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    Venezuela cuts oil shipments to Cuba forcing Castro to consider veering
    to U.S.
    By Franz von Bergen Published July 27, 2016 Fox News Latino

    CARACAS – Venezuela’s grim situation is impacting not only millions of
    households around the country — it is also sending panic waves across
    the Caribbean all the way to Cuba, a solid ally that for decades now has
    relied heavily on Chavismo’s generosity.

    Cuba, a communist country with a weak economy, has alienated itself from
    the rest of the world and has largely relied on Venezuela to stay
    financially afloat. But Venezuela’s falling oil prices is causing Cuba
    to distance itself from the South American country.

    So far this year Venezuelan oil shipments to the island have declined by
    19.5 percent, forcing an energy rationing that is reminding people of
    the early 90s, when the Soviet Union dissolved and Cuba lost its top
    provider almost overnight.

    Now with Venezuela’s wealth slowly fading away, the geopolitical
    chessboard may change in a way that some say will inevitably drive
    Havana closer to the U.S.

    “Venezuela’s inability to help Cuba creates a void that will very likely
    be filled by the U.S.,” said foreign policy expert Giovanna De Michelle
    to Fox News Latino.

    “Cuba’s opening to foreign investment has been slow, but now they don’t
    have another option if you consider Venezuela’s grim situation,” said
    Felix Arellano, also an internationalist.

    Venezuela and Cuba started strengthening ties soon after Hugo Chavez, a
    socialist and open admirer of Fidel Castro, came to power in 1999. The
    alliance, fueled by a close personal friendship, helped the Castro
    brothers keep the island afloat amid the Soviet Union domino collapse.

    Currently – and for more than a decade now – Venezuela supplies more
    than 50 percent of the island’s intake of oil at very preferential
    terms. In exchange, starting 2003 Cuba started providing human resources
    to Venezuela, mostly teachers and medical doctors to support Chavez’s
    various social programs, like Barrio Adentro and Misión Robinson, which
    focused on reducing analphabetism.

    According to the most recent information available, in 2013 Venezuela
    provided Cuba with 99,000 barrels of crude oil a day. To date, Cuba has
    sent approximately 200,000 workers to Venezuela.

    This oil-for-workers deal greatly benefitted both Castro’s and Chavez’s
    agendas: while Cuba kept running on cheap oil, Venezuela found a way to
    secure and preserve the social programs that are the backbone of Chavismo.

    After Chavez died in 2013, his handpicked successor Nicolas Maduro kept
    the close relationship with Fidel and Raul Castro — according to an FNL
    count, Maduro has visited Cuba 15 times since becoming president three
    years ago.

    “The new economic scenario doesn’t mean that political relations between
    Cuba and Venezuela will turn sour,” according to foreign analyst Edgar
    Otalvora. “Ideologically, they will remain close,” he said, pointing at
    Raul Castro’s cautious speech before the National Assembly on July 8th.

    However, Castro did turn heads when he acknowledged the repercussions
    that Venezuela’s deepening crisis is having on Cuba.

    He said Cuba’s economy grew just 1 percent in the first part of the
    year, half of what the government had planned for, due in part to “a
    certain contraction in the fuel supplies agreed upon with Venezuela,
    despite the firm will of President Maduro and his government to fulfill
    them.”

    “Logically that has caused additional tensions in the functioning of the
    Cuban economy,” Castro told the National Assembly.

    Analysts say the severity of the financial and political crisis in
    Venezuela may force Cuba to change course sooner rather than later.

    “Havana needs to also start drawing investments from Europe, Brazil,
    Canada and China,” Arellano told FNL. “The down part for the Castro
    brothers is that this might require political changes in the near future.”

    As for the U.S., it is very likely Washington will keep pushing to
    increase its influence in Cuba regardless of November’s election outcome.

    “American investors are betting big on Cuba, which will probably result
    in the ease of the U.S. embargo [over the island] in the near future,”
    De Michelle said.

    “This will improve the wellbeing of the Cuban people and will make
    Venezuela’s aid less necessary,” the expert added.

    Another scenario is that Venezuela’s opposition keeps gaining ground
    and, if and when in power, brings to a halt the financial aid it has
    publicly condemned more than once — many say Cuba is benefitting way
    more than Venezuela with the current arrangement.

    “The loss of the Cuban doctors wouldn’t be such a big problem for
    Venezuela, given the fact that some of them just work as spies and they
    can be replaced with our own doctors,” Arellano said.

    On top of this, it is no that secret many of these social workers have
    used their appointment to Venezuela as an opportunity to flee the
    island’s regime.

    According to Colombian authorities, in 2015 as many as 720 Cuban medical
    doctors entered to their territory from Venezuela. Hundreds of them then
    requested U.S. visas.

    Franz von Bergen is a freelancer reporter living in Caracas.

    Source: Venezuela cuts oil shipments to Cuba forcing Castro to consider
    veering to U.S. | Fox News Latino –
    latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2016/07/27/venezuela-cuts-oils-shipments-to-cuba-forcing-castros-to-consider-veer-to-us/

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