It’s happened to all of us. We’re invited to a party, and we want to bring along our friends.
That’s what happened to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. He wanted to bring the dictators of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua to the Summit of the Americas scheduled for next month in Los Angeles. But the United States said no. Killers are not going to the party.
López Obrador, apparently excited after his visit to Havana, issued his warning: “If there’s exclusion, if everyone is not invited, a Mexican government delegation will go, but I would not go.” He later added: “I don’t want the same America policy to continue. And I want, with my actions, to assert independence and sovereignty and express my support for universal fraternity.”
It sounds really pretty, a lot of solidarity. The problem is that Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua are brutal and murderous dictatorships. López Obrador wanted to bring killers, torturers, censors and oppressors to Los Angeles. And all this under the idea of a single America. But the Biden administration did not react. The tyrants of those three dictatorships – who no longer officially participate in the Organization of American States – remain uninvited. “We don’t think it’s convenient to include countries that do not respect democracy,” said Brian Nichols, undersecretary of state for the Western Hemisphere.
It is difficult to understand what López Obrador gains by defending these three dictatorships. On the contrary, he generates unnecessary tension with the United States – his main trading partner – and increased worry in Mexico among those who believe he will not want to leave office in 2024 – something he has denied time and time again.
During one of his daily news conference – responding to a Tweet by me saying that AMLO had decided to take the side of dictators – the president defended the old principle of no intervention in the internal affairs of other countries and asked, “Who are we to brand some as murderers, torturers and oppressors, and not others?”
Answer: Miguel Díaz-Canel, Nicolás Maduro and Daniel Ortega are tyrants, and in 2022 we must defend human rights everywhere. We cannot hide and argue that each home government is responsible for that. “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor,” said the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. “If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
In this case, there’s no doubt we’re dealing with murderous governments and state crimes. More than 350 people were killed during the protests against Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua in 2018, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Ortega has been in power for more than 15 years, through a string of fraudulent presidential elections. Several former presidential candidates remain jailed – including Cristiana Chamorro.
FACT: In Venezuela, there were more than 8,700 extrajudicial executions since 2015, according to former prosecutor Luisa Ortega. Add to that the more than 350 people killed in protests against Nicolás Maduro and 240 political opponents held in prison, according to the organizations PROVEA and Foro Penal.
FACT: Cuba is one of the oldest dictatorships on the planet. It has seen only three rulers in 63 years. There are no political parties and no freedom of the press. Amnesty International says the government held nearly 700 political prisoners at the end of last year for taking part in the “historic protests” in July.
AMLO apparently doesn’t want to see this, or he’s playing at neutrality. This is a truly important debate. It’s about the future of Mexico, and the kind of country we want. The president insists he’s already picked his side. “I didn’t just pick it. It was a long time ago,” he said in a news conference. But AMLO, who has a well developed instinct for politics, is wrong on this debate. There are millions of people who don’t want their country to be like Cuba, Nicaragua or Venezuela. On the contrary, we must be on the side of democracy, freedom and respect for human rights.
An image of the president of Mexico on the streets of Los Angeles would be truly powerful. But if López Obrador winds up not going to the Summit of the Americas the loser will be Mexico.
I have covered several of them and it’s true that they are usually heavy on speeches and light on concrete results. Nevertheless, because this will be the first continental gathering since the pandemic, it is essential for coordinating the region’s economic growth and dealing with, in a collective way, the growing problem of migration to the north. From the presidential palace, alone, López Obrador will not be able to exercise any influence or say a single word.
Before I finish, let me be clear.
Of course Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua are not the only countries that abuse human rights. The United States, the country where I have lived for nearly 40 years, also has a long history. It’s enough to mention the war in Vietnam, the unjustified invasion of Iraq, the prison tortures in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, its participation in coups in Chile, Guatemala, Dominican Republic and other places, and the separation of families on the border with Mexico during the Trump administration. But none of that can be blamed on President Joe Biden, just like AMLO cannot be blamed for what PRI presidents did over 70 years or Porfirio Diaz during 30. So the issue of the United States is for another discussion.
To finish up. There was a time, when Barack Obama was president, when there was a theory that more trade, more contact and more investments would help democratize Cuba. Obama visited the island in 2016, reestablished full diplomatic relations between the two countries and … nothing happened.
Cuba remains a harsh dictatorship. The same goes for Venezuela and Nicaragua: neither international pressures nor investment strategies shifted those two countries toward democracy. That’s why now, no one believes that the presence of Miguel Díaz-Canel, Nicolás Maduro and Daniel Ortega in Los Angeles would help to end the tyrannies in their countries. On the contrary. It would only give them legitimacy and recognition at the international level.
That’s why even though López Obrador wants to bring his buddies to the party, the United States has told him they will not be allowed in. To be truthful, there are friends who are inadmissible.