MARACAIBO, Venezuela – Visibly upset, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez answered a journalist’s question about Cubans in the Venezuelan armed forces without really saying anything.
“Cuba helps us modestly in things I won’t disclose,” he said.
During a rare media conference, Chávez said there are more than 30,000 Cubans in Venezuela.
“[They] tend to the sick in the communities, and there is a mechanism of military cooperation that worries the Venezuelan bourgeoisie,” he said.
But there also could be as many as 65,000 Cubans in Venezuela, according to the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal, which cited sources.
Antonio Rivero, who until recent months was the head of disaster and civil protection in the Venezuelan government, formally requested May 3 an investigation by the office of the Venezuelan attorney general into the presence of Cubans in the Venezuelan armed forces.
“[There is a need] to establish whether the security of Venezuela as a nation is compromised or not, in deeds that may or may not be crimes against the defense and security of the nation,” Rivero said in an affidavit.
Specifically, Rivero requested an investigation of the involvement of Cubans in the military’s strategic command, its weapons unit, engineering unit and in the communications command.
“Hugo Chávez has ‘Cubanized’ the Venezuelan army,” said Rivero, a retired general who was a member of Chávez’s government since 2003.
But Cuba’s involvement in the Venezuelan government is not limited to the military.
Public health, education and the Venezuelan passport and national I.D. system have been penetrated by Cuban operatives, according to Venezuelan politician Iraida Villasmil, a deputy legislator in Maracaibo.
“It is sad to see how the country is given away little by little,” Villasmil said. “Money and credit is given [by the Venezuelan government] to other countries, and the needs of Venezuelans are not paid attention to.”
The presence of Cubans in the government “underestimates the capabilities of Venezuelans in areas such as health and other jobs,” according to Nerio Romero, a legislator in the local assembly of the state of Zulia, in western Venezuela.
Venezuelan government officials justify the presence of Cuban specialists for their supposed expertise in areas such as energy, sports, medicine and education, among others.
“Cuba’s expertise is in control, and that’s what Chávez needs right now, so that’s what the Cubans are providing,” said Michael Shifter, director of Inter-American Dialogue, a policy center in Washington, D.C., to The Washington Times. “The Venezuelan government is worried about losing control.”
But it might be too late.
Venezuelan polling company Datanálisis reported the government is currently facing a 70% disapproval rate, fueled by rolling blackouts, staggering inflation and the Chávez administration’s push for socialism.
“People have lost confidence in Venezuela's president and do not share his ideology, which aims at implementing an autocracy,” José Antonio Gil Yépez, Datanálisis’ CEO told Venezuelan newspaper El Impulso. “The Venezuelan people are still attached to private property, democracy, freedom of expression, right to organize and using elections as the mechanism to run society.”