The election of Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles would have brought cutbacks, if not an eventual end, to the economic relationship with Cuba that has been so beneficial to Cuba and has made Venezuela a bulwark of Cuba’s energy security.
But it was close but no cigar for Capriles. With Nicolas Maduro winning the presidency by a small margin, Cuba breathes a sigh of relief. Raul Castro sent his congratulations, using a politician’s poetic license to call it a “transcendental victory.”
It’s an important victory in that chavismo lives on without Chavez. Maduro will emerge from his celebration to face tough challenges in domestic policy, and his slim victory margin now adds a bundle of political challenges. Capriles has refused to accept the result, he has called for a recount, and protests have begun. Inside his own movement, Maduro will naturally face questions about why he almost blew it, and whether he is the best horse to ride for the long term.
So Cuba’s sense of relief is surely colored by concern. The current economic reform program, to the disappointment of many, is not a crash program designed by a government that perceives an immediate emergency. Rather, it is based on a need to make strategic adjustments so that Cuba’s economy, social project, and political system will function in a new historical era. Call it historical urgency, perhaps accentuated by Sunday’s near-miss in Caracas.