Will Chavez’s death hasten Castro regime’s demise?

Michael Mayo in the Sun-Sentinel:

Will Chavez’s death hasten Castro regime’s demise?

As Cuba and Venezuela’s despots bonded like father-son, South Florida exile communities became siblings in resentment

Mourning Venezuelans parade Chavez's coffin, prepare for voteHasta la vista, Chavez.

Fidel, what’s taking so long?

They were friends and ideological comrades, partners who propped each other up and provocateurs who loved poking a stick at the United States.

And just as Fidel Castro and Chavez bonded like father and son over the past decade, South Florida’s Cuban and Venezuelan expatriate communities bonded like siblings, stewing in resentment over autocratic leaders they perceived as ruining their homelands.

There are more Cubans (900,000) in South Florida than Venezuelans (about 70,000). This week’s events provided a miniature preview of what we can expect when Fidel dies. Some marked Chavez’s passing with music, cheers and drinks — not so much a celebration of death (they say) as a hope for better days ahead.

“Chavez was bad, what else can you say?” said Omar Lopez, human rights director of the Miami-based Cuban American National Foundation . “But there’s not going to be a magical solution for either country. It’s not a matter of just one or two leaders dying off, but changing systems that have been put in place. Change has to come from the people.”

“It really is astounding that both Castros — Fidel and Raul — outsurvived Chavez,” said Guillermo Lousteau, a Florida International University professor who heads the Inter-American Institute of Democracy.

Chavez, whose death from cancer was announced this week, was 58. Chavez held power as Venezuela’s president for 14 years, but spent many of his final months in Cuba, getting medical treatment from Castro’s doctors.

Fidel is 86, and his health has been fragile since he ceded power to Raul, 81, in July 2006. But the resilience of the Castro brothers — and Cuba’s half-century-old communist regime — has been vexing to those who fled the island and relocated to South Florida.

Similarly, Chavez’s socialistic reign in oil-rich Venezuela antagonized the middle and upper classes who lost property, prosperity and security under his watch. Many flocked to South Florida. They are keenly aware that Venezuela now faces turbulent times.

But Chavez’s death might be felt more keenly in Cuba.

“Cuba will face big problems with its economy, even more than Venezuela,” Lousteau said.

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