Mexico and Cuba: A tale of similarities?

Mexico and Cuba share a history of revolution.  Filled with uprisings, authoritarians, charismatic leaderships, and fights for justice. Having experienced different types of regimes, the Mexican and Cuban have all desired one thing and that is equality, which has been persistent since the colonial era. Although they differ in many aspects, they share a history of fighting for social justice and trying to fix the balance left by internal and external acts.

Conservative Mexican elites wanted to keep the status quo and knew that the only way to support the established was through an independent Mexico. The Mexican aristocracy, like the Spanish, only wanted to serve their interests, forgetting that a major societal inequality was present. Over the next half-century, a dispute between the conservatives and liberals would prevail, the search for constancy in the middle of ideological turmoil would lead to a military-dominated government as Mexico’s weak central state could not impose control due to a lack of ideological authority. General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was in power for thirty years, what may have looked like a possible hold to governmental power came to an end when Santa Anna was unable to stop the growing imperial power of the United States from acquiring a large part of their territory. After years of unstableness, Zapotec Indian, Benito Juárez rose to power and attempted to centralize, modernize and secularize Mexico (O’Neill, 2017, p. 566). Juárez occupied the presidency three times, he imposed a progressive constitution and is considered Mexico’s first proponent democracy. Unfortunately, following his predecessors’ fate, he was unable to bring stability to Mexico. In 1864 Mexican conservatives, backed by French troops, imposed a short-lived monarchy by the Austrian emperor, Maximilian. Juárez was able to return to power but ultimately succumbed due to his reforms that alienated Mexican conservatives. In the search for enduring efficiency, Authoritarianism rose to power.

Cuba began its cries for independence years after the start of the colonial era. The Spanish aristocracy had gained its way to own all of the means of production of the country, the Cuban society, rampaged with a vast amount of poverty, wanted equality and stability. As the hostility against the Spanish rose, so did the independence movements.

José Julián Martí was one of the prominent voices of Cuban independence, notably known for his writings, in these he expressed his desires for independence, freedom, justice, and stability. Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, Antonio Maceo, Calixto Garcia, and Maximo Gomez were also important figures of the Cuban independence who did not also want the same things as Marti but also joined him in the search of independence. After the Ten Years’ War, Cuba was submerged in chaos: thousands of people had died, and the country was ravaged. This war did not bring finality, as it was not either won or loss, until the Spanish-American War which brought an end to the Spanish rule. After the victory, Cuba was an independent republic, but its sovereignty was limited. The United States conditioned Cuba’s independence through the Platt Amendment. The United States went on to substitute Spain as the colonial ruler, its repercussions were severe for the Cuban people, as the elite benefited, and the poor suffered; social justice seemed unreachable. This partnership introduced Cuba to one of its most ruthless authoritarians.

Porfirio Diaz and Fulgencio Batista were both ruthless militants who imposed a brutal regime in their respective countries almost seventy years apart from each other. Initially elected democratically, they both went on later to stay in power undemocratically. Both Porfirio and Fulgencio disregarded human rights, allowed the opposition to be jailed without due process, and both censored the press. Poverty was also a persistent issue they never attended, both were more concerned in attending the needs of wealthy foreign investors and maintaining a good relationship with the United States, as they benefited economically, Diaz only benefited from the United States in trade, as the infrastructure was greatly improved through these investments, Batista, on the other hand, served as the United States puppet, he made deals with the United States’ drug mafias and Cuba went on to be known as “Latin America’s Brothel”, as his regime went on he began accommodating to the United States’ every wish. These regimes were extremely corrupt as the government holds were only appointed to their associates and external conveniences were prioritized. Even though these regimes brought endless attacks on human rights, and social justice was at an all-time low, they were categorized for economic prosperity through their liberal reforms and foreign investments. Although, this was not enough for these regimes to persist, as social justice was at an all-time low, and want for change at an all-time high. After years of injustice, these regimes were toppled by revolutions that were based on equality, stability, and justice.

The Mexican Revolution introduced El Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) and The Cuban Revolution, introduced the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), these were the supposed to fix the balance in the region, The PRI was not introduced as a far-left party. President Adolfo Lopez Matos from the PRI, who governed from 1958 to 1964, stated: “My government is, within the constitution, far-left”. This may seem that the PRI and the PCC share more similarities than contrasts, but in reality, they differentiate in important aspects. First off, The PRI contrasts from the PCC because its leader is elected by the people and serves a term of six years and assumed office without violence or military intervention. Second, a wide range of ideologies are present within the party, this explains President Lopez Matos’s expressions. Third, the Mexican people, according to the Constitution, can live where they want and speak their mind because they live in a democratic state. But similarly, PRI presidents can name their successors just like the PCC, and also like the PCC, they face no effective check on their power from the legislature, judiciary, or state governments, it is all controlled by the party. The PCC is a communist party, their goal is to make everybody equal, after the Revolution the distribution land and wealth commenced. In the years 1934-1940, PRI President Lazaro Cardenas mobilized workers and peasants and pursued to give them ejidos, or land, he also nationalized the oil industry, and mostly strengthened government control. Although in a democratic atmosphere, the PRI does claim authoritarian tendencies, this makes their democracy different from what its true meaning is. Although the PCC is not within a democratic state, it has also its particular definition of democracy. Cuba introduced suffrage in 1976, its democratic model is limited to the election of the National Assembly and the delegates for the provincials and municipalities, although candidates are not required to affiliate with the PCC, it’s still the PCC that holds the power just as the PRI.  Both have stayed long amounts of time in power, the PCC for its one-party policy and the PRI for electoral fraud, but the PRI and the PCC justify these actions as they stand with the belief that they govern with the will of people.

“Democracy is voting but also governing with the will of the people … democracy is a vehicle to extend and not to limit the power of the ruler who claims to represent the <<people>>.

…Democracy and dictatorship are the same things. Indeed, if he incarnates in the people and what the people want to do must be done. And this demands that there is no limit to his power because limiting its power limits the power of the people … it is anti-democratic…” (Kaiser, Alvárez, 2016, p. 62-63)

The PRI and the PCC validate their authoritarian tendencies on the people; (“Me, the people”). They are the correspondent of the people’s will, and because they represent it, they are subjected to follow their interests because their interests are also of those of the people. And because Mexico is democratic, and the PRI was elected and have remained in power for so long, for them, their power is unrivaled. The spheres of decision making are limitless: the persecution of the opposition, attacks on free speech, and confiscations of private property are all legitimized on the pretext that the democratic majority supports the regime and the decisions it takes. On the contrary, the PRI is characterized by not reverting often too harsh methods of repression. Except in the case of the 1968 massacre on peaceful students protesting in Mexico City, and in 2018, Human Rights Watch stated: “The administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto, which began in 2012, security forces have been implicated in repeated, serious human rights violations during efforts to combat organized crime—including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture”. Mexico has an advantage over Cuba, free multi-party elections are respected due to its series of electoral reforms that built a competitive party system and a reliable electoral system, thus why in 2000, 2006, and 2018 the PRI lost the elections, but this doesn’t mean that it cannot find back its way back to power in the next elections. For the PCC, the same thing cannot be said. According to Human Rights Watch, 7,900 reports of arbitrary detention were reported in Cuba from January to August 2016, the highest monthly average of detentions in six years, and in its version of democracy, the opposition is never going to win. Usurpation of power, methods of repression, misrepresenting the will of the people for own self-interests and maintaining power for too long attributes to political wear. Both the PRI and the PCC are corrupt, most of its leaders benefit from being part of the regime and high government officials are handpicked based on convenience, contributing to almost equal politics as past internal and external acts; social justice is still a far cry.

 “Politically, populism is usually embodied in a charismatic leader, a redeemer who comes to rescue the sufferers and assure them of a space of dignity in the new paradise he will create” (Kaiser, Alvárez, 2016, p. 26). Fidel Castro set out an example for future leaders who share the same values of social justice and equality, after his death, Raul Castro stepped in his place. Raul Castro wants to redeem and transform the PCC, as he wants to end corruption within the party, and also transform into a more progressive and inclusive party. Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador was deeply influenced by Fidel Castro. For Lopez Obrador, Fidel “was a social justice warrior who gave true independence to Cuba”. An authentic populist, Lopez Obrador is a charismatic leader who has a deep urge to be the hero of the people and ensure social justice. Despite Fidel Castro not being a populist, he did have some of the characteristics of a populist leader, as he also felt like the true redeemer of the people.

“Although the concept of <<populism>> is very confusing in general terms, we can say that it consists of a deep decomposition that starts at a mental level and is projected at a cultural, institutional and political level. In the populist mentality, the own solution is always expected from another, since it is always responsible for them.” (Kaiser, Alvárez, 2016, p. 26)

For Fidel Castro, imperialism and capitalism were the blame for all the problems in Cuba. The Communist Revolution would solve all the problems imperialism and capitalism pillaged over the region, disregarding that the inefficiency of the government led to the real problem: unequal representation of the people. Although Mexico is a country with neoliberal economic policies, President Peña Nieto, in spite of not being populist, like Fidel, he did to have populist characteristics, he was charismatic and charming, and had a deep intrigue to help the people because he believed they could not be taken care of themselves. He expressed in 2018 that his government “is a free market model, but with a broad social sense.” This expression displays the need for charismatic figures to feel entitled to take care of the people, only to enforce their power over them. Fidel Castro shared the same mentality, even though Fidel despised the free market, he felt the necessity to take care of his people. Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador, resembling more Raul Castro than Fidel on leadership qualities and policies, wants a more modern and progressive approach to his form of government, as both of these, have formed alliances with the United States with the pretext of modernizing their current political and economic order. Both Fidel, Raul, and AMLO blame neoliberalism for their problems, and their solution lies in high government control, and most importantly they believe in a cultural, political, and social transformation, AMLO mentions: “The transformation that the country needs should not only be aimed at achieving economic growth, democracy, development, and well-being. It also implies and above all, crystallizes a new current of thought based on the culture of our people, their vocation for work and their immense goodness…” Karl Marx says “The social being determines consciousness. A real change in the structures of society would close the way to mystical and superficial ideas, which would lead to a flourishing of art and culture. But this cannot be possible until society rests on harmonious relations of production and distribution, or at least until the basis for this is not established” (Marx, 1859). Fidel Castro, who was influenced by Marx believed that universal education and the distribution of wealth would unite society and transform it for the better. The danger of falling into the spell of charismatic leaders is that they manipulate the truth. They make it seem that external problems are the real reason for a country’s inefficiency when in reality corruption, nepotism, and elitism within a high degree of governmental control are behind the masquerade. A charismatic leader serves as a distraction, they incite the people into believing that the problem is not within their government. A charismatic leader wants a cultural change, in the case of AMLO, Fidel Castro, Raul Castro and to some degree Peña Nieto, all want social justice, and often this change is arbitrary and obligatory. For “the greater good”, surrendering political and economic freedom is necessary. The consequences are devastating, corruption, abuse of power, and exodus. It also devitalizes the government which results in inefficiency. Both Mexico and Cuba, have had a long history with charismatic leaders, and have suffered the consequences, both have a large immigrating population, government arbitration, and low economic, political, and social prosperity.

Economic prosperity is a key element for a country to thrive. Mexico, unlike Cuba, is not a communist country, but share a similarity in their low-level of economic prosperity and high level of government control. Both Mexico and Cuba have a centralized planned economy and declining production. Cuba recognizes the private property as a mean that should be extremely regulated, meanwhile, Mexico recognizes private property and although it is not highly regulated like Cuba it does have a degree of regulation. Article 27 of the Political Constitution of the United Mexican States says: “The ownership of the lands and waters included within the limits of the national territory corresponds originally to the Nation, which has had and has the right to send the domain of them to people, constituting private property. Expropriations may only be made for public utility reasons and through compensation.” To open a private business in Mexico is an extremely arduous bureaucratic task when they allow privatization it is often done within state mercantilism. They sell the property to who it is most convenient to their interests, this eliminates incentives for a person to pursue their own business. Having private ownership creates wealth, where entrepreneurship is limited or regulated, poverty is always going to be a persistent issue. In Cuba, it is estimated that five to twenty-six percent live in poverty, but this percentage could be wrong due to the lack of published data. The average Cuban earns twenty dollars a month, below the poverty line of two per day, but does not account for the free services they receive. Although Cubans enjoy certain amounts of economic security, they suffer shortages of many things such as transportation, to food, to internet access. Mexico has a forty-seven percent poverty rate, despite the legacy of the land reform. Improving your way of life in the countries is near to completely impossible. Modern leaders are trying to fix these problems to pursue a better life for their people, but unfortunately, they are still yielding within the same past acts.

Mexico although considered a failed state has more democratic tendencies than Cuba. Although these democratic tendencies, the PRI has sold itself to be democratic but often attributed to authoritarian tendencies. Cuba, unlike Mexico, is consistent, as a failed state, it recognizes itself as an authoritarian one-party rule system, that has never had to address its authoritarian tendencies. But like, they have had a long history trying to fix the balance left by internal and external acts, such as the Spanish and the United States. Social justice has always been a goal for them, but have succumbed to a consistent cycle of corruption, charismatic leaders, external acts, and government inefficiency. The newer generation of leaders is trying to introduce new progressive policies into their current government to establish a better way of life but remain to blame external factors for their problems without addressing the issues about failed policies that are included in centralized forms of governments. Only time will tell if these countries will break the cycle of injustice, and adjust to the changing world, for the Cuban and Mexican people to enjoy a good, efficient, and just way of life.

Bibliography:

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Flor, M. F. (2018, November 30). AMLO no es el primer presidente mexicano de izquierda: hubo varios del PRI. Retrieved from https://es.panampost.com/mamela-fiallo/2018/11/30/lopez-obrador-izquierda/.

Kaiser, A., & Álvarez Gloria. (2016). El engaño populista: por qué se arruinan nuestros países y cómo rescatarlos. Ciudad de México: Ariel.

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