On the occasion of Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel’s visit recently to Mexico, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) raised the possibility of many nations cooperating to oppose the U.S blockade of Cuba. AMLO has become Cuba’s champion in the international arena, and perhaps not accidentally: the governments of the two nations each originated from social and political revolutions.
The two leaders have built a tight relationship. Diaz-Canal visited to Mexico in September, 2021. AMLO was in Cuba in May, 2022. And AMLO refused to attend a U.S – organized Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles in June 2022 because Cuba had been excluded.
Accompanied by Cuban government officials, Díaz-Canel on February 11 joined AMLO in the Mexican state of Campeche. That Cuban medical teams are working there now may have helped determine the meeting’s location.
In remarks at a medical center, AMLO lauded Cuba’s medical solidarity and described own people’s unmet social needs. He called upon the U.S. government to end its blockade of Cuba:
[Cuba] has our respect, our gratitude, our support, and we are going to continue demanding the removal, the elimination of the blockade against Cuba, which is inhumane. And there’s more than voting in the United Nations where the anti-blockade resolution is always approved overwhelmingly, and then it’s back to the way it was.
I promise President Miguel Díaz-Canel that Mexico will be leading a more active movement so that all countries come together and defend the independence and sovereignty of Cuba. No longer will there be anything about treating Cuba as a terrorist country or putting Cuba on the black list of supposed terrorists.
Cuba has been able to count on support from Mexico. As the Bay of Pigs invasion was unfolding in 1961, former Mexican President Lázaro Cárdenas spoke in defense of Cuba before 80,000 people in Mexico City’s Zocalo. Soon afterwards, Mexico’s government backed Cuba in the United Nations. Later Mexico rejected calls by the U.S. – dominated Organization of American States for member states to impose economic sanctions against Cuba and break off diplomatic ties.
AMLO visited Cuba in May, 2022. Speaking before Cuban leaders, he recalled “times when the United States wanted to own the continent …. They were annexing, deciding on independence wherever; creating new countries, freely associated states, protectorates, military bases; and … invading.” The U.S. government, he declared, needs to know “that a new relationship among the peoples of America … is possible.”
While in Cuba he signed agreements for Mexican young people to study medicine in Cuba, for Cuba to provide Mexico with anti-Covid vaccines, and for hundreds of Cuban physicians to work in Mexico in underserved areas.
Months before, in September 2021, Díaz-Canel was the honored guest at celebrations in Mexico City of the 200th anniversary of Mexico’s national independence. Welcoming his guest, AMLO praised Cuba’s steadfastness in defending its revolution. Calling upon U.S. political leaders to lift the blockade on Cuba, he appealed to their good sense and rationality, saying nothing about nations uniting in opposition to the blockade.
[The U.S. government] must lift its blockade against Cuba, because no state has a right to subjugate another people, or another country … [And] It looks very bad that the U.S. government uses the blockade to hurt the people of Cuba in order to force them by necessity to confront their own government … President Biden, who shows political sensitivity, [must] take a wider view and put a permanent end to the politics of grievances against Cuba.
The emphasis was different, however, when the two leaders met recently, on February 11 in Campeche. AMLO unveiled an evolved and more forceful approach to ending the blockade. He bestowed upon Díaz-Canel Mexico’s highest recognition extended to foreign notables, the Aztec Eagle, and then praised Cuba as a special case for its strenuous resistance to U.S. enforcement of the Monroe Doctrine. He continued:
I also maintain that it is time for a new coexistence among all the countries of America, because that model imposed more than two centuries ago is completely exhausted, it is anachronistic, it has no future. There is no way out, it no longer benefits anyone, we must put aside the trade-off imposed on us either to go along with the United States or be in opposition, courageously and defensively.
It is time to express and explore another option, that of dialoguing with the leaders of all the countries and especially with U.S. leaders, and convince and persuade them that a new relationship between the countries of our continent, of all America, is possible. I believe that conditions are perfect now for achieving this goal of mutual respect.
In an interview later on, Mexican foreign minister Marcelo Ebrard offered some specifics:
President Lopez Obrador wants to bring the presidents of the progressive states of Latin America together to address food security, well-being and other issues that are important for our community of nations. This is something we have to discuss with other foreign ministers and move forward in the coming months.
The progressive governments AMLO has in mind, according to Ebrard, are Mexico, Argentina, Brazil. Colombia, Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Chile, and Honduras. They include “the three largest economies in Latin America.” The implication may be that these countries, collaborating on various issues, political ones included, have sufficient economic clout to pressure the United States on Cuba.
President Díaz-Canel himself has been building other bridges. In recent weeks he visited Belize, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Barbados, for the 7th CARICOM (Caribbean Community) – Cuba Summit meeting.
AMLO’s focus on progressive nations is crucial. He has worked toward reviving the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) as a vehicle for collective action, despite participation there by conservatively-governed nations. Yet he did not attend the CELAC summit taking place in January and so may be discouraged as to prospects for CELAC serving his purposes.
AMLO’s power to orchestrate regional support is limited. Only 18 months remain of his six-year term as president of a country dependent economically on the United States and divided geographically, ethnically, and by social class. Nevertheless, Cuba, whose external resources for ending the U.S. economic blockade are hardly infinite, badly needs international partnering that offers persuasive power. Lifelines thrown by AMLO are a start in that direction.