by James Suggett
Mérida, November 8th 2010 – The Cuban and Venezuelan governments commemorated the 10th anniversary of the beginning of their bilateral cooperation during a working visit by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to the Caribbean island over the weekend.
On October 30, 2000, during Chavez’s second year in office, the two countries signed the “Integral Agreement for Collaboration” in Caracas. It marked the beginning of an anti-imperialist alliance and a form of exchange that was presented as an alternative to the US-backed Free Trade Area of the Americas.
Through the accord, Venezuela began shipping 53,000 barrels per day of its principal export, oil, to fuel-starved Cuba in exchange for human services worth the approximate market value of the oil.
In subsequent years, tens of thousands of Cuban doctors, dentists, optometrists, physical therapists, nurses, and other health care workers staffed free clinics in thousands of Venezuela’s poorest neighborhoods. Cuba also provided vaccines, treatment for illnesses such as heart disease, anemia, asthma, HIV and AIDS, and began training Venezuelan doctors in a program called “Integral Community Medicine.”
Also through the accord, Cuban agronomists worked with Venezuelan officials to modernize Venezuela’s sugar industry, and Cuban specialists provided on-site training in agroecology, organic fertilizer production, irrigation, sustainable forestry, and the promotion of agricultural cooperatives. Cuban literacy trainers assisted Venezuela’s national drive to eradicate illiteracy, a goal that was achieved in 2005 according to the United Nations. In addition, Cuban physical education experts worked to integrate athletics into Venezuela’s public health and public education systems.
Bilateral relations between Cuba and Venezuela have expanded over the years to include state-controlled economic development projects in the areas of oil refining, electricity production, tourism, mining, light and heavy industries, and railway systems.
In 2004, Venezuela and Cuba created a bloc called the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) that is based on the Cuba-Venezuela model of cooperation and now also includes Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
In an interview broadcast on Venezuelan and Cuban television on Sunday, President Chavez said this system of integration was “unprecedented in Latin America and the world.”
He said bilateral cooperation with Cuba has helped his oil-dependent nation boost its long-neglected agricultural sector, diversify its industry, and strengthen its anti-poverty programs.
“The Cuban people have made a great contribution to the Bolivarian Revolution,” said Chavez, referring to his government’s program, which is named after Simon Bolivar, a Latin American independence hero. “Both nations have benefitted from this relationship, respecting the particularities of our respective systems... both revolutions will continue to be consolidated and to mutually support each other,” said Chavez.
The president boasted about Venezuela’s reduction of poverty, malnutrition, infant mortality, and economic inequality, and its increase in educational enrollment from primary school through the university under his ten-year administration. He noted that these achievements are recognized by the United Nations and said they are steps toward “21st Century Socialism.”
“We have become the cradle of a new world,” said the president.
Chavez emphasized the role of the US government in impeding this process by supporting a military coup organized by the Venezuelan opposition in April 2002 and by maintaining its blockade against Cuba despite repeated unanimous votes in the United Nations to end the blockade.
“Cuba and Venezuela have united to break the chains of backwardness, and we have helped Cuba to minimize the impact of the blockade imposed by the United States,” Chavez said. “That is why the [US] empire attacked and continues to attack Cuba so much, they are trying to put out the flame,” said the Venezuelan president.
The Venezuelan opposition has strongly criticized the Chavez administration’s cooperation with Cuba. In September, opposition candidates for the Venezuelan National Assembly centered their campaign platforms on ominous warnings that Venezuela was on the road toward a “Castro-communist dictatorship.” Large opposition media outlets regularly state that the increased role of the Venezuelan state in industries such as oil, food, construction, and electricity stifles economic growth and violates the constitutional right to own private property.
The government has responded by asserting that the government is defending the right of Venezuela’s poor to participation in private property ownership by guaranteeing access to basic goods and services.