Caracas, Between Oslo and Havana
By Juan Antonio Blanco
Diario de Cuba
May 31, 2019
Over the last few days we have heard voices praising, and condemning, what many call the "Oslo talks". This alwasys happens. There are always those with good intentions who believe that, "people come to understand each other by talking". False.
Conversation, dialogue and negotiations are three different stages and exercises in conflict resolution and management processes. They are not equivalent terms. When parties to a conflict decide to sit down and talk, this may be for two reasons. One of them is when they have reached the conclusion that they should explore the possibility of moving towards an agreement because not trying is very risky or costly in terms of their public image.
The other circumstance is that they decide to talk in a calculated attempt to project a constructive image, to stall, to explore the divisions and weaknesses of their adversary and, finally, backstab those who came, in good faith, and ended up wasting their time. This is what the capos of Cubazuela have been doing to the opposition, for years, with many corpses left along the way.
President Guaidó has stated that his representatives are going to Oslo to talk, specifically and indirectly (through the Norwegians) about a single issue: Maduro's removal, in the fastest and least violent manner possible. And this is as it should be. But every extension of these risky conversations only favours the confusion sowed throughout the world by Cuba's apparatus of disinformation. If the opposition wished to show its flexibility towards the representatives of an authoritarian, criminal, drug-dealing regime, they already have.
This time other voices have also appeared that insist on involving Havana as part of any negotiations aimed at guaranteeing a non-violent transition to democracy in Venezuela. Some believe that if Cuba is part of the problem, it could also become part of the solution. But, unfortunately, it's not that simple.
Cuba is the problem, not a potential partner for a solution
There are three key reasons that render Cuba's sincere cooperation in this matter impossible.
One: The logic of Al Capone was not that of a diplomat, nor is Raúl Castro's logic that of a democratic statesman. For him, Venezuela is a colony where he established an extractive economy and an extraterritorial logistic platform for his clandestine and criminal operations. From the perspective of Havana, Venezuela is the outer perimeter of its defence system.
Venezuela is not an independent, sovereign, peaceful state, where the rule of law reigns. No. The power elites of the two countries fused into a transnational criminal enterprise (Cubazuela), abandoned any commitment to the ideological dynamics of the Cold War and created a vast network of alliances with other criminal and terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah, controlled by Iran, as well as Colombia's FARC and the ELN . Their real business now is the production and export of drugs, illegal gold extraction and trade, trafficking in arms and people, and money laundering.
Voluntarily negotiate the relinquishment of all that? Raúl Castro still believes that he has a better alternative to a negotiated agreement: ordering Maduro to hang in there.
Two: Russia and Iran are not interested in Venezuela recovering as an oil exporting country. That would lower oil prices. At this time Iran has many immediate security concerns, within and close to its borders. Meanwhile, Russia wants Caracas to pay its debt to the Kremlin, but also wants to use its presence in Venezuela to counterbalance US support for Ukraine on the geopolitical chessboard.
But, for Cuba the situation is different. Maintaining its iron grip on Venezuela is an existential necessity. And not only for the oil. Havana has relocated most of its illicit operations to Caracas, where it has contacts and networks for money laundering and drug trafficking. Now, unlike in 1989, it operates mainly from Venezuelan territory and from laboratories located in ELN and FARC havens in that nation.
If Cubazuela ceases to exist, Castro will have to find not just a new patron, but another country to facilitate his clandestine operations. Cuba's political economy, integrated into transnational crime, escapes the attention of scholars of the other Cuban economy, which is formal and legitimate.
Three: The fall of the Maduro regime will have an economicallly and, even more important, psychologically destabilizing impact on the Cuban population and elites, comparable only to that of the dissolution of the USSR. A profound crisis of governability would then be inevitable.
If Cuba is allowed to participate in any negotiations on the future of Venezuela, its strategic objective would be to promote a "solution" that guarantees its supply of oil and keeps the Venezuelan military and intelligence apparatus intact, under corrupt, pro-Cuban officials. A bad deal.
In the early 1930s would anyone have expected Eliot Ness to negotiate an agreement with Al Capone so that he might quietly step aside in order to restore peace and prosperity to Chicago? Unlikely, right? In the same way, Castro has no interest in the welfare and prosperity of the Venezuelan or Cuban peoples, but rather only in preserving an instrument with which to keep making dirty money.
Cubazuela is no beacon of socialism, as a melancholy Norwegian in a misty fjord might be led to believe, but a dangerous narco-state. Pablo Escobar's dream come true.