In Latin America, Not Everyone Is Thrilled With The U.S.-Cuba Thaw : Parallels Cuba and Venezuela are close allies that often seemed to speak with a single voice when it came to bashing the U.S. But now they may be out of sync.
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In Latin America, Not Everyone Is Thrilled With The U.S.-Cuba Thaw

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In Latin America, Not Everyone Is Thrilled With The U.S.-Cuba Thaw

In Latin America, Not Everyone Is Thrilled With The U.S.-Cuba Thaw

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Latin American governments have long viewed the standoff between Cuba and the U.S. as a kind of David and Goliath story. So from Mexico to Argentina, leaders are rejoicing that the two nations intend to normalize relations. But as John Otis reports, it could prove awkward for oil-rich Venezuela, Cuba's closest ally.

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: In public, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is praising the rapprochement between the United States and Cuba.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED SPEECH)

PRESIDENT NICOLAS MADURO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: I am very happy, Maduro said in a speech Wednesday. We must recognize this valiant and historically necessary gesture by President Barack Obama. But many analysts believe that in private, Maduro is not so pleased. That's because Venezuela and Cuba have long acted in unison in opposing Washington while forging their own close political ties. Maduro's predecessor, the socialist firebrand Hugo Chavez, greatly admired former Cuban president, Fidel Castro. To help Cuba overcome its economic crisis following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Chavez began sending subsidized oil to the Castro government. Those shipments now make up 60 percent of Cuba's oil supply. In exchange, Cuba provides Venezuela with thousands of doctors and teachers as well as military advisers. Meanwhile, Venezuela has copied many elements of Cuba's authoritarian political model and has often gone even farther in denouncing the United States as an imperialist bully.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED SPEECH)

HUGO CHAVEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: In this infamous 2006 speech at the U.N., Chavez called President George W. Bush the devil. Although Washington and Caracas have not fully cut diplomatic relations, they expelled each other's ambassadors 2010.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED SPEECH)

CHAVEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in Spanish).

OTIS: Chavez died of cancer last year. And since then, Maduro has taken up his anti-American banner. On Monday, Maduro led a march through Caracas to denounce U.S. sanctions against Venezuelan officials for human rights abuses.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in Spanish).

OTIS: It's been a tough year for Maduro. He's faced massive antigovernment protests and is now dealing with plummeting oil prices, high inflation and food shortages. But instead of examining his own policies, Maduro blames Washington for carrying out what he calls an economic war against Venezuela.

ROCIO SAN MIGUEL: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Caracas political analyst Rocio San Miguel says such rhetoric helps Maduro deflect criticism and unify his ruling Socialist Party. But she says Cuba's more pragmatic approach towards the United States could undercut Maduro's hard-line position. Cuba has been working with Washington on immigration and maritime security, and analysts say that cooperation helped pave the way for Wednesday 's announcement.

CARLOS ROMERO: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: For Caracas, this is a slap in the face from Havana because it exposes Maduro as radical and infantile and for pursuing an ideological foreign policy, says Carlos Romero, a political science professor at the Central University of Venezuela.

HAROLD TRINKUNAS: On the rhetorical level, it's going to mean that Cuba and Venezuela would get out of sync.

OTIS: Harold Trinkunas is a Latin American expert at the Brookings Institution. He says Cuba learned its lesson after becoming overly dependent on the Soviet Union during the Cold War. With Venezuela's economy now faltering, he says Cuba is trying to diversify by looking north.

TRINKUNAS: Cuba increasingly is going to focus on that relationship with the United States or at least not want to damage progress on that by echoing what Venezuela is saying.

OTIS: Over the years, Venezuela has followed Cuba's lead on a broad range of economic and political issues. But at least for now, warming up to the United States does not appear to be one of them. For NPR News, I'm John Otis.

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