Florida pols: Want to be hard on the LatAm left? Don't be soft on the right
COMMENTARY Florida plays a hemispheric double standard — condemning left-wing tyranny but coddling right-wing assaults on democracy in places like Guatemala — that's self-defeating.
If the history of this hemisphere has taught us anything, it’s that few viruses compromise democracy in the Americas more than double standards in America do.
And that’s a vital lesson Florida politicians still seem unable or unwilling to learn.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s always gratifying to see Florida’s pols come together across the aisle to defend democracy in Latin America. It’s part of the job description when you represent a peninsula teeming with expats from that region. Last week’s bipartisan gathering of Congressmembers here in Miami — marking the second anniversary of massive anti-regime demonstrations in communist Cuba and the unjust imprisonment of more than a thousand protesters — was just the latest example.
But it was also just the latest reminder that Florida’s pols can be very, very selective — hypocritically and counterproductively selective — about what democratic causes they rush to stand up for.
Right now, the Florida radio silence feels especially deafening when it comes to Central America, in particular the democratic crisis in Guatemala. And what Florida politicos rarely if ever get is that this is the sort of omission that only risks worsening the hemispheric emergencies, like Cuba, that they do make a show of caring about.
In Guatemala, an ultra-corrupt right-wing political establishment is busier than Donald Trump on a hotline call to Georgia trying to cancel the results of the country’s June 25 presidential election. The establishment cabal, known derisively in Guatemala as the “Pacto de Corruptos,” spent months before that first-round vote making meticulously sure that any opposition candidates who had a marimba musician’s chance in hell of winning got disqualified. It would slap them with a bogus criminal charge or a party registration technicality.
But they somehow missed Congressman Bernardo Arévalo, who snuck through and made it to the August 20 run-off election against the Pacto candidate, Sandra Torres.
Florida's hypocrisy leads leftist regimes to conclude America isn’t serious about defending democracy and emboldens them to double down on dictatorship.
Because Arévalo is an anti-corruption reformer, el Pacto is frantically pulling every crooked judicial lever it can to knock him off the ballot. Last week it had the government’s special anti-impunity prosecutor, Rafael Curruchiche — who, ¡qué sorpresa!, is on a U.S. State Department blacklist of corrupt Central American officials — suspend Arévalo’s party, Movimiento Semilla (Seed Movement) for infractions Curruchiche says, well, have suddenly come to light.
To its credit, Guatemala’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal, or TSE, which had already certified the first-round results, told Curruchiche to take a hike in the Petén jungle. But he and a Pacto judge, Fredy Orellana, are now aiming charges at TSE members for not obeying the Semilla suspension order.
If I were a betting man, because this is Guatemala — where folks are so fearful of the conservative ruling elite’s sinister machinations that “even the drunks are discreet,” as one 19th-century visitor wrote — I’d put my money, sadly, on Arévalo not being a voter option next month.
Yet we’ve heard little if any peep at all from the Florida politicians who are supposedly America’s staunchest democratic watchdogs in the Americas.
They’ve of course shouted loudly in recent years and months, as they should, about opposition presidential candidates being axed by leftist regimes.
Like Nicaragua, where in 2021 dictator Daniel Ortega jailed every challenger he faced on preposterous “treason” charges; or Venezuela, where just last month dictator Nicolás Maduro had leading candidate María Corina Machado banned from running for office for 15 years on baseless “corruption” charges.
But because most Florida Latinos or their parents and grandparents fled left-wing tyranny, politicians here avoid censuring right-wing tyranny. In fact, doing so costs them Latino votes in Florida — because, absurdly, condemning the Latin American right must mean you coddle the left. And let’s face it: in the minds of most Florida pols, migrant groups like Guatemalans don’t cast votes; they pick fruit.
In the end, though, that double standard is a credibility-killer. It only leads the Cubas and Nicaraguas and Venezuelas to conclude that America really isn’t that serious about defending democracy – and ultimately emboldens them to double down on dictatorship.
They’re all too mindful of hypocrisy like the U.S.-engineered coup that overthrew Guatemala’s democratically-elected reformist president Jacobo Arbenz in 1954, which led to his exile as well as that of Arbenz’s reformist predecessor, Juan José Arévalo.
Who, lest we forget, was Bernardo Arévalo’s father.