mujer, francia márquez, bandera de Cuba

Francia Marquez. Photo: Juan Carlos Sierra / Semana.

Francia Marquez, the Latin American Left & Cuban “Democracy”

21 / marzo / 2023

During an interview for the Colombian magazine Semana, journalist Vicky Davila asked Francia Marquez, Colombia’s vice-president, if Cuba was a dictatorship. Marquez didn’t answer the question and instead asked another: “But why?” Then, she continued: 

“Well, [Cuba] has been a besieged dictatorship, a dictatorship as you say, but it doesn’t send weapons. It sends doctors. Isn’t that admirable?”

Davila insisted and asked Marquez to answer the question. The Vice-President said that the journalist had put the term out there and that she couldn’t affirm or deny it. “I respect every country’s autonomy and the sovereignty of their people. Every country decides how it organizes itself in political terms,” the Colombian VP said.

Faced with the sidestep, the interviewer once again pointed out to Francia Marquez that the Cuban “people haven’t been able to decide.” In response to this statement, the Colombian politician said that the Cuban people haven’t been able to decide because they “have been besieged (…) by powers,” and she highlighted the US as one of them.

Francia Marquez’s way of thinking falls within the stance of most of the Latin American Left who have (traditionally) preferred to avoid pointing a finger at the Cuban regime, because of their ideological allegiances.

Even a left-wing government like Gabriel Boric’s in Chile (who recently came into power and pointed out human rights violations on the archipelago in his election campaign), has only noted oppression in Nicaragua and Venezuela after taking office, but has avoided mentioning similar situations in Cuba. 

At the CELAC Summit held in Argentina, Boric asked for the release of “opposition members who were still [being] detained in Nicaragua at the time. But when it came to Cuba, he only limited himself to condemning the US “blockade” against the archipelagok, just like Francia Marquez.

Despite Marquez’ position being similar to that of her Latin American left-wing comrades, there are common arguments in her line of reasoning that deserve to be explained.

1. Sovereignty and self-determination

Francia Marquez prefers not to label the Cuban Government a dictatorship because it could be seen as an interference it’s “autonomy and popular sovereignty.” 

However, the reason used by Colombia’s vice-president doesn’t voluntarily recognize or ignores the fact that the reigning political regime in Cuba hasn’t remained in power as a result of free exercise of autonomy and popular sovereignty.

Popular sovereignty in Cuba was annulled decades ago by the system that turned the archipelago into the place that Francia Marquez believes to be her “common place of inspiration.”

Cuban citizens haven’t had the chance to freely choose the kind of Government they want for over 70 years. The Cuban regime has given constant signs that it isn’t willing to change unless this comes by violent force. A form of struggle that Francia Marquez said she opposed – during her visit to the Martin Luther King Center in Havana – to stop any “young person having to take up arms as their only option.” 

However, this seems to be the option that first secretary of the Politburo of the only political party authorized in Cuba has reserved for young Cubans who hope for and have demanded for a change in system on the country’s streets. On July 11, 2021, in response to the largest mass protests that have challenged the Government since 1959, Miguel Diaz-Canel gave the order to attack protestors and said: “they’ll have to cross over our dead bodies if they want to stand up to the Revolution, and we are ready to do whatever we need to do.”

Vice-President Marquez seems to be unaware that the Cuban Government incorporated an intangibility clause into the Constitution in 2002, in response to a legitimate and legal initiative (Proyecto Varela) pushed by the Christian Liberation Movement and led by Oswaldo Paya.

A clause that is set in stone for future constitutional amendments, which doesn’t seek to consolidate rights- like elsewhere -, but rather blocks the population’s right to self-determination. A clause that is also found in Article 4 of the current Constitution, recognizing that “Socialism” is the only option for Cuba until the end of time.

A clause that knows nothing of Marxist ideology which – theoretically – inspires the Cuban State. A clause that inherently fails to recognize that the Cuban people can and have the right to change their opinion and that the State is obliged to facilitate this change by peaceful means.

Article 4 in the Constitution that came into force in April 2019 also amended the right of rebellion -traditionally understood as a tool for citizens to fight tyranny-; another tool for totalitarianism to justify the use of extreme violence against anyone who tries to change the political regime monopolizing power through the Communist Party.

2. The “besieged” dictatorship

Francia Marquez believes that if Cuba is a “dictatorship”, it is only this because the U.S. has “besieged“ it. However, the Colombian politician seems to ignore the fact that human rights violations in Cuba are not only in response to US policy, but are an essential part of the system. A system that has tried to deny its nature and justify congenital violence with the theory it is always “exceptional in nature”, like Francia Marquez repeats uncritically.

Yet the theory that Cuba is going through an exceptional situation as a result of the system of unilateral sanctions imposed by the US doesn’t justify limited human rights in the country that are violated on a daily basis. Some international law sources, such as the Siracusa Principles, recognize that there are human rights (such as freedom of thought and conscience) that can’t be put on hold under any circumstance, including exceptional situations.

However, in Cuba’s case, freedom of conscience and protest have put hundreds of people away in jail. Many of whom the Government has discriminated against and locked away, but they are now trying to use them as bargaining chips, in a cycle that never seems to end.

3. Cuba, the admirable “dictatorship”

According to Francia Marquez, the Cuban “dictatorship” is admirable because it is sending doctors and not weapons to other countries. But the Vice-President is forgetting that Cuba isn’t “sending” doctors. The Cuban Government is exporting medical services and gets paid for it.

Marquez seems to be unaware that there are complaints about using health personnel as agents of political influence in the places they’re deployed to. She is also forgetting the working conditions of Cuban doctors whose services are being exported. Complaints have led the former Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery to take a stance.

In 2019, special rapporteurs on contemporary forms of slavery appointed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, including causes and consequences, and human trafficking, especially of women and children, wrote in a report that working conditions for Cuban doctors could be considered “forced labor”. They also recalled that forced labor is a contemporary form of slavery.

Lastly, the Colombian Vice-President is ignoring that before being a mediator in Colombia’s peace process, the Cuban Government sent weapons – as part of its policy to export the “Revolution” – and provided counsel to many movements that chose armed struggle as a way to bring about change in their countries.

Incredibly enough, Francia Marquez seems to be unaware that Colombia was one of the countries affected by Cuba’s policy of following and advising guerrilla movements; and that peace in her country was never Cuba’s priority. You just need to read the last few lines of the epilogue in Fidel Castro’s book La paz en Colombia, edited and published by Politica Publishers, in 2008. There, the ideologue and leader of the Cuban “Revolution” said:

“The idea of surrendering never passed through the minds of those of us who developed guerrilla warfare in our homeland. This is why I said in a Reflection that a real revolutionary soldier should never put down their arms. That’s what I thought over 55 years ago. That’s what I think today.”

Francia Marquez’s ideological identification with the Cuban regime shouldn’t stop her from ignoring the human rights violations that aren’t exclusive to certain ideologies. 

International documents written up to defend human rights have recognized that “while there is no single model for democratic society, a society falls under this definition when it recognizes, respects and protects human rights outlined in the UN Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

The definition, which features in the Siracusa Principles, should be enough for Francia Marquez and every left-wing politician that refuses to point a finger at the Cuban Government based on their ideological allegiances to at least recognize that the Cuban political regime isn’t democratic.

This article was translated into English from the original in Spanish.

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