Cuba: Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro’s Lost Heir

By Isaac Risco*

Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez in Havana. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — With the death of Hugo Chavez, Cuba also lost the longed for great political leader after the slow public demise of Fidel Castro.

An admirer and close friend of the Cuban revolutionary, the Venezuelan president was the person who best embodied the ideas of Castro in recent decades throughout Latin America.

Chavez took on the responsibility not only helping the economically troubled Cuba with oil, but to also breathe fresh air into Fidel’s political ideas.

If Castro was for Chavez the great role model to follow, Chavez was for Castro his ideal heir at the forums throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

Also see: Hugo Chavez is dead at 58

“For my brother Chavez, that Olympic champion of new socialist ideas,” wrote the former Cuban president to the Venezuelan in the dedication of a book given to him in 2006 in Havana. “Fidel has always been a Quixote (…), but a victorious and invincible Quixote,” said Chavez in turn concerning his “friend” and “mentor.”

They met over 18 years ago, in 1994, after Chavez left prison for his failed coup two years earlier. He traveled directly to Havana to seek advice for his political future. What he also had planned was to request an interview to get to know his idol. However Castro, witnesses recall, showed up by surprise at the airport to receive the then unknown Venezuelan soldier.

With his fine nose for politics, the Cuban revolutionary had recognized the future leader of the masses early on. “I waited for Chavez at the airport. I drove him to the place where he would stay and I talked with him for hours, exchanging ideas,” recalled Castro himself a few days ago in a letter about the Venezuelan president.

Not only did the ideas of the left unite the two, but also their particular style of political engagement. Castro as well as Chavez each constructed a governmental apparatus modeled around their persona, and both were accomplished mass idols who enthralled their audiences from the podium.

Bright, sharp and charismatic, Fidel Castro. Forceful and direct and brash Hugo Chavez. From his mentor, the Venezuelan inherited terms like “the empire” to beat back the US, and he also frequently referred to Castro as he flew the flag of Latin American emancipation.

If Venezuelan liberator Simon Bolivar was the historical figure who represented Chavez’s quintessential socialist mission, Fidel Castro was possibly the living political leader who he most praised in his speeches.

Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez in Havana shortly after Chavez first cancer operation in June 2011. Photo: Estudios Revolucion

“Chavez’s name is known and respected throughout the world,” wrote Castro in his last letter to Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro. These words could also serve well in describing the role that former Cuban president himself liked to see himself in for decades as a leader of Third World emancipation movements.

Chavez was the figure that succeeded Fidel Castro as Latin America’s icon image of the left when the image of Castro began to fray. “I hold him in the highest esteem,” said Argentinean soccer star Diego Maradona, a declared Castro admirer, when discussing the Venezuelan leader with the dpa news agency earlier this year.

The visits of celebrities captivated by the Latin American revolutions, reserved in the ‘60s for Fidel Castro, also began arriving in Caracas in the early 21st century. Filmmaker Oliver Stone, actor Sean Penn and philosopher Noam Chomsky were some of the best known admirers of Chavez, just as at one time it was Jean-Paul Sartre and Julio Cortazar who looked up to the Cuban leader.
Chavez’s solidarity with Cuba wasn’t limited to public statements. For years Caracas supported Havana with about 100,000 barrels of oil per day, sold at very favorable terms in exchange for medical and educational services the island provided in the poorest neighborhoods of Caracas and other Venezuelan cities.

Cuba and Venezuela “are one nation,” said Chavez, the architect behind the concept of “VeneCuba” as the heart of the Latin American bloc.

Therefore the evolution of Chavez’s health was always followed with particular interest on the island. “Chavez is in bad shape,” could be heard in the streets of Havana during his last days of life, when the medical reports pointed to the worst.

Accustomed to the details about Fidel Castro’s health being kept as a state secret, Cubans commented avidly about what little was known about the disease at the end of Chavez’s life.

The Raul Castro government guaranteed Chavez maximum discretion concerning his medical treatment. Chavez had surgery four times on the island and visited the country dozens of times for chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

During one of his first convalescence periods in Havana, the Venezuelan leader still used to count the visits Castro made to see him in the hospital. “I’m here watching the game with Fidel!” Chavez wrote on his Twitter page during the Americas Cup in 2011.

Castro was also the one responsible for telling Chavez that he had cancer, in June 2011. “Life comes first for a revolutionary,” Chavez later recalled Fidel’s words. That was the day he cried in front of a mirror upon learning about his diagnosis.

Now that the cancer has finally won that battle, despite the care given by Fidel’s Cuba, it also remains to be seen how it will affect the veteran Cuban revolutionary, now 86.

(*) A Havana Times translation of the original published in Spanish from dpa news service.

6 thoughts on “Cuba: Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro’s Lost Heir

  • Grady, I agree with you for the most part. Castro took an extreme direction with his centrally controlled economy that crumbled due to inefficiency. People, workers, need to be able to make basic decisions about their work or else motivation disappears. On the other hand, Cuba is a very poor country and it needs massive amounts of capital to develop it to the point where it can stand on it’s own. Chavez, like Castro, was a military man and a horrendously bad administrator. The lesson we might all take from this is that military leaders do not often make the best government administrators. One can not run a country like a battalion of soldiers.

  • The question that seems important to me, Moses, is the origin of Fidel’s and Raul’s “mistakes”–as we are calling them. You seem to attribute these mistakes to a character flaw, to a personal lust for power.

    Having concluded this origin to be personal failings, you advocate as a solution as the political downfall of the men. This analysis, in my view, is shallow and takes on the character of a B movie, a melodrama of bad guys in power versus good guys somehow destined to remove them, and perhaps achieve a Sweden/Norway/Denmark in the Caribbean.

    Well, it just so happens that I’ve repeatedly expressed the conviction that the Cuban leadership, if they wish for their country to become self-sufficient in food production, all they have to do is follow the experience of Denmark in the late 1800s, give legal land title to small farmers and ranchers, and allow them to market their produce to satisfy market demand for whatever prices the market would bear.

    But I also point out that the Denmark farmers cooperated among themselves, in order to purchase economic inputs to their farms more cheaply, and to market their produce for higher prices. These farming families then became prosperous, Denmark became wealthy, and Denmark’s reputation for high-quality produce (ham, cheese, etc.) lasts to this day.

    Denmark is known as “the happiest place on earth” because of the leading prosperity of the small bourgeoisie, esp. the small farmers, but just as important, the spirit of cooperation and community that is imbedded in the culture.

    Fidel and Raul cannot understand this simple solution. What seems important to me is “Why not?”

    Your might say it’s because, in their lust for power . . . whatever.

    It is my view that, long ago, they bought into a bogus economic and social program of transformation called state monopoly ownership (aka Marxism).

    Because this unnatural, unworkable, asinine program needs both a cult of personality around Marx to swallow it, and to believe in the myth that it is “scientific”–although there is not a shred of science in it–Fidel and Raul, and their followers, erected a Soviet Union-type of socialism that ran okay for awhile, but ended up impoverishing Cuba and corrupting the people’s economic and social life.

    The US embargo played a role, of course, but it was not the leading role. The leading role was, and is an incorrect economic and social program that engenders massive bureaucracy and political autocracy, in order to function.

    The answer to Cuba’s problems, in my view, Moses, is an entrepreneurial and democratic form of socialism that reestablishes the historically evolved institutions of private property rights and the price-fluctuating market. (But these institutions are not a discarding of socialism, but a reestablishing of socialism’s original intent, before Engels and Marx penetrated in and perverted the entire movement for post-capitalism.)

    Coincidentally, this is also the solution to the problems of our own country. Instead of massive credit debt parasitism by monopoly banks, bank domination of the media and political process, military industrialism, corporate autocracy, unemployment, poverty, racism and earth-destroying consumerism, we, like the Cubans, could build a new and better world.

  • I may be wrong about your being motivated by ego and envy, Moses. Whether I am, or not, I apologize for saying so. I’m taking Hugo’s demise rather hard, and may have let my emotions cloud my thinking. Please look over any indiscretion in this instance, and let’s continue our political fisticuffs with principled, and somewhat amicable exchanges.

    No one is more disgusted with the asininity of Marxian socialism than me. It has all but destroyed the reputation of socialism in our country and worldwide. The formula of having the state own the land and all instruments of production is entirely erroneous; and this unnatural, unworkable, stupid system of economy has allowed even patriots like Fidel to lead his country into a blind alley.

    But you do not look at that bogus ideology and program as the font of Fidel’s errors. Instead, you attribute them to his personal character, a lust for power, and that is wrong. It’s simply wrong. Cheers.

  • Hahaha! “Clinical level of ego frustration” ‘minnow in the capitalist pond” “political nobody” “reputation envy” “dungeon of anonymity”. You’re okay by me Grady!

  • After enduring your nasty, character-assassination style of political commentary and discourse for over a year now, Moses, it appears that you suffer from an almost clinical level of ego frustration. You are a minnow in the capitalist pond; and as a political nobody, you seethe with reputation envy.

    Do you really believe that you can escape from the dungeon of anonymity by attacking the personal motivations of heroes like Fidel, Raul and Hugo?

    You cannot; and you wrong yourself by trying.

    Even so, Moses, judging by a few character traits you have exhibited, you may well awaken one day and realize that, only by joining the struggle for the socialist US Cooperative Republic, can you achieve the social esteem you so fervently desire. Time will tell.

  • Despite Chavez’ passing, I hope that Fidel lives at least another 10 years with complete awareness of his surroundings. That way, he will live long enough to witness the cessation of Venezuelan subsidies to Cuba, the subsequent implosion of the Cuban economy and the peaceful (hopefully) transition to multiparty democracy on the island. The Cuban revolution will thusly become simply an asterisk when political historians record the rise and fall of Marxist-style socialism in the world. I really don’t care if future Cubans choose another form of socialism over capitalism (this one is for you Grady). I like Sweden and Norway. Although given the nature of Cubans and their propensity to consumerism, it will likely be capitalism. I believe that Cubans will ultimately be able to vote in multiparty elections. I also hope they can someday choose between a variety of editorially independently newspapers and even host websites like Havana Times from inside of Cuba free from harassment and censorship. I hope Fidel lives long enough to witness all of this. Hopefully by that time someone will also have invented somethng to replace his bulky stoma bag and his adult diapers will likely be a lot more absorbent and comfortable.

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