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How the death of Hugo Chavez could affect Cuba

Franklin Reyes
AP Images

World leaders from five continents gathered in Caracas on Friday to pay their last respects for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The Venezuelan leader held the country's presidency from 1999 until his death earlier this week.

But the country most affected by life without Chavez may be Cuba, where the communist government declared three days of mourning and held a memorial service on Thursday. Venezuela's generosity under Chavez helped Cuba survive economically after the collapse of its longtime benefactor, the Soviet Union. And doctors in Cuba helped Chavez survive the cancer that eventually killed him. 

Marc Frank is an economic correspondent for Reuters based in Havana. He has been filing dispatches on this topic and spoke to Global Journalist by telephone from Cuba.

On the mood in Cuba

Today we have probably hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of Cubans lining up around the country, including here in Havana, to pay their last respects to Chavez. The mood is one of obvious shock, it's somber, it's fretful of the future.There's probably no worse news for the Cubans right now than Chavez's death.

On Chavez's contribution to Cubans

[Chavez] has played a role politically in helping them become more integrated with the rest of Latin America. He's provided them with cheap oil. He's provided them with billions of dollars in exchange for medical and other services. He's really helped bring them into the center of the fold after being isolated for so many years. For the Cubans, Chavez is equal to Che Guevara. He's equal to Fidel.

On what would happen if Venezuela's new leadership stopped supporting Cuba

The result would be devastating. It probably would not be equal to after the fall of the Soviet Union, but it certainly would lead to a very serious economic — if not political and social — crisis in Cuba within a matter of months.

Listen to the entire episode of Global Journalist.

Rehman Tungekar is a former producer for KBIA, who left at the beginning of 2014.