BOGOTÁ — There is a dictatorship in Cuba, and people have come out to protest, demanding freedom. This simple fact, with which any democratic person can sympathize, is rejected by sectors of the Left in Latin America. They have shown there is a big gap in their commitment to democracy, which must be addressed and rectified to leave no ambiguity in any political movement's commitment to civil liberties.

Furthermore, Latin American leftist movements have repeatedly worked against democratic institutions once in power. There's a litany of examples: Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Bolivia have endured to a greater or lesser degree leftist governments that have carried out partial or structural coups to eliminate the opposition, concentrate power or perpetuate themselves in it.

One reason why Colombia's Left had a tough time in the last presidential elections, and why (the leftist candidate) Gustavo Petro generates so much resistance, is because many voters do not believe him when he says he is a democrat. They see him as another caudillo in the making, who would eliminate democratic checks and balances the moment he rose to power.

That's using a people's dignity as a bargaining chip.

There are ways of evading the Cuban question, an uncomfortable one for the Left. For example through ambiguous declarations, by calling for dialogue one moment, then suggesting the protests are being fomented from abroad, or citing the distraction that is the U.S. embargo on Cuba. Alternatively, they will say nothing about Cuba while talking endlessly about Colombia, Spain, Argentina or Chile.

The embargo is a criminal policy, but it has served Cuba's dictatorship more than it has the United States. Thanks to the embargo, the dictatorial regime has had a perfect excuse to justify its monumental failure. The embargo also assures it the sympathy of the Latin American Left, which is anti-U.S. in principle. You can hear people saying the United States must first lift its embargo before we can talk about any opening, democracy, human or civil rights in Cuba! That's using a people's dignity as a bargaining chip.

One can understand the nostalgia, the dreams of a socialist utopia and decades of romanticism. But political sentimentality cannot weaken commitment to democracy nor hide the savagery of 100 people jailed or disappeared in a single day of protests. There is another myth, that Cuba has an exemplary healthcare system and there is food for everyone, and it only needs to listen more to ordinary folk. This myth is the work of a propaganda machine. People are hungry and there isn't healthcare for everyone. Above all, people want freedom.

Let us pop the little bubble. Cuba is an island where musicians, artists, writers, journalists and opponents are jailed, or continuously monitored. Its supposedly socialist government is inefficient and criminal.

There is something decidedly dangerous about people who defend the Cuban regime: how much repression would they defend in their own countries should one of their own ideology (or what they peddle as their ideology) take power? I am hoping these sympathizers do not want a Cuban-style dictatorship at home. But they shouldn't even want it for Cuba.

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