Cuban-American leaders say the violent crackdown by the Venezuelan strongman, President Nicolas Maduro is being orchestrated from Havana.
They tell Newsmax that Cuban dictators Raul and Fidel Castro are desperate to avert a disruption in the massive shipments of oil that their destitute nation receives daily as a gift from their socialist comrades in Venezuela. The value of the more than 100,000 barrels a day Havana receives has been estimated at over $5 billion annually.
On Thursday, former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela Otto Reich told "America’s Forum" host John Bachman in an exclusive Newsmax TV interview that the unrest in Venezuela "absolutely" can spread to Cuba, if those vital oil subsidies are interrupted.
"The person who agrees with you, the two persons, are named Fidel and Raul Castro," said Reich, a Cuban-American. "The Cuban economy today is being kept afloat by Venezuelan subsidies of free oil."
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The protests against Maduro’s government escalated again Thursday, after opposition leader Leopoldo López turned himself in to authorities. He is being held in the Ramo Verde jail in Caracas. On Thursday, his wife tweeted the message: "Change depends on every one of us. Don’t give up!"
The social unrest was so intense Thursday that Reuters reports some residents have described the Venezuelan city of San Cristobal as a "war zone.""
The country was shocked by the shooting death of 22-year-old student Genesis Carmona. She was struck down by a bullet in the head during a protest in the city of Valencia.
The links between Cuba and Venezuela are wide ranging. By some estimates, as many as 50,000 Cubans live and work in Venezuela.
Many of them are doctors, nurses, and teachers. The Castros ostensibly offer their services in exchange for the oil their country so desperately needs.
But Cuban-American author and commentator Humberto Fontova tells Newsmax that at least half of the Cubans in Venezuela are "intelligence and police specialists who were trained by the KGB."
He adds the Cuban regime is trying to tamp down the protests to ensure its oils supplies are protected.
"Essentially, they will not be able to survive without those subsidies," Fontova tells Newsmax.
Asked how much control he thinks the Castro brothers have over the Maduro government, Fontova replied "I think it’s total."
Fontova has written several books on Cuba, including "The Longest Romance: The Mainstream Media and Fidel Castro."
Regarding Maduro’s relationship with the Castros, he said: "[Opposition leader] Leopoldo López obviously knows a lot more about that than I do. And the day before he surrendered to authorities he said, 'Come grab me Maduro. Are you afraid to arrest me? Or are you waiting for your orders from Havana?'"
Even if the oil spigot from Venezuela to Cuba shut off tomorrow, Fontova says, it would probably still take a couple years for Cuban society to deteriorate to the point where the stability of the regime would be threatened.
He blames President Obama’s loosening of travel and other restrictions for propping up Castro’s Cuba. The policies allow an estimated $4 billion a year to flow into its economy, he says.
According to Fontova, 500,000 visitors traveled from the United States to Cuba last year. Only about 200,000 Americans visited the island each year in the 1950s before Castro took over, he said.
Cuba’s economy has continued to decay ever since Fidel Castro took power. In January, the Heritage Index of Economic Freedom ranked Cuba just one spot away from a dead last ranking for countries with the least liberty.
The only country worse for freedom, Heritage reported, was North Korea. Venezuela wasn’t much better, ranking just four slots from the bottom.
Fontova and other Cuban-Americans want to see the administration take advantage of the unrest in Venezuela to tighten the screws. U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla, is calling on President Obama to reduce oil imports from Venezuela by at least 10 percent.
"President Obama has already loop-holed the so-called embargo half to death," he said. Because of that flow of U.S. dollars, a complete economic collapse "would be a long-term thing."
"It might take a couple of years," he tells Newsmax. "It pains me to say that.… They’re still getting that gigantic lifeline from the U.S. in the form of remittances."
told Newsmax’s Bachman on Thursday that the Obama administration is not being as assertive with Venezuela as it has been in the Ukraine, where protests unrelated to those in Venezuela continue to rage.
"It's a shame that that same statement is not being made to help the peaceful student protesters in Venezuela where they have also taken to the streets and they are unarmed and the police and the Cuban forces, with the Venezuelan forces, are beating them," said Ros-Lehtinen.
Fontova adds that Maduro is "undoubtedly" a puppet of the Castro regime.
"I don’t think they want to make [Leopoldo López] a martyr," he said. "I think what they want to do is keep this thing quiet and just kind of muddle it through. Because any major disruption would disrupt that flow of oil."
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