If Biden keeps the Díaz-Canels out of the summit, he should keep the Díaz-Balarts out, too
COMMENTARY Biden has little choice but to exclude Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua from the Americas Summit. Nor can he welcome U.S. democracy-defilers.
I can’t blame President Biden if, as it appears, he doesn't invite despotic politicos like Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel to next month’s Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles. But if Biden wants to show the Americas that America is serious about defending democracy, he shouldn’t keep only the Díaz-Canels out of the summit. He should make sure the Diaz-Balarts aren’t welcome, either.
As in, Miami Congressman Mario Díaz-Balart and the rest of the 147 U.S. Congress members who defiled democracy on Jan. 6, 2021.
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This week leftist-populist Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and other hemispheric leaders are denouncing Biden’s plan to snub the so-called “troika of tyranny” — Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua — and they’re threatening not to attend the summit themselves. But their objections come about seven years too late.
Maybe in 2015, when the summit was held in Panama, they'd have gotten a sympathetic ear had the troika been stiff-armed. At that moment, those regimes looked somewhat less sinister.
The U.S., rightly, had just normalized relations with communist Cuba; there was hope Havana might liberalize its repressive politics and ramshackle economy. It made sense for then-U.S. President Barack Obama to shake then-Cuban President Raúl Castro’s hand in Panama City. Venezuela’s socialist leader, Nicolás Maduro, hadn’t yet gone full Fidel on his own country — in fact, that year the opposition won a supermajority in the National Assembly. And Nicaragua’s leftist tin pot, Daniel Ortega, hadn’t yet morphed into the Macbeth of Managua.
But today? The troika’s left Biden little if no choice in terms of hemispheric policy projection and domestic political reality.
When Obama visited Havana in 2016 and publicly urged the Cuban regime to stop fearing its own people, its octogenarian leaders panicked like nursing home bullies who’ve just found out the dominoes rules have changed. They became more paranoid of their own people, retrenching instead of reforming — most recently by sentencing teenagers to lengthy prison sentences for merely taking part in anti-regime street protests last summer.
Maduro has since trashed Venezuela’s democracy at every turn. He illegally rigged the 2018 presidential election — prompting the U.S. and almost 60 other countries to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s constitutionally legitimate president. U.N. investigators have accused Maduro and his brutal security forces of crimes against humanity.
Ortega, meanwhile, said: hold my Toña beer. Last year he “won” a fourth five-year term by throwing every one of his presidential election opponents in jail for “treason” – meaning, opposing Ortega. His own security forces have killed hundreds of anti-government protesters in recent years.
If Biden doesn't invite Latin America's left-wing despots to the summit, it would also be hypocritical to let the right-wing Congress members who trashed U.S. democracy attend.
So, President López Obrador, you’ll have to excuse those of us who normally stump for hemispheric engagement at times like this if we find your idea of hemispheric engagement to be a tad tyrant-enabling.
If not clueless. It doesn’t exactly help Biden keep the U.S. and the world on board his campaign against a monstrous Old World dictator like Vladimir Putin if he invites the New World’s Putin Mini-Me’s to a democracy celebration.
But I forgot: López Obrador is a craven apologist for Putin, too. Then consider this, Señor Presidente: whatever Good Neighbor Policy points Biden scores south of the border if he includes the troika are far outweighed by the polling points he loses inside his own borders. Especially in Florida’s Cuban and Latino communities.
Which brings us from the Díaz-Canels to the Díaz-Balarts. If Biden wants to show the likes of López Obrador that the troika exclusion is about more than exile vote-grubbing, he should also make sure that Díaz-Balart — and every Trump toady in Congress who voted on Jan. 6 to block legitimate electoral college votes — get served their own summit restraining orders.
Nothing would send the hemisphere a more hypocritical message than to let Díaz-Balart and the other GOP politicos who trashed America’s democracy that day take part in or even have a ringside seat to the L.A. gathering. That’s particularly true in the case of two other Jan. 6 insurrection-inciters, Florida Senator Rick Scott and Miami Congressman Carlos Gimenez.
Like Díaz-Balart, they have a one-note political strategy: shamelessly compare your opponents to Latin America’s left-wing dictators. Yet they joined that anti-democratic fraternity last year.
So this year let them join it on the summit’s sidelines.