López Obrador´s Honeymoon With Cuba

Mexico´s president, López Obrador, recently bestowed on his Cuban counterpart, Díaz-Canel, the highest honor his country confers on foreigners—the Order of the Aztec Eagle. This was not an ordinary diplomatic gesture, but a full-blown show of ideological, political, and even geopolitical support.

AMLO (the Mexican president is widely known by his acronym) praised the Cuban revolution and Fidel Castro for “defining for more than sixty years, with the support of an indomitable people, the border that should always exist between sovereignty and the desire for hegemonic domination.” He called the current Cuban dictator “a distinguished, admired and brotherly guest” and announced that Mexico would lead an international effort to end the U.S. trade embargo against the island and the criticism directed at the regime by allies of Washington.

Not content with this, the leader of Latin America’s second-largest economy announced that he would renew the deal by which his government pays Cuba to send doctors on health missions to some twelve Mexican states.

Not a word about the fact that Cuba has been a dictatorship for sixty-four years, that it is holding more than one thousand political prisoners, and that its tyrannical authorities used the spontaneous demonstrations that shook the island in mid-2021 to pass some of the most draconian repressive laws in the country’s history. And no mention of Cuba’s cruel exploitation of the health professionals it sends on medical missions to several countries every year, including Mexico, in exchange for hard currency. According to testimonies from doctors who have defected, Cuba pays these health professionals between five and ten percent of the money it receives from the countries that host the missions and keeps the rest. 

Prisoners’ Defenders, a Madrid-based organization, and Outreach Aid, a Miami-based group, have looked into what they call the “slavery-like” arrangement in some depth and concluded that Havana obtains more than $8 billion annually from the various countries, most of them political allies, with which it has struck deals of this nature.

Mexican taxpayers are probably unaware that their government is using their money to sustain a system that violates every existing human rights convention and that many doctors with inside knowledge of how it works have denounced it as human trafficking. 

Reasonable people think it is time to end the trade embargo on Cuba, while others think it should not be done unilaterally, but it is a blatant lie to maintain, as López Obrador has done, that Washington prevents other countries from trading with the island or the shipment of food and medicine (he blamed the U.S. for the devastating effect of the pandemic on the Cuban people). In fact, food and medicine are exempted from the embargo, which is why billions of dollars worth of agricultural and medical products have been sent to Cuba over the years. 

Most of the intellectual and political left in Latin America continues to romanticize the Cuban regime for purely cynical reasons—to irritate Washington, to keep the hardliners in the political base at home happy, and to justify their own authoritarian measures (López Obrador is currently busy trying to take control of the electoral body as well as other independent institutions in his country). 

Mexico has taken the lead in the effort to legitimize the totalitarian regime that suffocates eleven million Cubans, but it is by no means alone. For instance, Colombia, Argentina, Venezuela, and Bolivia routinely do the same thing, sending to the region where liberal democracy is going through a very tough period, the worse kind of message. 

Alvaro Vargas Llosa is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute. His Independent books include Global Crossings, Liberty for Latin America, and The Che Guevara Myth.
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