The Nature of Dictatorships

Fidel Castro with former President of the Spanish Government Felipe González and Daniel Ortega. (EFE/File)

“Totalitarian tyranny is not built on the virtues of totalitarians, but on the faults of democrats.”

Albert Camus

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yunior García Aguilera, Madrid, 18 January 2022 — In popular culture there is a well-known a fable, attributed to Aesop, where a scorpion, to cross the river, asks a frog to allow it to climb on its back. Faced with the amphibian’s doubts, the scorpion offers a reasonable explanation: there is nothing to fear, because if it were to sting her, both would drown. The frog recognizes the logic of the argument and agrees to carry it across. But when they are only halfway across the river something unusual happens: the scorpion sticks its stinger in the frog’s back and the poison begins to paralyze his assistant. The frog, fatally surprised, wonders how such a thing could have happened. And the scorpion, before sinking, offers him a crushing answer: I’m sorry, it’s my nature.

International institutions have been too ambiguous in the face of openly anti-democratic regimes. It is shameful that the longest-running dictatorship in Latin America occupies a seat on the UN Human Rights Commission and that it will remain there, quietly, until the year 2023. The regime in Havana has brutally repressed popular demonstrations, has acknowledged not believing in the separation of powers, has locked up hundreds of protesters, including children, and has handed out very high sentences much more naturally than it distributes rationed bread. If even more human rights have not been violated in Cuba, it is simply because the Universal Declaration has only thirty articles. It would suffice to say that the mere fact of sharing that document has been considered by the police, on several occasions, as a subversive act.

In Nicaragua, days ago, the scorpions have celebrated their party. Smiling broadly, Nicolás Maduro, Miguel Díaz-Canel and Daniel Ortega pose before the cameras. As it seems a small thing to them to laugh at their own people, now they also laugh at the world and invite a criminal wanted by Interpol to pose with them. Mohsén Rezaí, accused of the attack that left 85 dead and more than 300 wounded in Argentina, held “cordial working meetings” with the Cuban dictator. But it is not surprising that totalitarians in the region celebrate fraud, meet with terrorists or mock democracies. What is outrageous is that legitimate governments feign political dyslexia or ideological strabismus.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt coined a phrase about ’Tacho’ Somoza, later copied by Henry Kissinger to refer to the second dictator with the same last name: “Yes, he’s a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.” And that is precisely what some democratic governments, with progressive agendas, think about the dictators of the Venezuela-Cuba-Nicaragua triumvirate. Going out to defend them is already extremely scandalous, which is why some leaders opt for a less obvious action: to remain silent.  That complicity might sound like “comradeship” if it were the teenage members of a soccer team, but here it is about world leaders who hold the destinies of millions of people in their hands. And that gang mentality is a dangerous time bomb in a historical context marked by instability and polarization.

An effort must be made to understand the logic of some institutions or governments in their relationship with dictatorships. The Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement between the European Union and Cuba clearly states among its objectives “the strengthening of human rights and democracy.”

Forgive me if I insist here on recalling Aesop’s fable, but it is very clear that said agreement, beyond the strategic and economic interests it pursues, is turning out to be a complete failure.  Poverty and repression in Cuba are growing at a dizzying pace, while any hint of a negotiated solution collapses. The dictatorship strengthens its ties with China and Iran, while Russia threatens to move troops to Cuban soil. The regime does not know how to stay in power by means other than force, meanwhile ordinary people find no way out other than fleeing the country at whatever price.

Riding the scorpion’s back is not a gesture of solidarity, it is a reckless bet. The sting is not only constantly piercing the flesh of civil society, but also threatens the credibility of lavish global institutions, unable to prevent outbreaks in territories where chaos was predictable. What are we playing at? Dictatorships do not hide their nature, why, then, are they still on your back?


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