The fascination with the Cuban dictatorship that so many Latin American politicians, including Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, still have in 2021 is incredible and dangerous.
After the pro-democracy demonstrations July 11 across dozens of Cuban towns – amid shouts of “Freedom” and “Down with the Dictatorship” – AMLO came out in defense of the Havana regime. How can he defend a 62-year-old tyranny? It is enormously incongruous, to want democracy for Mexicans but not for Cubans.
AMLO's comments on the anniversary of the birth of Simón Bolívar – praising the supposed triumphs of the Cuban revolution but totally avoiding the human rights violations, the political prisoners, the censorship, the total absence of democracy and the three tyrants who have ruled the island brutally since 1959 – are worrisome and show a terrible (and self-imposed) blindness to the Cuban reality.
Let's be clear: Cuba should not be an example to be followed by Mexico or any other Latin American country.
But the statements by AMLO – a president who was legitimately elected by more than 30 million Mexicans and will govern until 2024 – should not have surprised us. His ideological weakness for the Cuban tyranny was always evident. In an interview in May of 2017, he refused to call the Cuban regime a “dictatorship” and Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela a “dictator.”
He told me he did not want to get hung up on those issues, and that he also wanted to respect the principle of non-intervention in the affairs of other countries.
This was part of our exchange, which you can watch here:
- “Do you believe Nicolas Maduro is a dictator?
- I am not going to judge him. I'll leave that to our listeners.
- There are human rights violations.
- Very unfortunate.
- (Maduro) dismantled the legislature. There are dozens of dead. There are political prisoners.
- I am not in favor of authoritarianism anywhere.
- The question is if Nicolas Maduro is a dictator.
- I don't want to get into that.
- Why not?
- We have foreign policy doctrines. No intervention and self determination.
- But doesn't the defense of human rights rise above the sovereignty of a country?
- Yes, but in this case we also have to follow the principle of non intervention.
- Why won't you dare to criticize a dictatorship?
- Because I don't want them to meddle later in decisions that only Mexicans can make.
- Can we now call (Cuban ruler) Raul Castro a dictator?
- No. I would not call anyone that.
- Mr. Lopez Obrador, Cuba has been a dictatorship since 1959. (Raul) was hand picked by Fidel in 2008. You complained about hand picking presidents in Mexico. Why not complain about hand picking in Cuba?
- Those phobias, Jorge. I think you're playing the role of journalist. You have the right to ask me all those things. And I have the right not to get hung up on those issues. I am not going to get involved in that. I am respectful.”
And because he doesn't want to get hung up, Lopez Obrador has taken the side of the dictatorships in Cuba and Venezuela, the wrong and dark side of history.
To be neutral in the face of a dictatorship is to be an accomplice. And all the things he respects in those countries, we don't want them in Mexico. AMLO could be an important and influential regional leader in the defense of democracy. But he's decided otherwise.
Last Sunday, Mexicans had the chance to vote on whether they want to seek a “clarification” of the decisions taken by several Mexican presidents. No matter the results, that question left many things up in the air and is unlikely to lead to trials for former presidents Enrique Peña Nieto, Felipe Calderón, Vicente Fox, Ernesto Zedillo and Carlos Salinas de Gortari.
But let's take a real example. If AMLO is truly convinced that there was fraud in the 2006 and 2012 elections – which denied him the presidency – he does not need a referendum. It would be enough to start a serious inquiry or create a truth commission.
And as long as he's going there, he should ask Manuel Bartlett – one of his key advisers and head of the Federal Electricity Commission – about the huge fraud in 1988, when he was in charge Chief of Staff (or Secretario de Gobernación). Mexico, when the Institutional Revolutionary Party was in power 1929-2000, was a political pigsty marked by frauds, massacres and thefts. There's a lot to scratch there.
But I don't believe AMLO really wants to investigate and punish former presidents. We Mexicans are always walking on the past. But the present is so urgent – the crime, and the pandemic – that it seems there's not enough political capital now to launch such a significant effort. Note what he told me at the end of that interview in 2007.
- ''Peña Nieto is corrupt?
- The house that his (ex)wife, Angélica Rivera, bought for $7 million from a government contractor, that was corruption?
- Yes, but not only that.
- If you become president, will you put Angélica Rivera and Peña Nieto on trial for that corruption?
- I am not going to act – contrary to what they are saying – in an authoritarian manner. There will be a state of law. There will be no persecution.
- Will you put Peña Nieto on trial for corruption for the house that his (ex) wife bought?
- No. The judges will do that.”
Then he uttered a phrase that seemed to show his true intentions. “I simply don't want to put the emphasis on persecution, because I don't believe that's what the country needs.”
If all that is true, then what good was the vote? The most plausible and positive answer is that the government is sincerely interested in handing out justice. No former president of Mexico has ever been put on trial, even though there's plenty of reason to do that.
The other, cynical answer is that AMLO needed something to distract the attention from his terrible failures handling the pandemic and crime. He has failed in the most essential task: protecting the lives of Mexicans. And there's nothing more effective in distracting the people than to find a hated enemy – a favorite villain – and attack him. The spectacle of putting one or more president on trial would be viral, take months and maybe years and undoubtedly make history.
Either way, Mexico is moving along unexplored roads, with no clear map. It's going to be hard. These are different times.