Where Does Venezuela Fit in the New US-Cuba Love-in?


“Go on! You're doing well!” Taken from Eduardo, ‘Edo’ Sanabria's page. Published with permission.

The diplomatic rapprochement between Cuba and the U.S., which has come on the back of decades of bitter bilateral relations, has taken Cuba's allies in the Venezuelan state by surprise, generating a series of responses that reflect the confusion of being left in the dark during negotiations that were clearly taking place for months.

As a result, Venezuela's social media has responded with irony and mockery, posting memes and comments that portray the country's government as the character that was brushed aside in the story. Many also point out the seeming contradiction between warmer relations with the U.S. and the socialist ideals promoted by both Cuba and Venezuela.

Venezuelans learned of the re-establishment of bilateral ties between Washington and Havana two days after an anti-imperialist demonstration in Caracas on December 15, held due to sanctions against Venezuela being discussed by in the U.S. Congress at the time.

Those sanctions, which were approved December 18, targeted selected government officials viewed as cracking down on anti-government demonstrators during this year's protests in Venezuela.

But the the sudden thaw in Cuba and U.S. relations seemed to force Venezuela onto the back foot. 

In the space of a week, government officials went from ramping up their traditional anti-U.S. rhetoric to cautiously praising Obama's new approach towards Cuba to fiercely criticising Washington again when the sanctions became a reality. Venezuela, which had harnessed its oil wealth to be an ideological and geopolitical thorn in the US’ side for so long, suddenly looked irrelevant.

Angel Alayon, an economist and strategic thinker explains in his Prodavinci blog how the government has lost face:

Hay una pérdida simbólica-discursiva que se agrava con el hecho de que el gobierno venezolano ha lucido sorprendido por la negociación entre cubanos y estadounidenses. ¿Por qué no se avisó a Venezuela de estas negociaciones?

There's a symbolic and discursive loss that gets worse in lieu of the fact that the Venezuelan government looks surprised by the negotiations between the Cubans and Americans. Why wasn't Venezuela told about these negotiations?

Alayon goes on to explain how worsening economic conditions drove Cuba into Washington's arms, and left Venezuela's decision-makers with less economic and political room to manoeuvre:

Cuba ya no puede contar con Venezuela como lo hacía en el pasado. Es la RealPolitik. Es justo mencionar que las negociaciones entre Cuba y Estados Unidos empezaron cuando el petróleo todavía estaba sobre los cien dólares, pero ya los problemas económicos en Venezuela eran evidentes.

Cuba cannot count on Venezuela as it did in the past. This is realpolitik. It's fair to mention that these negotiations between Cuba and the United States began when oil prices were over 100 dollars, but even then Venezuela's economic problems were already noticeable.

In their Political HangOut, Global Voices’ Luis Carlos Díaz and blogger Naky Soto discussed some of the most important elements of the news from a Venezuelan perspective. They commented on the drastic switch in the political stance of Raul Castro, who not so long ago “raised his fist by [Venezualan President Nicolas Maduro's] side” and claimed that sanctions threatened by the U.S. government against Venezuelan officials were “inadmissible”:

Parte de las sanciones que proponían en este caso los congresistas en EEUU era congelar bienes […] y eliminar visas. No a todos los venezolanos, no a todos los chavistas, [solamente] a este conjunto de personas que tienen sobre ellas sospechas o investigaciones sobre torturas y violación de los Derechos Humanos. [A esto] Nicolás [Maduro] responde: ‘No. Tienen que meternos a todos en las sanciones. Debería ser un honor para un revolucionario estar ahí. Todos merecemos esas sanciones, todos deberíamos estar ahí. La gente no debería tener visa.’ Y resulta que ahora los cubanos sí van a poder tener visa, y casas de cambio con dólares, y negociaciones con Estados Unidos […] y muchas empresas van a poder migrar… Y Cuba va a volver a crecer más que Venezuela, como en el año 2014, como en el año 2013…

Part of the sanctions that were proposed by U.S. congressmen were to freeze bank accounts […] and eliminate visas. Not for all Venezuelans, not for all Chavismo [former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez  supporters], [only] this group of people that are subject to investigation for Human Rights violations. [To this] Nicolas [Maduro] responds: ‘No. They have to put us all there. It should be an honor for the revolutionaries to be in this group. We all deserve those sanctions, we should all be part of this. People shouldn't have a visa.’ And now it turns out that Cubans will be able to have visas, and access exchange offices with dollars [non-existent in Venezuela], …and a lot of companies will be able to cross over there… And Cuba will grow more [economically] than Venezuela, just as it did in 2014, and in 2013…

A diplomatic romcom?

Local social media has taken a light-hearted view of Venezuela's growing international isolation, pitting the Venezuelan government as the loser in a cruel romantic triangle. The concept of the country getting friendzoned by Cuba was repeated in a number of tweets:

Cuba friendzoned Venezuela and it's now in a relationship with the U.S. Typical, your girlfriend dumps you for someone more successful and with a car.

Others caricature Cuba's change of position:

This is Raul Castro's pet watching Maduro's speech on Monday December 15, in which he insults the U.S.

Cuba, meanwhile is portrayed as having enjoyed the best of both petrodollar socialism and Yankee capitalism:

The only one gaining from these 15 years of oil profits: Cuba. It ruined Venezuela and now gets closer to the U.S.


Is Cuba approaching the US for fear of a new Special Period after Venezuela's imminent ruin?

El Chigüire Bipolar, a popular Venezuelan humor blog, didn't miss out on the chance to weigh in and came up with an amusing would-be-conversation between Nicolás Maduro and Raúl Castro on Whatsapp.

Venezuelan social media users also shared widely Eduardo ‘Edo’ Sanabria's cartoons on the subject:

Venezuela outside Cuba's and U.S.’ relations

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