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As part of a series of background papers on Venezuela’s international relations, the Latin American Program is pleased to share the new publication, “Venezuela and Cuba:  The Ties that Bind.”  Two essays, by Brian Fonseca and John Polga-Hecimovich and by Richard E. Feinberg, explore the history and evolution of the Venezuelan-Cuban relationship and the interests of each country at different points in time.

Noting both governments’ lack of transparency, which makes it difficult to ascertain the relationship’s true dimensions, Fonseca and Polga-Hecimovich explore three distinct periods over the last 20 years.  They argue that an expansive relationship that once included tens of thousands of Cuban doctors and medical personnel in poor Venezuelan neighborhoods is now centered principally on security and intelligence support.  Fonseca and Polga-Hecimovich argue that Cuba, which receives subsidized Venezuelan oil, has a “compelling interest” in the survival of the Maduro government and has therefore helped establish a “firewall” against internal and external threats. 

Feinberg roots the relationship between the two countries in history and geography and notes that Venezuela and Cuba have at times competed for geopolitical influence.  He notes discrepancies in ideology, organizational structures, economic management, and leadership styles between Cuba’s fidelista Marxism and chavista populism.  Echoing Fonseca and Polga-Hecimovich’s observation that U.S. hostility to the Cuban and Venezuelan regimes has drawn them closer together, Feinberg argues that the international community could better play to each country’s strategic vision by recognizing the differences and inherent competition between them.  Venezuelan assistance to Cuba has helped keep the latter’s economy afloat, he argues, but is insufficient to reignite economic growth.

See also the related studies of Venezuela’s relations with Russia, China, and India