As president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador has defended the Cuban dictatorship so much that Cuban author Wendy Guerra posted a challenge on his Facebook page: “15 days in Cuba living like an ordinary Cuban.”
AMLO, of course, has not replied and will not reply. He has a very well developed political instinct for avoiding inconvenient issues.
But Wendy’s challenge – widely publicized for its daring and truthfulness – highlights an interesting fact: many of those who have come out recently in defense of the brutal Cuban dictatorship, including AMLO, do not live in Cuba. What’s more, Wendy poses the right questions: “Why does he need to stroll with a dictator on a sacred place like the Zocalo of Mexico City? Is that what your people expect from you? Maybe you want to send a message to your people, about what you want to be in the future?”
López Obrador – a president democratically and legitimately elected by more than 30 million Mexicans – has said repeatedly that he has no intention to become a dictator and illegally extend his presidential term. “There will be no re-election,” he said in May, “if that’s … what worries you.” We take him at his word, of course, and like many others we assume he will surrender power in 2024.
What’s worrying is his public defense of a dictatorship. And the unusual and leading role he gave Cuban dictator Miguel Díaz-Canel during the ceremonies marking Mexican independence. Why? AMLO “respectfully” asked for an end to the U.S. blockade of Cuba. But at no time did he ask for an end to the dictatorship.
The Mexican president went even further. He suggested that Cuban Americans “leave behind the resentment, understand the new circumstances and seek reconciliation.” But AMLO does not understand what is happening in Cuba. The complete absence of democracy on the island is not the work of Cuban exiles, but of the political leadership on the island. Exiles exist because there’s a dictatorship on the island. Not the other way around.
What’s more, there are no “new circumstances” on the island. The human rights violations, the political prisoners and censorship continue, as we saw after the large and peaceful protests on July 11. They have even banned the song Patria y Vida from the radio. How pathetic, to be afraid of music. The recent protests on the island showed two things:the enormous dissatisfaction with the regime, and its (still) brutal capacity to repress any idea opposed to the tyranny. But change is coming. You can smell it on the Internet and social networks.
In the meantime, it’s been 62 years of tyranny and just three leaders: Fidel and Raul Castro and now Díaz-Canel. And López Obrador is a friend of the last dictator.
Mexico could do a lot to push the Cuban government to release political prisoners and embrace a democratic opening. But far from doing that, it is tightening the screws of the dictatorship. AMLO could have tried to promote democracy and freedom, but opted for the wrong side of history and to defend his friend the tyrant.
That weakness and romanticism for the Cuban dictatorship is so Latin American. So wrong. And so dangerous for countries with young and fragile democracies. It comes, of course, out of the revolution that overthrew the brutal assassin Fulgencio Batista in 1959. But the revolution has turned into a much more durable and cruel tyranny. There are no multi-party elections, or freedom of expression or the press, and the government’s repressive machinery controls and buries any dissent. That is the bloody regime AMLO supports.
Some have described this as López Obrador’s delayed coming out of the Castroite closet. But in fact he never overcame the juvenile ideological spell of the Cuban revolution. In an interview in 2017, we talked about Cuba. “Che is, I believe, an exemplary revolutionary,” he told me. But he also executed a lot of people, I told him. “Yes, he has that problem,” the president admitted, “but he was a man who offered his life for his ideas, for what he believed.”
AMLO’s argument has a hole in it. If it was valid to fight against the Batista dictatorship, why is it not valid to fight against the Castro and Díaz Canel dictatorship? Well, it seems there’s a friendship – and an ideological bias – playing a role here.
Theoretically, all this could affect his relations with the United States. But the United States doesn’t want to get stuck on that issue. When I recently asked the new U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Ken Salazar, if López Obrador’s close relationship with Cuba was a challenge for the United States, he said this: “Mexico is sovereign. The interests of the United States are not the same.”
AMLO doesn’t know the full story. I have lived in Miami for many years, and I understand the profound pain of Cuban exiles. My children carry Cuban blood. And if we want democracy, freedom and justice for all of Latin America, we also have to want it for Cuba. All dictatorships collapse. The Cuban one will not be the exception. And we will always remember those who remained silent and were accomplices and friends of the dictator.
For now, who wants to live 15 days in Cuba?