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Jorge Castañeda on AMLO and the resilience of dictatorships

“We must continue pressuring, but without harboring any illusions. Dictatorships have proven themselves to be resilient"

“We must continue pressuring

Carlos F. Chamorro

21 de mayo 2022


Former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castañeda emphasized the importance of maintaining political pressure on the dictatorships of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. At the same time, though, he warned of the “resilience of these dictatorships, that are so repressive, and willing to accept all kinds of economic privations as long as they maintain themselves in power. Meanwhile, many Venezuelans, Cubans and Nicaraguans prefer to simply leave their countries,” and are engaged in a massive emigration.

In an interview with Confidencial, the Mexican political expert, and professor at New York University analyzed the conditions that Mexican president Lopez Obrador has set for the Summit of the Americas, insisting that he’ll attend only if Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela are invited to the high-level regional meeting due to take place in Los Angeles June 6 – 10.

Twenty-nine countries, including Mexico and Argentina, condemned Nicaragua’s police takeover of the OAS offices in Managua, ordered by the Ortega regime, and the violation of diplomatic immunity this implies. There were no votes against the resolution, although Honduras, El Salvador and St. Vincent and the Grenadines abstained. What does this condemnation vote mean politicly?

I believe Ortega’s raid against the OAS headquarters in Managua was so outrageous that not even countries like Mexico, Argentina or Bolivia could abstain from or oppose the resolution of condemnation. In that sense, the resolution and the fact that so many countries voted in favor was a step forward.

However, I wouldn’t confuse the favorable vote on this very particular topic with the possibility of invoking the Inter-American Democratic Charter against Nicaragua. I continue thinking that the votes simply aren’t there for such a resolution.

This week, Ortega judges completed the cycle of bogus trials and guilty verdicts against 53 of the political prisoners currently in jail. The political prisoners received sentences ranging from 8 to 13 years in prison. Can the countries of the Americas or the European Union exercise any effective political pressure against the Ortega dictatorship outside of the OAS, since the OAS as a hemispheric body can’t influence this crisis?

They’ve already done so: the European Union has pressured, and the United States has likewise imposed sanctions or condemnations, but it seems the Ortega dictatorship is simply not vulnerable to this type of measure. They simply ignore them, and forge ahead with their repressive dictatorial practices. Apparently, they don’t feel obligated to take this kind of condemnation into account, or even the sanctions. That’s the problem with a dictatorship that’s willing to accept anything in order to stay in power. They’re able to do so.

AMLO, Biden and the Summit of the Americas

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Amador (AMLO) has said he’ll participate in the upcoming Summit of the Americas only if Biden invites the dictatorships of Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela. That demand led other presidents, of various stripes, to advocate for a policy of non-exclusion. What impact could the possible absence of some Latin American presidents have on this summit?

I see it in terms of a hierarchy. The absence of Mexico and of Brazil from the Los Angeles Summit – the latter for reasons that have nothing to do with Cuba, nor with Nicaragua, nor with Venezuela, but instead with President Bolsonaro’s personal whims – the absence of these two large Latin American economies would certainly weaken it. And everything seems to indicate that these two countries won’t attend. On the other hand, there are the small countries [who are also threatening to stay away], some from the Caribbean communities in Caricom, plus Honduras, Bolivia; it’s not that they’re not important, but of course the absence of Honduras, for example, or Bolivia, doesn’t have the same impact as that of Mexico or Brazil.

In my view, what’s left in suspense is what Argentina will decide, what Chile will decide. Everything seems to indicate that President Fernandez [of Argentina] as well as President Boric [of Chile] will go to Los Angeles, and that will help Biden a little. However, it’s a fact that this is a very serious blow for Biden. It won’t cause many repercussions in US internal politics, because that’s focused on other things right now. But, yes, it reinforces yet again the impression that Biden has generated for a while, since the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, of incompetence and ineptitude.

What will be the underlying theme of this Summit? For some, it’ll be the non-exclusion of Latin American countries. For others, the main topic is the democratic agenda, or the impunity of the dictatorships. What, in the end, will predominate?


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I think there’ll be a debate about whether or not Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela should have been invited to the summit. Certainly, the Mexicans [will bring this up], even if Lopez Obrador himself doesn’t attend. He’ll have his little fit, his personal tantrum, demanding: “Why didn’t you invite my little friends?” That’s logical. However, I don’t think this issue will take up too much time in the summit, because I imagine that what many countries want to talk about, especially the United States, is migration, supply chain issues, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which won’t be over by then. I think these are going to be the main topics of the summit, not so much whether the Cuban, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan dictatorships were invited.

With the vacuum in US leadership in Latin America, and the presence of China, which is very strong economically – Is there any way for Latin America to mediate or influence the political crisis of these dictatorships, beyond objecting that Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela were or were not invited?

There’s no common meeting ground. The really serious thing, the disaster, is that everything has been tried over all these years, especially in the case of Venezuela. I don’t know how many times negotiation has been attempted there, with the mediation of the Dominicans, the Norwegians, the Spanish. They’ve tried to overthrow Maduro with schemes that were more or less harebrained, and others more or less serious. Nothing has worked. Nor has there been an opening in Venezuela for celebrating democratic elections under international observation. The problem is that nothing seems to work. In the case of Cuba, it’s obvious that nothing worked. Obama’s overtures didn’t bring any opening in Cuba. We’ve already seen this. With Nicaragua and with Venezuela, everything has been tried but there’s been no change. I believed we’re condemned to a sort of perpetuation of the status quo, until perhaps biological inertia exerts its effect.

The resilience of the dictatorships

In effect, the dictatorships have demonstrated a sort of resilience. On the other hand, though, there are elements that reveal great fragility and lead to questions about their long-term viability. It’s what we see in Nicaragua; it’s what can be seen in Cuba, from the point of view of the economy. The question is if there’s a strategy for a way out of these Latin American dictatorships in the medium term, because clearly, there’s no short-term solution.

I believe there isn’t a long term one either. I insist: everything has been tried. Improving the economy of these countries – if it were possible, – wouldn’t bring any change either I feel. Squeezing them more? Well, [that won’t work] either. I don’t see how Cuba’s economic situation could get any worse than it already is; and I don’t think that Venezuela’s could be any worse either than what it was a few years ago when it really touched bottom, although things have improved a little in recent months.

The problem is that the regimes in these countries are so repressive, so cynical, and so shameless that they’re ready to accept all the economic privations, all the difficulties, the scarcities, everything, as long as they can maintain themselves in power.

Meanwhile, the people – the Nicaraguans, the Venezuelans, the Cubans – prefer to leave. Six million Venezuelans have left; an enormous number of Cubans are leaving. I think that in April the Cuban emigration already reached the levels of emigration seen in the Mariel exodus of the 80s; the current exodus is certainly surpassing greatly the levels of emigration on small boats in 1994. And in the case of Nicaragua, you know how many Nicaraguans are fleeing the country.

Dictatorships break down from within, as the result of an external pressure that conditions relief on the restoration of the democratic freedoms, in order to produce a change. That’s what happened at the end of the 80s with the Chilean plebiscite and the Pinochet dictatorship. Can external pressure contribute to restoring the democratic freedoms to produce change?

In any case, it’s better to maintain that pressure than to relax it, but without having any illusions. I think that at this stage it’s better to surrender to the evidence and conclude that it’s very difficult to force these three dictatorships to open up and respect freedom: to free the political prisoners in Nicaragua, in Cuba, and in Venezuela as well, but especially in Nicaragua and Cuba; to respect freedom of the press and of assembly, freedom to demonstrate; to hold elections without fraud. It’s proven very difficult to get this done, with either carrots or sticks, because they’re dictatorships that have sufficient repressive capacity to impose their will and not cede ground before any pressures, internal or external.

Can these dictatorships endure and prove viable in the long run?

They’ve already done so. Who would have thought in 2013 that we’d be marking almost 10 years of Nicolas Maduro in power? Or that Raul Castro would turn 92, and still continue in power in some sense? Or that for Daniel Ortega, his own health may be the only impediment to his perpetuity in power? We must take note of this tremendous resilience and continue on, but without cherishing many illusions.

*This article was originally published in Confidencial and traslated by Havana Times



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Carlos F. Chamorro

Carlos F. Chamorro

Periodista nicaragüense, exiliado en Costa Rica. Fundador y director de Confidencial y Esta Semana. Miembro del Consejo Rector de la Fundación Gabo. Ha sido Knight Fellow en la Universidad de Stanford (1997-1998) y profesor visitante en la Maestría de Periodismo de la Universidad de Berkeley, California (1998-1999). En mayo 2009, obtuvo el Premio a la Libertad de Expresión en Iberoamérica, de Casa América Cataluña (España). En octubre de 2010 recibió el Premio Maria Moors Cabot de la Escuela de Periodismo de la Universidad de Columbia en Nueva York. En 2021 obtuvo el Premio Ortega y Gasset por su trayectoria periodística.