May 24, 2013
Stunned Cuba ponders future without Chávez
A mix of sorrow, self-interest and dread took hold of Cuba as word spread like wildfire that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who had done so much for the country, was dead.
While the official evening newscast devoted its entire program to events unfolding in Caracas, the government reaction was slow in coming.
Later in the evening Cuba declared three days of mourning, and eulogized Chávez saying his "Bolivarian Revolution" was "irreversible" and that Cuba would continue to "accompany Venezuelans in their struggles."
Chavez's resolute ideological embrace of Cuba helped propel the once isolated communist island back into the center of regional politics, and oil-rich Venezuela's largesse under Chavez proved a life saver for the embargoed and near bankrupt Caribbean island after the collapse of its longtime benefactor, the Soviet Union.
Even so, analysts do not expect Chavez's death to have any short-term impact for Cuba.
"I'm sure the Cubans are concerned, but I don't think this will be a game changer for the Cubans. They have weathered worse storms before," said Frank Mora, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere Affairs in the first Obama administration.
Chavez is viewed in Cuba as an irreplaceable leader of the region and savior of socialism, portrayed day and night by official media as a champion of regional unity, independence and the island.
During his two-year battle with cancer, Chavez had four operations in Cuba and spent months receiving treatment on the island.
"Once again the horizon for all of Latin America has grown dark," Havana snack vendor, Eric Rodriguez, said.
"I only hope Venezuela can support this blow, but the road ahead for them won't be easy, nor for Cuba," he said.
There were tears for the 58-year-old Venezuelan and his family over the tragedy of succumbing to cancer. Then there were the calculations over what events in Caracas might mean for daily life on the Communist-run island, so dependent on the preferential trade relations under Chavez.
There was dread that Cuba would once more lose a strategic ally and be plunged back into a grave economic crisis similar to the scarcity in the 1990s that followed the demise of the Soviet Union.
Soon after Chavez won his first election in 1998, Fidel Castro anointed the young and vitriolic firebrand as his revolutionary successor in Latin America.
President Raul Castro, who replaced his ailing brother in 2008, has strengthened relations with Venezuela even as he forged closer ties with other oil-producing nations such as Brazil, Angola, Algeria and Russia.