The history of Cuba’s intervention in Venezuela, once Latin America’s richest country, was the subject of guest speaker Jon C. Jacobson as he addressed the Coronado Roundtable at its July meeting conducted by ZOOM. Jacobson, an international businessman with extensive experience in Latin America, lived and worked in Brazil and Venezuela and is fluent in Portuguese and Spanish.

Jacobson described in detail how a prosperous country, once friendly to the United States and boasting the largest proven oil reserves in the world, managed to destroy its own economy, society and political institutions in just over 20 years. The answer, he said, lies just 90 miles off the coast of Florida, in the Communist-ruled island nation of Cuba.

The speaker traced the history of the Cuban Revolution, the fall of the Fulgencio Batista regime in 1959 and the rise to power of the leader of the coup that overthrew Batista, Fidel Castro. Castro realized that he would need financial support and access to money in order to spread his communist revolution in Latin America. Venezuela, because of its oil wealth, was his primary target. With President Dwight Eisenhower’s embargo on U. S. crude shipments to Cuba, Castro first turned to the Soviet Union for oil. But U.S.-owned refineries in Cuba would not refine Soviet oil. Castro, in turn, expropriated them. The visit to Cuba in 1994 of Venezuela’s, Hugo Chavez, and his address to the Cuban congress made clear a mutual desire to spread the revolution using Venezuela’s oil wealth. This is what Castro, sitting in the audience and applauding, wanted from the start. The fact that Venezuela did not recognize the Castro regime back in 1959 was why he had first turned to the Soviet Union.

During 40 years of Venezuelan democracy, its economic fortunes had risen and fallen with the global demand for oil and its fluctuating prices. Castro courted Chavez and was a prime customer for Venezuelan crude. While demand for oil was high, so was the standard of living in Venezuela among its large middle class. At one point, Caracas, its capitol, was the most expensive city in the world, the speaker said. But all that changed under the rule of Chavez, aided by Cuban agents.

With the death of Hugo Chavez, and under his chosen successor, Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela continued to deteriorate and the wheels came off the economy, according to Jacobson. The country remains badly mismanaged. The military is pervasive throughout the government and so are Cubans. It would take billions in aid to restore the economy and its democratic institutions, he said.

In closing, the speaker recalled a chance meeting with the late Vice-Admiral Ed Martin, longtime Coronado resident and former Roundtable Board Member. Jacobson asked him what the worst experience in his long and distinguished naval career was. He replied that it was being tortured by Cubans while a POW in Vietnam. The speaker ended by recalling the words of Ronald Reagan who said that it only takes one generation for a democracy to become extinct.

Jacobson graduated from the University of California with a B.A. in Business Economics and earned an MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management. He was introduced by Roundtable President Kirk Henry who presided. The Coronado Roundtable presents prominent speakers on a variety of topics at its monthly meetings on the fourth Friday of every month except December. Meetings begin at 10 a.m. Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, meetings are currently being conducted by ZOOM. We look forward to being able to return to our regular location in the Winn Room of the Coronado Library.

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