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For Venezuela, influence comes in the form of oil. The country is Latin America's biggest oil producer, and it provides cheap oil at favorable rates to Caribbean neighbors, like Cuba. But low oil prices and now a troubled economy are forcing Venezuela to scale back. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.
JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: For the past decade, countries such as Belize, Haiti, Jamaica and others depended on discounted oil prices from Venezuela to help balance their budgets and finance schools, social programs and small businesses and farms. It was part of a program called Petrocaribe. It was created by late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, says Michael Shifter with the Inter-American Dialogue.
MICHAEL SHIFTER: This was part of his broader strategy to extend his influence, to consolidate support and also to curtail the influence of the United States in the region, and he really achieved it. When oil prices were high, it worked very well.
NORTHAM: But Venezuela's economy, which depends heavily on oil exports, has been hit hard by the tumbling oil prices. Shifter says it's no surprise Venezuela has trimmed subsidies by about half for most countries.
SHIFTER: Venezuela is in desperate straits, and now with slumping oil prices, they needed cash desperately. So they just couldn't sustain this. It was impossible.
NORTHAM: Even Cuba, the closest aligned ideologically to Venezuela, is seeing cuts to its subsidies. Shifter says Cuba paid for its oil by sending doctors and teachers to Venezuela. Jackie Northam, NPR News.
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