Cuba & Venezuela
Wed December 26, 2012
2012: The Year of What Didn't Happen In Latin America
2012 may be remembered in Latin American for what didn't happen more than for what actually did, especially in Venezuela and Cuba.
The year began ominously for Venezuelan nationals living in South Florida. The U.S. State Department expelled the country's consul-general, alleging she was involved in a cyber-terrorism plot. In January, Venezuela's Miami consulate was shut down by President Hugo Chavez, who was facing a tough reelection campaign.
The consulate's closure left 20,000 Venezuelans living in Florida and registered to vote in their home country, with no place to cast ballots. Permission was later given for them to vote in New Orleans, the nearest possible U.S. city with a Venezuelan consulate. On election day, Oct. 6, an estimated 8,000 of them trekked to the Big Easy. It was reported that all but two of them voted for opposition candidate Henrique Capriles.
That, though, would prove far from enough. Chavez was not removed by voters in Venezuela as many stateside had hoped. But, despite his reelection, the once-energetic and grandiose leader is hardly the man he used to be, fighting an undisclosed form of cancer. As 2012 comes to a close, Chavez was in Cuba being treated for his illness, and many doubt he'll survive long enough to fill out his term, let alone attend his own inauguration on Jan. 10.
No country is more interested in Chavez's health and Venezuela's future than Cuba. At the president's behest, Cuba receives an estimated $10 billion annually in aid in the form of oil from Venezuela's vast reserves.
But while things may be on the precipice of change in Caracas, Havana remains frozen in time. Even Pope Benedict XVI's visit in March did nothing to produce a "Cuban Spring", as many had hoped, including Miami's Archbishop Thomas Wenski, who accompanied the Pope on his pilgrimage to Cuba.
Despite continuous rumors of his demise, 86-year-old former president Fidel Castro remains alive -- if not kicking -- outliving many of the enemies he chased from the country more than five decades ago, and vexing those who've survived.
If 2012 was any different, it was only that the inaccurate reports of his death increased in frequency.
Meanwhile, Fidel's younger brother did not cede power. 81-year-old Raul Castro remains president, a role he inherited in 2008. He has instituted light economic reforms, including allowing some Cubans to own businesses. But the 50-year-old U.S. embargo on Cuba remains intact, crippling the country's economy.
Despite early overtures by the Obama Administration to ease travel and remittance requirements, there is no hope on the horizon for continued progress in relations due to the imprisonment of American contractor and accused spy Alan Gross, who spent his third year behind bars in Cuba, preventing any meaningful discussions between the two countries.