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Opinion: Inconsistent Boric condemns Russia, but stays silent on Latin American dictators

Although Chile’s president recently condemned Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, he recently eluded a question about the three Latin American dictatorships -- refusing to condemn their human rights record

A London newspaper rack holding several international newspapers
A London newspaper rack holding several international newspapers | Shutterstock

April 19, 2022 1:48pm

Updated: February 19, 2023 9:49am

It’s no secret that Chile’s new leftist president rode onto the Andean nation’s political scene on the “pink wave” that has flooded the region in recent times.

Although the 36-year-old former student leader has attempted to paint himself as a moderate who rejects the Latin American left’s political model, his actions have spoken louder than words.

Shortly after besting free-market candidate Jose Antonio Kast in a presidential runoff election in December of last year, the 36-year-old former student leader visited then-President Sebastian Piñera at Chile’s presidential palace. Before leaving the grounds, the young leftist stopped to pay his respects before a bust of Salvador Allende – the socialist president whose rule was marked by rampant inflation and a 23-day state visit by Cuban dictator Fidel Castro before the military took control of the country on Sept. 11, 1973.

"When I stood in front of Salvador Allende's bust, I thought of those who, like him, came before us. Their dreams of a better Chile are the ones we will continue to build together with all of you,” Boric tweeted at the time.

But Boric’s affinity for authoritarianism is much more than a historical crush on one of the left’s political icons and his refusal to call out Latin America’s modern dictatorships has shown his true colors.

Although Chile’s president recently condemned Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, Andres Oppenheimer at the Miami Herald recently wrote that Boric eluded a question about the three Latin American dictatorships during a joint press conference with Argentine President Alberto Fernandez in Buenos Aires last week -- refusing to condemn their human rights record. 

“Why do the media always ask me about Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua and not about the human-rights violations in our own country [Chile], or about the killings of social activists in Colombia?” he asked. “Let’s not use the suffering of our peoples, be it in Ukraine, Yemen, Palestine, Chile, Venezuela or Nicaragua, to reap political benefits at home.”

While Oppenheimer notes that his stance on Russia is admirable, he warned that Boric is “using a double standard when it comes to Latin America’s leftist dictatorships.”

“It is unfair — and misleading — to compare Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba with Chile or Colombia. It’s a false equivalency. It obscures the fact that the first three countries are dictatorships, and that their human-rights violations are immensely larger than those of Chile or Colombia,” he wrote.

This level of intellectual dishonesty is dangerous in a region where human rights have, in recent years, come under attack. As the old saying goes, "ideas have consequences" and not calling out evil can be considered the same as condoning it. 

Although human rights have suffered under many left leaning governments, the dictatorships of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua have been especially nefarious.

In the past year, the Cuban government systematically engaged in abuses against critics of the regime, citizen journalists, artists and countless other individuals who dared to clamor for freedom. Abuses on the island have included arbitrary detention, torture, forced deportation and abuse-ridden criminal prosecutions in response to peaceful anti-government protests.  

According to a recent ADN America report, the Cuban regime carried out around 9,700 repressive actions against the civilian population, making 2021 the worst year in the last two decades for human rights on the island. 

In Venezuela — where inflation hovers at around 2,000 percent — the hunger brought about by a failed economy has only added to the regime’s many human rights abuses.

As millions of individuals continue to flee to neighboring countries, those who remain struggle to eat as the country continues to suffer from food shortages brought about by the regime’s desperate attempts to fix the broken economy by implementing price controls and seizing farms.  

But Venezuelans are unable to speak out against their failed leadership as Nicolas Maduro’s regime has continued to jail opposition voices and presently stands accused of committing crimes against humanity. After the last round of elections, U.S. and European officials denounced the elections in Venezuela as a sham.

The November elections in Nicaragua were also widely condemned as fraudulent.

Since taking office in 2007, the government of President Daniel Ortega has dismantled institutional checks on presidential power and abolished term limits —setting the despot up for a lifetime in power.

The Electoral Council, stacked with the president’s cronies, removed opposition lawmakers in 2016 and barred opposition political parties from participating in the 2021 presidential elections. 

According to HRW, between May and October 2021, authorities arbitrarily detained seven presidential candidates and 32 prominent government critics. Prosecutors opened investigations against most on alleged “treason” charges and the Attorney General’s Office filed charges against the detainees in proceedings that lacked basic due process guarantees.

Charges, carrying prison sentences of 15 to 25 years, ranged from money laundering to, most commonly, “conspiracy to undermine national integrity.”

“Most critics have been held incommunicado and subjected to abuses in detention, including daily interrogations, prolonged solitary confinement, and insufficient food. Authorities have barred critics’ lawyers from participating in public hearings, assigning public defenders instead. Despite repeated requests, most lawyers had no access to court documents for months,” the report notes.

In January, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released its 752-page World Report 2022 warning that “Latin America is facing some of its gravest human rights challenges in decades.”

“Latin America is experiencing such an alarming reversal of basic freedoms that we now have to defend democratic spaces that we once took for granted,” said Tamara Taraciuk Broner, acting director of Human Rights Watch's America division.

“Even democratically elected leaders attacked independent civil society, the free press, and judicial independence. Millions of people were forced to leave their homes and countries, and the economic and social impact of the pandemic has been devastating.”

From Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in Mexico down to Gabriel Boric in the region’s southernmost tip, “a new socialist, authoritarian wave” has challenged the individual and economic freedoms of millions of Latin Americans.

Since announcing his presidential bid before the last elections, Boric has promised to help dismantle Chile’s free-market system by supporting the writing of a new constitution, eliminating the country’s prolific private pension system and giving more autonomy to the Andean country’s rebel controlled southern regions.

While the world pretends he’s just another exciting young democrat, readers should beware that, in Latin America, the apple doesn’t fall far from the political tree.