Lessons from the Cuban snow job

Not the way to go about it
Not the way to go about it

It is too soon to tell just what the recent détente between the US and Cuba will produce, but there are already a few lessons the folks currently governing in Caracas can take from it.

The first is that the announcement creates the first real gap between Caracas and Havana in years.

As Quico rightly pointed out yesterday, Caracas does nothing without consulting Havana first. The Cubans are involved in every major policy decision that Venezuela makes. The two counrties are so in sync that they are occasionally thought of as one.

But after eighteen months of secret negotiations that Venezuela was not privvy to, it’s clear that this is an unbalanced relationship.

An element of trust between the two governing cliques has been broken, and it may take a while to repair. And even though the elites kiss and make up, the people down below – the bureaucrats, the operatives, the middle-ranking officers in the Armed Forces – may end up being a tad more suspicious about the earnestness of their Cuban handlers. The opposition needs to exploit this.

Another point that Venezuelans need to learn is that high-stakes diplomacy happens in the shadows.

Cuba did not announce to the world that it was meeting with the US. Pope Francis did not tweet about the secret meetings in the Vatican, and Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird was not parading the delegations around Ottawa. Talks were held … in private, away from the psychotic masses and the absurd rallies. No bluster, no huffing and puffing, just … talking. That’s how you get things done in serious circles. That is something chavistas are simply incapable of doing.

A final lesson is that if Venezuela really wishes to get on Washington’s good graces, it will have to make some concessions, just like the Cubans did.

There are scores of political prisoners in Venezuela, including Leopoldo López, perhaps the continent’s most prominent prisoner of conscience. Unless Caracas is willing to show some generosity and free these folks, talks to improve relations will remain one-sided, no matter how many insulting, deceitful op-eds Diosdado Cabello’s English-speaking mistress writes for the New York Times.

The US-Cuba agreement was a watershed moment for the continent. It is the result of months of high-stakes diplomacy played by skilled professionals.

That doesn’t seem like a game that our ill-prepared leaders are capable of playing.