Latin America leaders in Cuba: 'Abrazo si, dinero no' ('A hug yes, money no')
My Cuban American friends are furious about Latin American leaders visiting Cuba and showing so much praise for the aging Fidel Castro.. (Check out the latest from Alberto De La Cruz at Babalu)
I agree with all of my friends in Miami, and Carlos Puig in Mexico, that this whole thing smells bad. It's a shame to see a self proclaimed reformer, like President Pena-Nieto, shaking hands with the longest running dictatorship in Latin America. (I understand President Fernandez of Argentina, who wouldn't mind hiding in Cuba given the collapse of Argentina's economy.)
Also, dissidents were not allowed to come anywhere near the meetings and some were locked up during the events.
At the same time, don't overlook the real reason for the picture and the handshake.
Let me speak about Mexico, a country that I am very familiar with.
After college, I worked in Mexico for a US company for several years. I was active in local chambers of commerce and had a chance to meet some business and political leaders.
We had chats about Cuba and Mexico very often. I got hot many times but my Mexican hosts would always tell me to look behind the curtain.
They taught me this about Mexico and Cuba: Do not take Mexican presidents very seriously when they shake hands or hug "el commandante," as President Lopez-Portillo used to say.
It's all a big farce intended to throw a few crumbs to the very powerful and loud Mexican left.
Over the last 20 years, Mexican presidents have made the left very unhappy.
First, there is NAFTA, an agreement that the left believes killed small Mexican businesses and filled stores with foreign goods.
Second, there is Plan Merida, a deal negotiated between President Bush and President Calderon to provide US arms to fight the cartel war. (The left really hates this one)
The left is furious with President Pena-Nieto and has every desire to destroy his presidency. They are staging rallies, causing traffic jams and so on. Have you taken a flight to Mexico City lately? Have you seen the street rallies? Have you been tied in an endless traffic jam?
I am not justifying President Pena-Nieto's hypocrisy, or "reforma para todos menos Cuba." (Reform for all except Cuba)
It makes me as angry as it makes you!
At the same time, he has to worry about Mexico not Cubans. That's the blunt reality.
Fidel or Raul Castro got a handshake and a hug but NOT "the credit" that they desperately need.
That's the bottom line of President Pena-Nieto's visit: "Un abrazo pero no un centavo"! ("A hug but not one cent")
My guess is that Fidel would have preferred a line of credit rather than another Mexican president using him for domestic reasons. The Castro dictatorship needs "cash" not more Mexican lefties singing the praises of the revolution.