14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 20 September 2021 — Everything seemed to be going according to the script drawn up in Havana. Miguel Díaz-Canel had been received with all the honors by the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, and the accolade was to be completed with the relaunch of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac). But shortly before the official visit ended, something went awry.
In the large room full of leaders, the veneer of a democratic ruler with which the Mexican executive hastily tried to paint Díaz-Canel did not last long. It was enough for the Uruguayan president, Luis Lacalle Pou, to express his concern that in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua “there is no full democracy,” for the First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party to shed the character he was trying to present.
Not used to another person, microphone in hand, questioning him, the engineer – for whom no one voted at the polls – deployed his rusty rhetoric. Instead of accepting the criticism, announcing that what happened on July 11 opened a path of inescapable and urgent democratic change, or taking advantage of the moment to announce an amnesty for political prisoners, he preferred to appeal to the pitiful discourse of blaming others for the lack of freedoms on the Island.
He missed another opportunity.
It is worth remembering that the person who challenged him is not someone far from the Cuban drama. In recent years, thousands of Cubans have gone to Uruguay fleeing the poverty and repression on the island. Many have continued to other nations, but others have stayed and settled in that southern country. Lacalle Pou knows very well the drama that these “common rafters” carry on their shoulders. He has every right to question the reasons that led them to flee.
So the Uruguayan asked to speak again and, in a brief but historic intervention, put his finger in the authoritarian wound. He quoted some verses* from the song Patria y Vida to the man who has fined and imprisoned thousands of Cubans who have hummed what has now become the soundtrack of freedom. It was the punch that ended up deflating the false “good mood” of the entire visit to Mexico.
Furious, decomposed and stammering, Díaz-Canel took the floor and responded. It would have been better to keep silent but tyrants have some well-marked weaknesses, one being that they do not know how to remain silent and they feel it’s a defeat if the opponent has the last word. They sin by wanting to crush the other with their words, when they cannot lock him up in jail.
Arrogant and annoyed, it occurred to him to accuse Lacalle Pou of bad musical taste and insisted that the song was a “construction among some artists against the Cuban Revolution,” without realizing that he was just confirming what the Uruguayan had denounced: that a clan self-designated as the sole voice of Cuba arrogates to itself the right to say what the homeland is and what is not, who can claim it and who can only be condemned to be gagged.
And so ended what could be Díaz-Canel’s last trip to an international event. Wounded in his pride, stripped naked in public like the Castro’s clumsy apprentice tyrant, those last few feet on the way to the plane must have been hell. As much as López Obrador and his chancellor tried to clean up his image, it was clear that in Latin America the Plaza of the Revolution is becoming less convincing with its discourse and is increasingly rejected for its human rights violations.
The same week that they lost old Europe, after the forceful vote condemning the repression of the July protests that took place in the European Parliament, the Cuban ruler is eating the dust of ridicule in Mexico. On the island, despite attempts to censor part of the skirmish with Lacalle Pou, the video of the latter “singing the truth to him” has quickly gone viral.
The clever old olive-green foxes of Havana have taken notice. His straw puppet falls apart, he is unpresentable, it is a danger to leave him at the mercy of international microphones and within the reach of any political figure who may question him. He no longer serves them for that.
We will have to be attentive to whether Díaz-Canel goes to New York to attend the next session of the United Nations General Assembly. The probable absence of the Cuban president will prove that his trip to Mexico was a “trial balloon” that confirmed the rejection of him in world forums.
López Obrador will also have drawn some conclusions and, although he seems willing to open his wallet and delay the long end of Castroism with his support, he must have realized that whoever hangs out with dictators ends up getting dirty. This Saturday, part of Díaz-Canel’s filth also rubbed off on the Mexican ruler.
*Translator’s note: The verse quoted (in English translation) was:
No longer shall flow the blood
Of those who dare to think differently
Who told you Cuba is yours?
Indeed, Cuba is for all my people
COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.