In April 2009, US President Barack Obama had perceived positive signs from Cuba and Venezuela. At the time when Hugo Chavez was alive and President of Venezuela, Obama had believed “that the signals sent so far provided at least an opportunity for frank dialogue on a range of issues, including critical issues of democracy and human rights throughout the hemisphere.” 6 years later, the Obama administration has committed to charting a “new course” in relations with Cuba and President Obama himself has met with his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro during the April 2015 Summit of the Americas in Panama City. The historical handshake of the two leaders will likely be seen someday as the very first symbolic stage of the normalization process between the two countries since the US embargo on Cuba has been extended in 1962. If the signal has reached Cuba’s shores, it seems it has never been received by Venezuela.
The death by cancer of President Chavez in March 2013 was denounced by his successor Nicolas Maduro as an “assassination” which would have been part of an alleged US intelligence plot with a view to killing the Americas’ so-called hostile leaders. Maduro’s assertion quickly rejected as “absurd” by the US government (USG) made Maduro’s symphony of acrimony with the Obama administration start on a false note. Quite the world upside down to see Cuba, Venezuela’s main ally and top trading partner, has come closer than ever to reconcile with the US whereas its decades-long leader Fidel Castro has himself and so long allegedly been a high value target (HVT) for the USG. As confidential diplomatic efforts intensified between the USG and Cuba, so did the diplomatic imbroglio between the USG and Venezuela. Maduro has described the recent demonstrations that killed around 50 people in Venezuela as the continuation of long-term destabilization efforts carried out by the USG and clandestine assets inside the country, perhaps even a preparation stage for a coup if not an invasion according to some Venezuelan officials.
Meanwhile, the Venezuelan opposition stressed Maduro has been the problem all along, further highlighting the absence of political unity, spontaneous or forced, in the Bolivarian nation. As a result, President Obama renewed the national emergency executive order with respect to Venezuela, considered as an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States”, this way completely switching off for Venezuela the signal Cuba has received loud and clear. Raul Castro has thus found himself caught in the middle between his longtime but at risk of financial default ally and better hopes through a new course in relations with the US. Raul opted for the latter in apparent contradiction with his brother Fidel, still a strong supporter of Maduro.
From a strict contextual analysis, one could wonder to what extent the positive environment created so far between the US and Cuba has resulted from strong commitment on behalf of the two parties or somehow from Cuba’s higher ability to prevent Venezuela-like demonstrations from taking place on its soil, and thus giving the diplomatic efforts a higher chance of success. Not to mention Cuba’s greater importance in US domestic politics compared to Venezuela. Therefore, according to Obama, a same signal has apparently been sent to both Cuba and Venezuela. But for different reasons and circumstances, the former turned it into a potential for historic change while the latter either never received it or blocked it.