Taking a stand against authoritarian regimes in the region, the presidents of Paraguay and Uruguay made it clear at the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) meeting, held in Mexico City on September 18, that they wanted nothing to do with the governments of Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua.
The summit also addressed issues such as climate change, disaster response, and the creation of a cooperative COVID-19 vaccination program.
Tensions first arose with Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benítez’s opening remarks where he rebuked the regime of Nicolás Maduro. “In no sense or circumstance does my presence at this summit represent recognition of the government of Mr. Nicolás Maduro,” said Abdo Benítez, whose country broke relations with Venezuela in 2019 after recognizing Juan Guaidó as the legitimate leader. “There is no change in my government’s stance, and I believe that the gentlemanly thing to do is to tell you that to your face.”
Maduro’s appearance at CELAC, where he unexpectedly arrived at the last minute, was his first trip abroad since the U.S. indicted him on drug trafficking charges in 2020, offering a $15 million reward for information leading to his arrest.
Uruguay’s President Luis Lacalle Pou echoed Benítez’s sentiments, criticizing Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, whose governments he labeled as totalitarian regimes. In his statement, Lacalle Pou asserted the importance of member nations in respecting the principle of non-intervention, but also emphasized that countries cannot stand idly by and ignore reporting human right violations committed by those regimes and their repressive methods.
“When one sees that in certain countries there is not a full democracy, when the separation of powers is not respected, when the repressive apparatus is used from the position of power to silence protests, when opponents are imprisoned, when human rights are not respected, we, in this calm but firm voice, must say with concern that we seriously see what is happening in Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela.”
This statement prompted a response by Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel opining that Lacalle Pou should be concerned about his own country and alluding to a recent law that was passed in Uruguay regarding fuel prices. That law led to a petition with more than 700,000 signatures opposing it. Lacalle Pou replied that that was the beauty of democracy.
“In contrast to Cuba, members of the opposition can sign petitions and complain in Uruguay because it’s a democratic country,” retorted Lacalle Pou. “That’s the great difference with the Cuban regime.”
This wasn’t the first time that the Uruguayan president has had harsh words for his Cuban counterpart and his regime. In July, triggered by a shortage of food and medicine, the Cuban people took to the streets to protest against their government and the ruling Communist Party, sparking protests in solidarity worldwide. Lacalle Pou said during a press conference in Uruguay that Cuba was a dictatorship and that questioning like-minded regimes such as Nicaragua and Venezuela was a call to action in defense of human rights.