Venezuela has forged the closest ties with Cuba of any country in Latin America under President Hugo Chavez, who has called Fidel Castro a father figure. He also counts Che Guevara and independence leader Simon Bolivar among his mentors and inspiration. Venezuela has propped up the Cuban economy, especially with subsidized oil, while Cuban doctors have manned free health clinics across the poorest neighborhoods of Caracas.
But Venezuela is not Communist. Instead, Mr. Chavez, with his United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), speaks of a brand of “21st century socialism.” That includes redistributing oil wealth to the nation’s poor in the form of social programs, and more controversially nationalizing key industries, including food companies and electricity. Chavez just won another six-year term in office. He is the loudest critic of US policy in the region, and has formed alliances with other US critics, such as Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua and Rafael Correa in Ecuador.