Geopolitics

Cuba Is A Dictatorship, Latin American Left Doesn't Seem To Care

Sympathizers of the Cuban communist regime tend to justify Cuba's violence on protesters and present it as a victim of Western imperialism.

Cubans of all stripes took to this street this week
Cubans of all stripes took to this street this week
Santiago Villa

-OpEd-

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.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Geopolitics

Erdogan And Boris Johnson: A New Global Power Duo?

As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too.

Johnson and Erdogan in NYC on Sept. 20

Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung

-Analysis-

BERLIN — According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. The agreement covers billions of euros' worth of military equipment, and the two countries have committed to come to each other's aid if they are attacked.

Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey.

Officially, the Turkish government is unruffled, saying the pact doesn't represent a military threat. But the symbolism is clear: with the U.S., UK and Australia recently announcing the Aukus security pact, Ankara fears the EU may be closing ranks when it comes to all military issues.

What will Aukus mean for NATO?

Turkey has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.

Europe's approach to security and defense is changing dramatically. Over the past few months, while the U.S. was negotiating the Aukus pact with Britain and Australia behind the EU's back, a submarine deal between Australia and France, which would have been worth billions, was scrapped.

The EU is happy to keep Erdogan waiting

Officially, Turkey is keeping its cards close to its chest. Addressing foreign journalists in Istanbul, Erdogan's chief advisor Ibrahim Kalin said the country was not involved in Aukus, but they hope it doesn't have a negative impact on NATO. However, the agreement will have a significant effect on Turkey.

"Before Aukus, the Turks thought that the U.S. would prevent the EU from adopting a defense policy that was independent of NATO," says Sinan Ülgen, an expert on Turkey at the Brussels think tank Carnegie Europe. "Now they are afraid that Washington may make concessions for France, which could change things."

Macron sees post-Merkel power vacuum

Turkey's concerns may well prove to be justified. Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey, partly because it is an important trading partner and partly because it has a direct influence on the influx of migrants from Asia and the Middle East to Europe.

Merkel consistently thwarted France's plans for a stricter approach from Brussels towards Turkey, and she never supported Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU.

But now she that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.

Ankara fears the defense pact between France and Greece could be a sign of what is to come. According to a statement from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, the agreement is aimed "at NATO member Turkey" and is damaging to the alliance. Observers also assume the agreement means that France is supporting Greece's claims to certain territories in the Mediterranean which remain disputed under international law, with Turkey's own sovereignty claims.

Paris is a close ally of Athens. In the summer of 2020, Greece and Turkey were poised on the threshold of a military conflict in the eastern Mediterranean. Since then, Athens has ordered 24 Rafale fighter jets from France, and the new pact includes a deal for France to supply them with three frigates.

Photo of French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on September 27 in Paris

Sadak Souici/Le Pictorium Agency/ZUMA

Erdogan’s EU wish list

It's not the first time that Ankara has felt snubbed by the EU. Since Donald Trump left the White House, Turkey has been making a considerable effort to improve relations with Brussels. "The situation in the eastern Mediterranean is peaceful and the migrant problem is under control," says Kalin. Now it is "high time" that Europe does something for Turkey.

Erdogan's wish list is extensive: making it easier for Turks to get EU visas, renegotiating the refugee deal, making more funds available to Turkey as it continues the process of joining the EU, and moderniszing the customs union. But there is no movement on any of these issues in Brussels. They're happy to keep Erdogan waiting.

Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU

Now he is starting to look elsewhere. At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense.

 Turkey's second largest export market

The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016. Unlike other European capitals, London reacted quickly, calling the coup an "attack on Turkish democracy," and its government has generally held back in its criticism of Turkey.

At the end of last year, Johnson and Erdogan signed a new free trade agreement, which will govern commerce between the two countries post-Brexit. Erdogan has called it "the most important treaty for Turkey since the customs agreement with the EU in 1995."

After Germany, Britain is Turkey's second largest export market. "Turkey now has the opportunity to build a new partnership with the United Kingdom and it must make the most of it," says economist Ali Kücükcolak from the Istanbul Commerce University.

Erdogan is well aware of this, as Turkey is in desperate need of an economic boost. Inflation currently stands at 19%, and the currency's value is consistently falling. Turks are feeling the impact on their daily lives: food and rent are becoming increasingly expensive, while salaries remain unchanged.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ