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Death of Chavez will spur reforms in Cuba: dissident

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Cuba could be forced to step up its reforms following the death of its main ally, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, the most famous Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez said Friday.

Venezuela's new government "may cut the generous subsidy which Cuba gets from Venezuela which would push the Castro regime to open up to the outside," Sanchez told AFP by telephone from the northern Spanish city of Burgos, where she is taking part in a conference on social networks.

"That would push Raul Castro to make more reforms of greater depth in the economic sphere, allow more investment from foreigners and exiles and allow even more people to be self-employed," she said of Cuba's current leader.

"That would lead the island to open up more, since at the end of the day it would imply a greater democratic opening," added Sanchez, who often criticises the Cuban government in her prize-winning "Generation Y" blog, named after her first initial.

Venezuela's leftist leader, who died at the age of 58 on Tuesday, gave generously to Cuba over the years, supplying the communist-ruled island with billions of dollars' worth of low-cost oil from its vast reserves and paying royally for medical services.

Chavez came to Cuba's rescue at a point when the communist-run island was in deep crisis after economic support that Havana had received as a client state of the now-defunct Soviet Union dried up a decade-and-a-half ago.

Moscow had been the financial mainstay of the island since Fidel Castro came to power in 1959. Fidel's brother Raul Castro, 81, became president of Cuba in 2008.

Havana imports 100,000 barrels of oil a day from Venezuela, on very favourable terms. Cuba for its part sends some 40,000 trained medical personnel to Venezuela.

The sale of medical and other services, mostly to Venezuela, was the main source of foreign exchange for Cuba, reaping some $6 billion dollars a year.

Fidel Castro, 86, was a mentor to Chavez and the cooperation between the two countries had been fueled by the close personal ties between the two men.

"One of the main weaknesses of such personal models of aid is that once the person is gone it can't survive," said Sanchez, a 37-year-old philologist who found an international audience with her blog which contains biting commentary on the challenges of everyday life in Cuba.

Sanchez, named by Time magazine as one of the world's 100 most influential people in 2008, was also critical of Chavez´s legacy.

"While he provided the poor with more resources and opportunities, this came at a cost of freedom, media censorship, the polarisation of the political debate and an ideological confrontation of a society that is very damaged," she said.

Sanchez was in Spain as part of a three month foreign tour of Latin America, Europe and the United States which she embarked on last month.

She was able to make the trip after Cuba issued a reform in October that allows its citizens to travel abroad for the first time without a reviled and costly exit visa, and which also gave Sanchez her long sought-for permission to travel.

She said the reforms which the Cuban government has put in place since Raul Castro assumed the presidency are "desperate measures" by a system that is "in a terminal phase, which can't fend for itself economically and whose historic leaders are in their last years of life."

Sanchez urged the Spanish government "not to believe too much in the siren call of the reforms which, although they have made some room for economic flexibility, they have not made any moves to allow Cubans to recover our freedom."

She also called for an "independent international investigation" into a car crash that killed dissident Oswaldo Paya in Cuba last year.

The driver of the car, Angel Carromero, a leader of the youth wing of Spain´s ruling conservative Popular Party, said the crash was caused when the car was hit by another in an interview published Wednesday in the Washington Post.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130308/death-chavez-will-spur-reforms-cuba-dissident