Trump’s Economic War on Venezuela Is Also an Economic War on Cuba

The Trump administration’s economic war against Venezuela, which has exacerbated a massive humanitarian crisis in the country, is causing significant harm to Cuba, largely as a result of the decreased economic assistance that Cuba receives from Venezuela.

Since the early 2000s, Venezuela has provided Cuba with subsidized oil, helping the small island nation circumvent a crippling U.S. embargo that keeps the country isolated from the global economy. Venezuela’s program of economic assistance has played a major role in helping Cuba fulfill its energy needs and grow its economy.

“The Maduro regime sends up to 50,000 barrels of oil to Cuba per day, and Cuba needs this cheap Venezuelan energy to prop up its tottering socialist economy,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said earlier this year.

Although Venezuelan oil shipments have continued, they are down by nearly half from a few years ago, when the Venezuelan government shipped about 100,000 barrels to Cuba every day. With the Trump administration sanctioning the Venezuelan oil industry and Venezuelan shipping companies, oil shipments could decrease further, sparking an economic crisis in Cuba.

“Reduced oil imports from Venezuela already have negatively affected the Cuban economy; the curtailment of all Venezuelan oil imports would be a severe blow,” the Congressional Research Service reports.

Officials in the Trump administration assert that its sanctions are meant to pressure the Cuban government into ending its support of embattled Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, but the administration is also using the sanctions to weaken Cuba, a target of the U.S. government since the Cuban Revolution.

“The twilight hour of socialism has arrived in our hemisphere,” President Trump announced earlier this year. “The days of socialism and communism are numbered not only in Venezuela, but in Nicaragua and in Cuba as well.”

The last time Cuba faced such a significant economic challenge came in the 1990s during the country’s “Special Period.” At that time, Cuba experienced a dramatic economic decline that was triggered by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of Soviet assistance. From 1990 to 1993, Cuban GDP fell by 35%.

Although the Special Period was a time of tremendous hardship for the Cuban people, U.S. officials have wondered how to recreate it, viewing it as a required condition for an uprising against the Cuban government. When the Cuban economy was slowing in early 2009, U.S. diplomats in Cuba wrote a lengthy report to the State Department titled “How Might Cuba Enter Another Special Period?”

To some extent, the diplomats were unsure. One of their main points was that the Cuban government had diversified its trading relationships since the 1990s, leaving it less dependent on the support of any single country. “The reality is that Cuba and Cubans are not as vulnerable as they were in 1989 before the end of Soviet subsidies,” the diplomats noted.

At the same time, the diplomats felt that a rupture in economic ties between Cuba and Venezuela could spark another crisis. “A potential loss of even partial support for the many activities Venezuelan enterprises are now involved in would severely impact several facets of the Cuban economy,” the diplomats wrote. A decline in oil shipments “could bring the economy to a halt.”

When the U.S. diplomats discussed the matter with their international counterparts in early 2010, they found that their colleagues agreed that the fate of Cuba largely hinged on Venezuela. “All our colleagues agreed that Venezuela is the most important and ‘increasingly complicated’ foreign variable,” the U.S. diplomats explained.

Now that the Venezuelan economy has collapsed, it appears that Cuba could be heading for another Special Period. Despite the fact that Cuba has maintained multiple trading relationships in the face of the crippling U.S. embargo, the collapse of the Venezuelan economy and additional U.S. sanctions on Cuba are starting to take their toll.

“The Cuban economy is being hard-hit by the increase in U.S. sanctions and by Venezuela’s economic crisis,” Mark P. Sullivan of the Congressional Research Service reported last month.

As long as the Trump administration continues its economic war against Venezuela, it will not only continue harming the people of Venezuela, but it will also create more hardships for Cubans, making it increasingly difficult for them to acquire the goods that they need to survive.

Edward Hunt writes about war and empire. He has a PhD in American Studies from the College of William & Mary.