The deteriorating Venezuelan social and political situation is turning into an open national crisis that could accelerate Hugo Chavez’s ouster from the presidency.
One of the sectors on the brink of total collapse is electricity, due to lack of the required investments during the last ten years. Although oil is plentiful in the country, the required thermo-electric plants that should have complemented the supply of hydroelectricity were not built, while the maintenance of existing ones was sorely neglected.
Faced with a growing crisis, Chavez has turned to the failed regime of the Castros’ Cuba for advice.
Chavez has dismissed the cooperation of expert Venezuelan technicians because they are ideologically opposed to his regime. Instead of bringing the best of advisers and the most modern alternatives, he decided to call in Ramiro Valdes, a man who is no electricity expert and is much better known as a master of political repression during his years as Cuban Minister of the Interior.
The 76 year-old Ramiro Valdes arrived in Venezuela a few days ago. He bears the title of “Commander of the Cuban Revolution” since he is the only Cuban who was with the Castro brothers in the attack to the Moncada Barracks, in the landing of the Granma in Cuban soil and in the Sierra Maestra. During the 1960’s and 1970’s Valdes was Minister of the Interior and presided over the imprisonment, torture or deaths of some 70,000 Cuban dissenters. After being displaced from the ministry he reinvented himself as a technocrat, in charge of an industrial group of electronics. As such he has been recently readmitted into the power circles, this time as one of the three vice-presidents of the Cuban Cabinet, not to be confused with the vice-presidency of Cuba.
The presence of Valdes in Venezuela is the latest and probably one of the greatest blunders Chavez has committed. The Cuban brings no added value to the solution of the Venezuelan electricity crisis. His presence in a position of high responsibility increases the indignation felt by Venezuelans about the role played by Cubans in internal Venezuelan matters. He is seen as a symbol of the Cuban invasion of Venezuela made possible by Chavez’s treason.
Cuba has nothing to offer Venezuela in the way of electrical technical expertise. In fact, the Cuban electricity sector depends almost exclusively on Venezuelan prodigality in the supply of highly subsidized liquid fuels. Cuban electricity generation is very inefficient, with very high costs and technical losses. Just as an example, Chile employs 3,200 people in the electricity sector but sells twice as much electricity than Cuba that employs 34,000 people.
Cuban electrical shortages are as frequent as those being currently experienced by Venezuela. Perhaps Chavez was thinking of this when he explained the presence of Mr. Valdes by saying that Cuba had “a lot of experience in electrical crises”. That they have. But not in any way that Venezuela can profit from.