We may have a new crisis brewing right outside our back door.
Americans, aside from a few dunderheads on the far left, don't think much of Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela. He oppresses his own people and demonizes America at every turn, and if he dies from his current illness few of us will mourn him.
While he claims to be "Bolivarian," whatever that means, and has some ditsy Venezuelans believing he's the reincarnation of Simon Bolivar, in truth he's just another tinhorn leftist dictator.
With all the things we have to worry about today -- Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, violence spilling across our southern border, a deeply wounded economy, a looming debt ceiling, and dysfunctional government at all levels -- most Americans aren't paying a lot of attention to anything happening south of Mexico.
It's time for us to start worrying a bit more about what may happen if Hugo Chavez dies. I've read a limited amount of commentary on what it might mean for Venezuela, and it may involve at least a short-term disaster of political chaos and bloodshed. What I haven't heard much talk about are the implications for Cuba and, by extension, the U.S.
The fact is, Venezuela provides Cuba with most of its oil at cut rates, and that helps the failed regime keep the lights on and their almost non-existent economy stumbling along. Venezuela is also helping Cuba try to develop their own oil industry, to include off-shore drilling. All things considered, Venezuela provides Cuba with an income of about six billion dollars a year, which is their single largest source of money.
So if Chavez dies and isn't immediately succeeded by some strong leader who is equally well-disposed to prop up Cuba, what happens? More unrest, less stability, and new hordes of refugees arriving in leaky boats in Florida? Southern Florida is already overburdened with Cuban refugees, with lots of not particularly positive political and economic results not just for Florida but for all of us.
Here's a good article that describes the situation in detail. It says in part:
"Hopefully, nothing will happen to him. Without Chavez, things in Cuba would get extremely rough again like before. We would be back to blackouts," said Elisa Castellanos, a 68-year-old housewife.
'Before' refers to the period before Chavez was first elected president in 1999. His arrival to power meant that post-Cold War communist Cuba, politically adrift and its economy in tatters after losing the East bloc support it depended on for three decades, got a new lease on life.
The lease has lasted a decade; now Chavez's mortality potentially could be its demise.
Venezuela became isolated Cuba's main political ally -- supporting and helping fund regional economic and media initiatives -- and its main economic partner and underpinning.
Those Americans who are watching the unfolding drama of Chavez's ill health and thinking "good riddance" at the prospect of his demise should think again. And those many other Americans who can't find Venezuela (or even Cuba) on a map should get their heads out of the sand.
(This article was also published at Opinion Forum.)