Pragmatic Europe rolls out the red carpet for Latin America's despots

Given the strong political and commercial influence of China in Latin America and in the context of the invasion of Ukraine, Europe has announced a “new beginning” in its relationship with the region even with the dictatorships of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

The European Union and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) held the third EU-CELAC Summit in Brussels this week after an eight-year hiatus. This time, the focus was on Latin America and its supply chains, trade, investment, climate change and renewable energy. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, announced a $50 billion investment plan for Latin America and the Caribbean through the Global Gateway program. The initiative sounds like a retread of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

But most importantly, the meeting completely avoided the human rights violations and the 1,400 political prisoners currently being held in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

The three longstanding dictatorships were further legitimized by this meeting. They forced their own nations’ democratic crises off the radar. The participating countries prioritized the trade agenda and even allowed the dictatorships to veto participation by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, despite the overwhelming overall support for Ukraine at the summit.

Nicolas Maduro’s regime in Venezuela has committed a record 8,900 crimes against humanity. It holds 300 known political prisoners. It has produced 7.2 million refugees, and thousands more have disappeared. Despite this, Vice President Delcy Rodríguez arrived in Brussels with a smile and a special travel permit exempting her from the sanctions issued by the EU in 2018.

Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega, a cold war dinosaur, has also restored his relationship with Europe. Nicaragua sent a delegation to the summit, received the approval of its ambassador, and removed the regime’s 355 murders from the agenda. To Ortega’s discomfort, more than 160 exiled Nicaraguans and twenty international organizations asked the EU-CELAC to create a Group of Friends of Nicaragua. It was an uphill but commendable effort.

As for Cuba, the 64-year-old communist dictatorship currently holding more than 1,000 political prisoners also attended the EU-CELAC meeting. Nobody questions the regime’s crimes against humanity. Miguel Díaz Canel, Raúl Castro’s puppet, wants more euros and less democracy.

According to reports by Human Rights Watch the Cuban authorities have refused to allow EU and member state diplomats, international media or human rights organizations to monitor the trials of those detained over the protests of July 11, 2021. Family members and detainees report various due process violations, while artists, intellectuals and others with alternative ideas are subjected to alarming levels of surveillance and restrictions on their freedom of movement.

The EU-CELAC Summit issued a final declaration in which condemned the alleged U.S. blockade of Cuba and questioned its inclusion on the list of countries that sponsor terrorism. Not a single word about political prisoners, the death penalty or religious freedom in Havana.

The declaration also expressed concern about the situation in Haiti and called for renewing the fruitless talks between the Venezuelan regime and the opposition. The EU-CELAC did not condemn the ban against Maria Corina Machado and a dozen opposition leaders who were illegally disqualified by the dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro from running in the 2024 elections.

Eight years after the last EU-CELAC Summit, the COVID pandemic and the war in Ukraine, there are more dictatorships and fewer democracies in Latin America. The political and commercial influence of the Chinese and Russian tyrannies in the Americas has increased significantly.

The Russian invasion in Ukraine has apparently created a desperate and disproportionate interest in rebuilding the relationship with Latin America, even if it means sacrificing human rights on the altar of pragmatism. Europe has been forced to reset its foreign policy, and it has yielded too much.

The dictatorships of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela are already salivating over the $50 billion investment announced by the EU. The tyrants have won impunity, legitimacy, and a juicy slice of the financial pie.

Will this fresh start in the EU foreign policy toward Latin America bring new times of prosperity and democracy come? Or will new dictatorships emerge?

You already know the answer.

Arturo McFields Yescas is an exiled journalist, former Nicaraguan ambassador to the Organization of American States and former member of the Peace Corps of Norway.

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