It is an old and sad custom in Latin America. It’s to protect the dictator, the killer, the one who should be in prison but remains in power through sheer force, fraud and abuses.
It is incredible that in the year 2023, two democratically elected presidents have decided to support and protect killers.
This shameful pampering is what the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, did a couple of months ago when he declared Cuban dictator Miguel Díaz-Canel a “distinguished guest” and awarded him the country’s maximum distinction, the Aztec Eagle. AMLO did not want to see the repression, political prisoners and absence of a multiparty democracy denounced by Amnesty International in a report on Cuba. This is not a matter of opinion. AMLO is supporting and protecting a regime that kills and jails its citizens just for thinking differently.
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva did the same recently with Venezuelan tyrant Nicolás Maduro. Olympically ignoring all the human rights violations in post-Chavez Venezuela, Lula welcomed Maduro and declared that there are “many prejudices” against Venezuela and “a narrative that says (the Maduro regime) is anti-democratic and authoritarian.”
Lula was naive, perhaps even complicit.
The reality is that Venezuela does have an anti-democratic and authoritarian government.
*Venezuela has between 240 and 310 political prisoners, according to Amnesty International.
*Thousands of people have been murdered for “resisting authority” since Maduro became president. There were more than 5,200 such murders in 2019 and 1,240 last year, according to the Venezuelan Observatory for Violence.
*Maduro and his government have committed crimes against humanity, according to the U.N. Human Rights Council.
*Maduro reached power through two electoral frauds, one in 2013 and the other in 2018, with the government counting the votes and blocking opposition candidates, according to the Organization of American States and foreign electoral observers.
*More than seven million Venezuelans have fled their country, according to the International Monetary Fund.
This is the tyranny that Lula embraced and protected in Brasilia.
Even one of the leaders of the Latin American left who was in Brasilia early this week refused to forget and forgive the abuses committed in Venezuela in recent years. “The human rights situation is not a narrative … It is a serious reality,” said Chile’s young President Gabriel Boric.
In a digital world dominated by social networks – where truth can be invented and rulers wield different facts in their virtual reality – it is easy to create a false narrative that Venezuela is a democracy unjustly attacked by foreign powers. But Boric did not swallow that line. He also declared that “principles important to us cannot be swept under the rug.”
AMLO and Lula, anesthetized by their popularity, don’t want to see what they don’t want to see. And that is the worst form of political blindness. It is a strange case of love for a dictator, that at the same time is full of hypocrisy. While embracing the leaders, neither AMLO nor Lula would want Mexicans and Brazilians to suffer the same torment as Cubans and Venezuelans.
Maduro’s reception in Brazil as the legitimate leader of Venezuela was also a hard blow to the Venezuelan opposition, which recently decided to eliminate the title of “interim president” held by Juan Guaidó for four years. That was a symbolic position, but at one point it had the support of dozens of countries and put Maduro on the defensive.
The title “undoubtedly stripped the Maduro dictatorship naked,” Guaidó told me in an interview in April in Miami. “It limited many things for him on the international level.” Not any more.
When I interviewed Guaidó he was wearing black shoes that were given to him and a suit that had belonged to a Cuban exile. Days before, he had crossed the Venezuelan border with Colombia with just a backpack. He was not allowed to participate in an international conference in Bogota about his home country, so he boarded a plane for Miami and landed with almost nothing in his pockets.
“Are you afraid you will be arrested if you return to Venezuela” I asked him.
“Not just that,” he told me. “Even for my life.”
“You’re afraid they will kill you if you return to Venezuela?”
Guaidó has no plans to return to Venezuela for now, and he’s living with his family in South Florida. But that doesn’t mean he has abandoned the political struggles. He will support, from a distance, the primary set for October 22, to select a sole opposition candidate and later persuade Maduro – a significant bet – to participate in a new presidential election.
But why should we believe the dictatorship will admit defeat, since it controls the balloting and counts the votes. Guaidó sees a scenario like Nicaragua in 1990, when the Sandinistas lost a presidential election – monitored by international observers – to the opposition candidate, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro. “That is the challenge we face,” Guaidó said at the end of our interview. “The challenge is to protect the votes.”
In the meantime, AMLO and Lula have already voted. They put themselves, all alone and on the wrong side of history. They decided to support killers, not the democrats who fight until they have no shoes. They have forgotten the just struggles for democracy that they led at one point … and that even the most brutal dictatorships eventually collapse.