“There are still ghettos of freedom, but we are heading for totalitarianism,” say experts
The dissemination in 1999 of a video where Hugo Chávez, at that time running for president, promised to take Venezuela to the same "sea of happiness" as in Cuba raised the alarm in many sectors.
Throughout 10 years in office, several attaches and the president himself have denied that the "Bolivarian revolution" is on the same way that was taken by Cuba in 1959.
Nevertheless, the implementation of selected policies and some remarks recently made by the Head of State have refreshed his attempts at making Venezuela like Cuba.
"For the fist time, I acknowledge Marxism," the president said during the presentation of his annual report at the National Assembly.
In the opinion of Ángel Oropeza, a professor of Political Sciences with Simón Bolívar University (USB), exchange control, rationed power and water supply or customary food shortage prove that Venezuela is more similar to Cuba than any other country in the region.
"Venezuelans are increasingly living in a constrained situation. While we are not in Cuba, it seems that we are on this way. When Chávez talks about transition, he means a transition to get there," he said. "We are not under a totalitarian state, like in Cuba, because you can still find ghettos of free economy, freedom of expression and some democratic niches, but regimes like this dream of getting to totalitarianism."
Agustín Blanco Muñoz, a professor with the Central University of Venezuela (UCV), bluntly admonished: "Since 2004, after the recall referendum, Vene-Cuba was established."
A different view
Marino Alvarado, coordinator of the NGO Venezuelan Program of Education-Action in Human Rights (Provea), does not think the hurdles and restrictions nowadays faced by Venezuelans can be compared to the plight undergone by Cubans.
"Troubles to have a passport, which prevent many Venezuelans from travelling abroad, cannot be regarded as part of a state policy to prevent people from leaving, but they are the result of the government inefficiency. This is the case for shortage. In Cuba there is a knowing rationing policy. Here, it is rather failure of policies on agriculture and endogenous development which has prevented the country from overcoming its dependence on exports," Alvarado reasoned.
The Provea's coordinator noted though that the Venezuelan and Cuban government seem to go hand in hand in their stance before human rights international watchdogs.
"On the issue of sovereignty, both governments have not allowed human rights organizations to check the status of fundamental rights in both nations," he added.
Queried if Venezuelans think that obstacles to foreign travel, threats on private property and other government steps mean a replica of the Cuban model, Luis Vicente León, the director of pollster Datanálisis, answered: "People in general refuse the Cuban model, but they do not feel that Venezuela looks like Cuba or that the model heralded by President Chávez is close to that of Fidel Castro. There may be gross similarities, but not specific ones. People dislike exchange control, but do not think that it bans it from going overseas, as it happens in Cuba. Nor they consider that scarcity can be compared to the rationing prevailing in the island."
The recent visit of Cuba's Minister of Technology Ramiro Valdés, on the pretext of helping to overcome the troubles related to power supply, has disturbed the opposition. Chávez's dissenters fear that the senior officer, responsible for censoring Internet in Cuba, came precisely to advise the Venezuelan government on this matter.
Translated by Conchita Delgado
Cristian Fonseca, a businessman in La Candelaria district downtown Caracas, was doing the accounts in his small shop office on Sunday December 21, 2008. The Christmas shopping season kept him working late hours into the night. It was around 11 p.m. and his phone rang. A friend broke the bad news to him over the telephone.