Over the last decade, Venezuela and Cuba have strengthened relations and become close regional allies. Following the election of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez in 1999, the two nations boosted trade and worked together to denounce American capitalism and gain influence in Latin America. The two nations share military intelligence, financial resources, and information technology. In addition, Venezuela exchanges subsidized oil supplies for Cuban doctors, teachers, sports trainers, and military advisors. 

Venezuela is currently struggling in the wake of failed economic reforms and soaring inflation. Under the grip of President Nicolás Maduro, elected after Chávez’s death in 2013, the nation has been accused of numerous human rights abuses. Given Venezuela's adoption of socialism, harsh tactics against dissidents, and flailing economy, many have wondered if the nation is on the path to becoming the next Cuba.

The Key Similarities

  • Venezuela’s former president Hugo Chávez long admired former Cuban President Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution that eliminated capitalism on the island and ushered in communist rule. Chavez’s dream of pushing Venezuela toward a complete "socialist" model is shared by Maduro. Venezuela has become the primary source of opposition against the United States in South America. Under the leadership of the late Chávez and now Maduro, Caracas has publicly condemned American capitalism and its influence on the region, blaming the nation's economic woes on US interference. Such opposition is reminiscent of scorn ushered against the US government by the Castro regime since its revolution in the 1950s. 
  • Cuba and Venezuela have long faced dissident movements against their leadership. Both Havana and Caracas have responded with brutal crackdowns against opponents, including imprisonment of students and journalists. During the Black Spring of 2003, the Castro regime jailed 75 people, including 29 journalists. Recently, harsh tactics by the Venezuelan government have resulted in the deaths of protestors. In February 2015, the Maduro regime arrested the opposition mayor of Caracas Antonio Ledezma and charged him with conspiracy to overthrow the government, a crime punishable of eight to 16 years in prison. Ledezma is currently sitting in a military prison where many other prominent government opponents have been held.
  • Like Cuba, Venezuela is facing a significant shortage in basic goods for consumers. Recent reports indicate that the nation is running out of toilet paper. And like Cuban officials, Venezuela's leadership blames the results of its failed economic policies on outside influences, primarily the United States. Inflation in Venezuela is running at about 60% today, and its economy is teetering on recession. But Maduro blames the US for employing an "economic war" against Venezuela. That blame is reminiscent of Cuban leaders who have argued that the island’s poverty is the result of the US embargo and not of the failed domestic economic policies.

The Key Differences

  • Venezuela is one of the world's largest oil exporters and holds some of the largest oil reserves in the world. A member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, it holds influence in the global markets and remains a significant exporter of crude oil to the United States. Despite strained relations, the US is Venezuela's largest trading partner, a source of machinery, agricultural products, medical instruments, and motor vehicles. Until recently, Cuba and the United States had no formal trade for more than 50 years. That is changing, however. (For related reading, see: Not All Oil Economies are Created Equal.)
  • Cuba's economy, meanwhile, relies heavily of remittances from families in the United States. It has long relied on Venezuelan oil subsidies. But due to falling oil prices in recent months, Venezuela's social budget is significantly strained and Havana is seeking alternatives to ensure the continuity of its government. The US has begun a process of seeking to normalize relations between Havana and Washington. While Cuba is seeking ways to keep its economy afloat through more open relations with the US, Caracas is taking measures that are making Washington rethink the presence of its embassy in Venezuela, including the expulsion of US diplomats from the country in 2013 and 2014.

The Bottom Line

Venezuela is currently experiencing a wave of protests due to economic calamity, severe shortages of basic goods, and rampant inflation. However, the Caracas government continues to maintain a hardline stance, embracing socialism and continually blaming the United States and other capitalist forces for its mismanagement. Its current crackdown on dissidents is similar to those endured in Cuba over the past 50 years. Although there are many similarities between Cuba and Venezuela, the latter's role in the global energy markets and its trade relationship with the United States make it significantly different than the nation run by the Castro brothers. 

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