Check Out That Cuban!

The latest complaint among the Venezuelan opposition to President Hugo Chávez revolves around his decision to bring Cuban Minister of Information Technology and Communications Ramiro Valdés to Venezuela to help rectify the current electrical crisis, intensified by diminishing water levels at the country’s primary hydroelectric dam. According to a front-page warning in a recent edition of Venezuelan opposition daily El Nacional, “electrical experts and Cubans in exile” have come to the conclusion that Valdés does not possess the requisite skills to evaluate electrical crises and that his expertise is instead in internet censorship; no conclusion is offered as to how Cubans in exile spontaneously acquire expertise in whatever subject is currently being used to discredit the Castro regime.

A gentleman I spoke with at the February 4 opposition march at Plaza Brión de Chacaíto in Caracas had a different perception of Valdés’ qualifications and informed me that the minister’s only expertise was in assassinations, honed during the Cuban Revolution. As for more recent examples of political changes of direction that had involved assassinations, the gentleman qualified last summer’s coup in Honduras as magnífico and entirely democratic; he stressed that these labels did not apply to the thwarted coup of February 4, 1992, the anniversary of which was being celebrated at the pro-Chávez rally nearby—with superior levels of attendance, music, and the color red.

The failed coup was conducted by then-Lieutenant Colonel Chávez and other officers against the government of Carlos Andrés Pérez, which had during the “Caracazo” of 1989 massacred somewhere between several hundred and several thousand opponents of Venezuelan obsequiousness vis-à-vis the International Monetary Fund. The idea that the realm of killing belongs exclusively to Ramiro Valdés of Cuba is nonetheless being fueled by the likes of Roger Noriega, former U.S. diplomat and current managing director of Visión Américas LLC, who in a February 5 article entitled “Hugo Chávez, Desperate and Dangerous” claims that “Valdes’ sinister task is to help Chávez beat back any challenges to his authority from inside his regime as he tries to crush resistance from the streets.”

Noriega explains that inviting Valdés to assess the electricity shortage in Venezuela is somewhat equivalent to inviting Jack Kevorkian to manage a hospice. The former diplomat had also resorted to analogies in a July 2009 Forbes article in order to exonerate the Honduran military for expatriating the nation’s elected president:

“If a traffic cop roughs up a drunk driver at the scene of an injury accident, I doubt anyone would argue the importance of getting the drunk back behind the wheel as the best way to chastise the policeman.”

It is not clear whether Noriega’s perceived parallel between drunk driving accidents and presidential attempts at a more equitable distribution of national wealth is what prompted the Honduran Association of Maquiladoras to then retain the pro-coup lobbying services of Visión Américas LLC; also not clear is how Noriega’s diplomatic expertise—which includes favorable relations with Nicaraguan paramilitaries in the 1980s—compares with Kevorkian’s hospice-management capabilities.

As for favorable relations between other countries, Noriega refrains from outlining the origins of his mathematical expertise in calculating that “[t]ens of thousands of Castro’s finest form a shadow government in Venezuela today.” Prospects for shadows may increase once Valdés suggests candles as the antidote to the electricity shortage, thereby validating the claim by Venezuelan opposition media that a country that suffers constant blackouts cannot solve electrical problems; not addressed by said media is how that same country can suffer pharmaceutical shortages but nonetheless export doctors worldwide.

In addition to explaining that Ramiro Valdés is not the only person being imported to assess the Venezuelan electrical situation and that there are Argentine and Brazilian contingents, as well—plus offers of help from U.S., among a handful of other countries—Venezuelan Energy Minister Alí Rodríguez has argued that the Cubans’ history of electrical difficulties is precisely what has endowed them with expertise in the area of energy efficiency. Opposition mayor of Caracas Antonio Ledezma has remained unconvinced, however, and is quoted in today’s El Nacional as saying that Valdés, “far from knowing anything about electrical matters… is more of a specialist in electrocuting people whose opinions differ from those of the regime.” That explains the born-outs and powercuts!

BELÉN FERNANDEZ’s book Coffee with Hezbollah, just released by New World Digital, Inc., can be ordered at or on

Belén Fernández is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso, and Martyrs Never Die: Travels through South Lebanon.