Castro, Chávez And The True Origins Of Autocracy

Did adverse conditions force such Latin American strongmen Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro to clamp down, or did they hide their authoritarian designs from the start?

Chavez in 1999
Chavez in 1999
Farid Kahhat

LIMA — What leads a regime to take the radical path? Is it preordained, or do events radicalize governments? In Cuba and Venezuela, two governing systems mostly closely adhering to communism's core ideology, the original revolutionary leaders never actually set out to create communist states.

In 1959, when Fidel Castro led a guerrilla campaign to oust the conservative regime of Fulgencio Batista, and after his triumphal entry into Havana, Cuba's new leader clearly stated that his was not a communist revolution. In 1998, Hugo Chávez likewise told the Univisión reporter Jorge Ramos that he believed the Cuban regime was a dictatorship, and separately assured the Peruvian television presenter Jaime Bayly that he was not leading a socialist movement.

Later, Castro would qualify the Cuban revolution as Marxist-Leninist, vowing that he would be a communist to the end. And Chávez coined the term "21st-Century Socialism" to define the nature of his regime. In both cases, there is an obvious answer to the question of what happened between their first statements and what eventually emerged once they were firmly at the helm. One possibility is that they had both deliberately lied Another is that they became increasingly radical in response to the adverse circumstances they faced.

In the case of Cuba, a sequence of events could explain the regime's radicalization. In 1960, the United States imposed initial sanctions on Cuba, reacting to the nationalization of U.S. companies on the island, and then expanded to a full-fledged trade embargo. In 1961, it organized the failed Bay of Pigs invasion intended to overthrow Castro. The Missile Crisis followed in 1962, after which the Cuban regime began backing various leftist revolts abroad in response to America's unconditional support of anti-Communist dictatorships and several CIA attempts to kill Castro.

With Venezuela, there can be no doubt about the critical juncture: the 2002 strike at the state energy firm PDVSA, which channels most of the country's vast oil exports, followed by a failed coup attempt against Chávez. Virtually all the government's actions to accumulate powers came after that.

Events can clearly play a role in mutating regimes.

An August article in Spain's El País daily observed that the country's manufacturing base was wiped out because of a wave of expropriations and controls that began in 2003. That was the year when proposals were first made to maintain Chávez in power until 2021. The Organic Law of 2004 allowed the Chavista system to take control of the country's Supreme Court, and that was also the year the regime began curbing freedom of expression, according to Human Rights Watch.

It should be noted that some of the chief critics of authoritarian rule under Chávez and now under President Nicolás Maduro, like the former legislator Maria Corina Machado and the detained dissident Leopoldo López, had backed the failed coup against Chávez.

Events can clearly play a role in mutating regimes, but in democracies, political crises tend to merely prompt resignations or general elections. There is something suspect about a regime that uses riots or a failed coup as a pretext to clamp down. It is the smoking gun that points to our first explanation: that charismatic leaders' true ambitions are revealed only when they are firmly in power.

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A Mother In Spain Denied Child Custody Because She Lives In Rural Area

A court in Spain usurps custody of the one-year-old boy living with his mother in the "deep" part of the Galicia region, forced to instead live with his father in the southern city of Marbella, which the judge says is "cosmopolitan" with good schools and medical care. Women's rights groups have taken up the mother's case.

A child in Galician countryside

Laure Gautherin

A Spanish court has ordered the withdrawal of a mother's custody of her one-year-old boy because she is living in the countryside in northwestern Spain, where the judge says the child won't have "opportunities for the proper development of his personality."

The case, reported Monday in La Voz de Galicia, has sparked outrage from a women's rights association but has also set off reactions from politicians of different stripes across the province of Galicia, defending the values of rural life.

Judge María Belén Ureña Carazo, of the family court of Marbella, a city on the southern coast of 141,000 people, has ordered the toddler to stay with father who lives in the city rather than with his mother because she was living in "deep Galicia" where the child would lack opportunities to "grow up in a happy environment."

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - October 25, 2021

Front page of La Voz de Galicia - Monday 25 October, 2021

La Voz de Galicia

Better in a "cosmopolitan" city?

The judge said Marbella, where the father lives, was a "cosmopolitan city" with "a good hospital" as well as "all kinds of schools" and thus provided a better environment for the child to thrive.

The mother has submitted a formal complaint to the General Council of the Judiciary that the family court magistrate had acted with "absolute contempt," her lawyer told La Voz de Galicia.

The mother quickly accumulated support from local politicians and civic organizations. The Clara Campoamor association described the judge's arguments as offensive, intolerable and typical of "an ignorant person who has not traveled much."

The Xunta de Galicia, the regional government, has addressed the case, saying that any place in Galicia meets the conditions to educate a minor. The Socialist party politician Pablo Arangüena tweeted that "it would not hurt part of the judiciary to spend a summer in Galicia."

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