Latin American countries deserve credit for their recent denunciations of what they bluntly refer to as Venezuela’s dictatorship, but I have a hard time understanding why they don’t do the same thing with Cuba’s dictatorship. When it comes to Cuba, they all seem to look the other way.
I was thinking about this when I read about Cuba’s Oct. 22 election for municipal council members. It will be the first of several tightly controlled steps leading to the election of a National Assembly that is to decide the successor to Cuban President Raul Castro, 86, who has vowed to step down in February.
But, of course, Cuba’s National Assembly will just rubber-stamp whomever Castro picks. Cuba has been a hereditary dictatorship since 1959, when the late Cuban President Fidel Castro took power by force, and later when he became ill, he passed on the country’s government to his brother, Raul, in 2006.
Now, Raul Castro is widely expected to hand the presidency either to his son, Col. Alejandro Castro Espin, or to Cuba’s current First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel. Either way, it will be Castro’s decision, with zero real input from the Cuban people.
Only government supporters are allowed to participate in Cuban elections. Unlike Venezuela – which, for the sake of appearances, still tolerates opposition parties while often jailing their top leaders – Cuba is a one-party system, where only the Communist Party is legal.
In open defiance of the Castro regime, several dissident groups such as Otro18, Cuba Decide, Un Cubano and the Christian Movement for National Liberation will present more than 170 of their own candidates for the elections. But these candidates won’t have access to the media – Cuba does not allow independent newspapers, radio or TV stations – and many of them are already being harassed by State Security agents.
Why isn’t there any world outrage over Cuba’s dictatorship? Granted, President Donald Trump recently made a big show recently in Miami, claiming on June 16 before an audience of Cuban exiles that he was “canceling” the Obama administration’s normalization of ties with Cuba.
But it was just that, political theater: Trump has left intact most key aspects of former President Barack Obama’s opening to Cuba. Trump has not shut down the new U.S. Embassy in Havana nor banned U.S. airlines or cruise liners from going to Cuba.
On the contrary, U.S. trade and tourism to Cuba is flourishing under Trump. During the first six months this year, there were 8,287 flights between the United States and Cuba, a 180 percent increase over the same period last year, according to a report by The Havana Consulting Group. That’s more than triple the flights in 2014, when Obama started the normalization of U.S. ties with Cuba.
Cuba’s imports of U.S. agricultural goods in June reached $24.6 million, up from $9.5 million in June 2015, according to John S. Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.
Likewise, the European Union, which has recently stepped up its criticism of Venezuela, signed an agreement with Cuba in December to normalize relations. And Latin American countries such as Mexico, Brazil and Argentina rarely utter a hint of criticism of Cuba’s dictatorship.
Most foreign diplomats say Cuba can’t be compared with Venezuela because the island has been the victim of a decades-long U.S. trade embargo, which has predisposed the international community against any criticism of its regime. And unlike Venezuela, Cuba is not a signatory of the Organization of American States’ Democratic Charter, which commits member countries to respect the rule of law.
In a videotaped private meeting with Communist Party members, Cuban Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel lashed out against Cuban dissidents, independent media and embassies of several European countries, accusing them all of supporting subversive projects.
But those are empty excuses. I’m not crazy about the U.S. embargo on Cuba but I don’t think it’s right to remain silent about an almost six-decade-long dictatorship responsible for more than 6,100 deaths and disappearances, according to Cuban Archive Project.
And it’s not right to remain silent when Cuba’s arbitrary detentions of dissidents have soared from 2,074 in 2010 to 9,940 in 2016, according to the Havana-based independent Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation.
Denouncing Venezuela is the right thing to do. But ignoring Cuba’s abuses is morally wrong and a political hypocrisy.
Andres Oppenheimer is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He can be contacted at email@example.com.