Cuban state media outlet Granma published images of Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro bowing before the tomb of Fidel Castro on Wednesday, honoring the recently deceased mass murderer shortly after what would have been his 91st birthday.
Cuba is Venezuela’s closest ally and has deployed thousands of troops, spies, medical professionals, and assorted state representatives to the nation since Hugo Chávez’s socialist revolution. Some Venezuelan dissidents have estimated that tens of thousands of Cuban government operatives would have to leave Venezuela in order to properly liberate the country from the socialist regime.
Late Tuesday evening, Venezuelan news outlets began reporting that sources within the government were notified of a surprise trip by Maduro and those close to him to Cuba. According to the outlet La Patilla, which cites an anonymous government source, the trip “has as its only objective to receive new orders from Raúl Castro to attempt to control in some way a situation that long ago got away from them.”
The rumors were confirmed in the Wednesday edition of Granma. Maduro, along with “First Combatant” (his wife) Cilia Flores, visited Castro’s tomb with Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodríguez and Raúl Castro. The group observed the changing of the guard at the tomb and lay a Cuba flag and white roses—a symbol associated with Cuban poet José Martí—at Castro’s altar.
“El Comandante’s 91st birthday could not do without the tribute from the President of Venezuela, who has always been on the side of the Bolivarian Revolution,” the Granma article read. Castro’s birthday would have been on August 13.
The article goes on to mention that Raúl Castro treated Maduro to a lecture on “our history,” particularly the war of independence against Spain that culminated, with the help of the United States, in the founding of a sovereign nation in 1902.
Maduro is the only foreign state leader to visit Castro’s tomb for his birthday. He leaves his country in chaos as the nation’s anti-socialist opposition has persisted in daily protests since March, exacerbated by the creation of a fradulent legislature named the “national constitutents assembly” (ANC). Maduro created the ANC to replace the democratically-elected National Assembly, staffing it with his closest allies, including his wife and son.
This is not the first time that Maduro flees to Havana following heightened resistance from the opposition. In April, shortly after the current wave of protests began, Maduro flew to Havana for a summit of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), an international union of socialist/communist Latin American leaders created by Chávez and Castro. On that occassion, the Castro regime gave Maduro a platform to condemn the United States and accuse President Donald Trump of seeking a “coup d’etat” against him.
While Maduro does not appear scheduled to make any public remarks this time around, the latest visit highlights the close relationship between the two countries. Since the Chávez era, Venezuela has provided Cuba with free oil and largely free reign over their military, which has actively persecuted, killed, and tortured peaceful protesters. A recent study by an NGO studying Cuban government human rights violations found that as many as 4,500 active Cuban soldiers are stationed in Venezuela, along with tens of thousands of doctors “with orders to defend the tyranny with firearms.”
The study also documented the prolonged presence of three Cuban generals, 12 colonels/lieutenant colonels, six frigate captains, and 25 other military officials in Venezuela in addition to the ground troops.
Other estimates suggest an even larger Cuban presence in Venezuela. Former U.N. Security Council head Diego Arria told Breitbart News in May that he estimated 50,000 Cuban agents, including pseudo-civilians like state doctors, had established themselves in Venezuela.
Maduro has left Venezuela just as the country’s military begins exercises apparently meant to intimidate the United States in response to President Trump stating last week that Washington has military options on the table to solve the ongoing political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. In remarks on Monday, Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López stated that the exercises were necessary because “the American empire has taken off its mask to go the military route. This is no longer the typical language of democracy, human rights, and humanitarian crisis.”
Maduro himself ordered military exercises scheduled for August 26-27.