Mexico, Politics


Tell me your heroes, and I will tell you who you are.

The president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has never hidden his dangerous sympathy for the Cuban dictatorship. Far from it, he defends it at every turn. His visit to Havana last weekend – and the two visits Cuban dictator Miguel Díaz-Canel made recently to Mexico – are evidence of the close, odd and worrying relationship between a democratically elected president and the tyrant on the island.

López Obrador’s generation – he was born in 1953 – grew up amid the enthusiasm and enormous influence of the Cuban revolution on Latin America. When he was a teenager, Fidel Castro had already imposed himself as the lone leader of an increasingly authoritarian and repressive regime. But because the Cuban rebels had toppled the brutal dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, the idea of a similar revolution in Mexico remained attractive and had support. Until the year 2000, Mexico lived 71 years of authoritarian rule and one-party dictatorship.

Yet many – Mario Vargas Llosa, Octavio Paz and Carlos Fuentes, just to name a few – quickly became disenchanted with the Cuban revolution and its abuses. Not AMLO. Today, together with Venezuela and Nicaragua, Cuba is one one of the most repressive dictatorships on the continent. In 63 years in power, it has seen only three rulers: Fidel and Raul Castro and Díaz-Canel. There is no hint of democracy on the island, where political parties are banned. There’s no free press, and anti-government protesters are punished with lengthy prison terms.. Hundreds of artists and dissidents who joined street protests last summer to the sound of the song Patria y Vida remain jailed. And the song, incredibly, remains banned on the island. That is the level of repression.

Cuba is a dictatorship.
Cuba is a dictatorship.
Cuba is a dictatorship.

But no matter how many times we say that, López Obrador continues to defend it. And to admire it.

In a 2017 interview, López Obrador told me that “Jesus and Ernesto Ché Guevara, that’s who I admire. Ché is, I believe, an exemplary revolutionary.” I interrupted him immediately and told him Ché also had “carried out many executions.” He responded that Ché “does face that criticism, but was a man who gave his life for his ideals, for what he believed.”

One thing is to admire the Cuban revolution when you’re young, in the 1960s or 70s, and a very different other is to continue to do so in the 21st Century, when there’s solid documentation of its human rights violations, its torture and executions of opponents and total absence of democracy. But that is precisely the regime AMLO refuses to criticize.

In that same interview (before Díaz-Canel was appointed as first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party) I asked López Obrador if Raúl Castro could be called a dictator. “I would not call anyone that,” he told me. I insisted. “It’s been a dictatorship since 1959,” I told him. Raúl Castro was hand-picked by Fidel in 2008. “You complained about hand-picking (presidential successors) in Mexico. Why don’t you complain about hand-picking in Cuba?”

This was his answer: “Such phobias. Such phobias … You are in your role as journalist. You have the right to ask me all those things. And I have the right not to get hung up on those things … I am not going there. I am respectful.”

López Obrador has decided to be “respectful” of one the oldest dictatorships, and one that has most repressed the rights of individuals, in this history of the Americas. He frequently says he supports the policy of “no intervention” in the domestic issues of other countries. But the defense of human rights always tops sovereignty. If not, we would never be able to criticize murders and tortures in other countries. It is difficult to understand how López Obrador wants democracy for Mexicans but not for Cubans.

AMLO has repeatedly said he will not seek reelection and will leave office in 2024. That is, he will not follow the Cuban model. But his admiration for and defense of a regime that represses, jails and kills its opponents is very worrisome.

Cuba and its communist system is not, and cannot be, an example for Mexico (or any other country). On the contrary, it is precisely the model we should never copy. But one member of López Obrador’s government issued a very public defense of communism in 2019. “We should aim for communism, as a society divorced from all exploitation of the human being and the destruction of nature,” said Luciano Concheiro, deputy minister of higher education.

Of course I don’t agree, and we must draw a line. Less freedom, less democracy, more repression and more government control is not the path for Mexico. Cuba cannot be a point of reference for Mexico. I can think of a lot of other countries, but not the communist island.

During more than 30 years living in Miami, I have come to know thousands of the victims of the Cuban dictatorship. They have lost their country, homes, families, friends and even their lives. And I have learned that you cannot be neutral in the face of tyranny. You have to take a side.

Unfortunately, {President López Obrador has taken the side of the dictatorship and the wrong side of history. The right side is the side of freedom, democracy, justice and human rights. To visit Cuba and defend the regime in Havana at a time when hundreds of political prisoners are jailed and there’s no possibility of multi-party elections is a betrayal to the defense of human rights and democracy.

You can pick our heroes. But it’s a tragedy when those heroes of your youth lead you to the same side as killers, repressors and torturers.

By Jorge Ramos Ávalos

Image by: Jeremy Bezanger en Unsplash

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Jorge Ramos has been the anchorman for Noticiero Univision since 1986. He writes a weekly column for more than 40 newspapers in the United States and Latin America, and provides daily radio commentary for the Radio Univision network. Ramos also hosts Al Punto, Univision’s weekly public affairs program offering analysis of the week’s top stories, and Fusion’s AMERICA with Jorge Ramos, a news program geared towards young adults. Ramos has won eight Emmy awards and is the author of ten books, most recently, STRANGER - The Challenge of a Latino Immigrant in the Trump Era.

A survey conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center found that Ramos is the second most recognized Latino leader in the country. Latino Leaders magazine chose him as one of “The Ten Most Admired Latinos” and “101 Top Leaders of the Latino Community in the U.S.”