Foreign and Defense Policy, Latin America

Oops! Fidel Castro issues Hugo Chávez premortem obituary

Former Cuban President Fidel Castro (L) visits Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, who is recovering from surgery, in Havana March 2, 2012. REUTERS/Miraflores Palace/Handout

Former Cuban President Fidel Castro (L) visits Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, who is recovering from surgery, in Havana March 2, 2012. REUTERS/Miraflores Palace/Handout

My sources say that Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez is alive as of Tuesday night but in very critical condition, after undergoing emergency cancer surgery in Havana last week. Cuban dictator Fidel Castro may have accidentally revealed what he knows about the terminal cancer of his Venezuelan acolyte, Hugo Chávez. “I have confidence that you would be able to continue his work,” Castro told Venezuelan Vice President Nicolás Maduro, speaking as if Chávez was already dead.

The Cuban regime’s official news service Prensa Latina published what amounts to Chávez’s obituary, in the form of a December 15 open letter that was addressed to Maduro. Castro reminisced on his “first meeting” with Chávez 18 years ago and their two decades of collaboration. He closed his message effectively passing the torch to Maduro.

Castro cannot afford to be sentimental about his dying friend while he struggles to save a dying regime. Having made Cuba a mendicant nation, his country needs billions of dollars of aid and Venezuelan oil to survive. That is where he hopes that Maduro will play a critical role. While some clueless Western journalists have profiled Maduro recently as an “affable” former bus driver, he is actually a humorless and tough ideologue who has been driving circles around the US State Department as Chávez’s foreign minister. He certainly shares Chávez’s devotion to the Cuban regime.

Making matters worse for Castro, Maduro has a powerful rival within the Chavista movement whom Havana perceives as unfriendly: Diosdado Cabello. About eight years ago, the wily Cuban dictator advised Chávez to sideline Cabello, whose corrupt fortune challenged Chávez’s monopoly on power. Planning for a post-Chávez scenario, early this year powerful narcogenerals protected their interests by insisting that Cabello, a military veteran, be made president of the national assembly and vice president of the ruling party. Cabello’s ruthless cadre will not readily cede power to Maduro and other Havana-backed ideologues. Castro is hoping to keep Cabello from disrupting a smooth transfer of power to a pliant successor.

Castro’s premature obituary also highlights the dirty little secret that the mishandling of Chávez’s medical care by a Cuban medical team has hastened the Venezuelan’s demise. An initial botched surgery in Havana helped spread deadly cancer cells, and the Cubans’ obsession with forcing Chávez back to the campaign trail before last October’s election doomed his recovery. So, the singular achievement of Castro’s vaunted health care system is that it helped kill Hugo Chávez – not to put too fine a point on it.

Now, the shameless Fidel is in such a hurry to micromanage Chávez’s succession that he literally can’t wait for his acolyte to die. God has his schedule, and the diabolical Fidel Castro has his.

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