. He tried to persuade Betancourt to extend economic
aid and to join him in an anti-American entente. Castro described it as
"the master plan against the gringos." He was spurned, but as a result
Betancourt became Fidel's most despised enemy and target of unrelenting
Overthrowing the democratically elected government in Caracas became Cuba's
highest priority in Latin America. Yet Betancourt and his successor
survived everything the Castros hurled against them - saboteurs,
terrorists, assassins, pirates, and a powerful guerrilla insurgency.
Nearly a half century later Betancourt was still on Fidel's mind. In 2010
Castro wrote in one of his "reflections" that the long deceased Venezuelan
was "the most abject and vile enemy of the people?.?.?.?a fake and a
pretender." Castro never forgets an adversary.
Cuban efforts to install Venezuela's Marxist insurgents into power were a
joint effort by Raúl Castro's military and Cuban intelligence. Hundreds,
perhaps thousands, of young Venezuelans were trained in guerrilla tactics
and covert tradecraft and provided funding and military support. Their
insurgency - the Armed Forces of National Liberation - grew into the
largest guerrilla force in the region during the 1960s. According to a
declassified CIA estimate, Venezuela was the only country where Cuba was
expecting "imminent revolutionary victory."
To make that happen, Raúl dispatched more than a dozen of his best and most
trusted military officers to instruct and fight with Venezuelan guerrillas.
They were plagued by failures. In May 1967 a commando force of Cubans and
Venezuelan guerrillas landed at Machurucuto, an isolated beach on the
Venezuelan coast. Several perished, and two Cuban military officers were
captured after a fierce firefight with local security forces. The mission
was betrayed by a CIA agent in the Cuban military.
General Arnaldo Ochoa, executed on trumped up charges in 1989, was another
of the Venezuela veterans. He saved the life of another Cuban, who also
rose to become a three star general. Ulises Rosales del Toro, chief of the
armed forces general staff for 15 years, nearly died in Venezuela. Ochoa
saved his life by carrying him on his back to safety when he was too weak
and emaciated to walk. Rosales did not repay the favor when he voted in a
military tribunal for Ochoa's execution.
The struggle for Venezuela has therefore been the most enduring and hardest
fought of Cuba's security objectives. Fidel always thought strategically,
many moves ahead, like a grand master moving pieces on a giant chess board.
Che Guevara fought and died in a hopeless insurgency in Bolivia. That was
not important for Fidel. He never lost sight of the richest prize: Bolivia
was a pawn; Venezuela was always the opponent's queen.
Brian Latell is senior research associate, Cuba Studies, University of
Miami, and author of Castro's Secrets: The CIA and Cuba's Intelligence
Original Source / Fuente Original:
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