In Santiago, Chile, on January 28, the new regional body, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), passed its rotating presidency to Cuba’s dictator General Raul Castro. CELAC, according to prime backer Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, is part of a historic project to build a Latin American/Caribbean union that consciously excludes the U.S. and Canada. Its charter, nevertheless, says CELAC exists to promote democracy and human rights.
The Santiago CELAC gathering also dovetailed with a European Union–CELAC Summit aimed at strengthening transatlantic ties, with Latin America appearing for now to have the economic upper hand.
Human Rights Watch’s José Miguel Vivanco labeled Castro’s selection as CELAC president a human rights disaster: “It sends a message from the governments of the region that they couldn’t care less about the poor human rights record and the lack of fundamental freedoms in Cuba.”
Andres Oppenheimer of the Miami Herald asked, “Isn’t it a joke that a regional organization committed to democracy elects as its new chairman none other than the region’s last military president?”
Sadly, the answer is no. In short, the CELAC summit was a net gain for tyranny at the expense of liberty.
One wonders how the late Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick would have reacted to the news. In her historic 1979 essay, “Dictatorships and Double Standards,” Ambassador Kirkpatrick criticized the foreign policy of President Jimmy Carter for its assumption that revolutionary change backed by the Soviet Union offered a better track to modernization and national development than traditional non-communist authoritarians and dictators such as the Shah in Iran or Anastasio Somoza Debayle in Nicaragua. She challenged the assumption that it was the U.S.’s historic duty to place itself on the side of progressive and often revolutionary change.
In the essay, Ambassador Kirkpatrick predicted:
At the moment  there is a far greater likelihood of progressive liberalization and democratization in the governments of Brazil, Argentina, and Chile than in the government of Cuba; in Taiwan than in the People’s Republic of China; in South Korea than in North Korea; in Zaire than in Angola; and so forth.
The prediction occurred when Brazil, Argentina, and Chile were governed by military dictatorships. And while the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War ended, the tenacious hold of communism—modified to fit economic changes—persists.
The royal treatment given to General Castro and the chorus of rejections of the U.S.’s “criminal imperial blockade” of totalitarian Cuba apply additional pressure on the Obama Administration to tailor Cuba policy to fit the expectations of the Latin Americans and Europeans. Both have made their peace with aging Cuba communism and have thrown those demanding liberty, human rights, and opportunity for the Cuban people under the diplomatic bus.
Clearly, today’s foreign policy debates could use an “action intellectual” like Jeane Kirkpatrick ready to speak out about historical amnesia and galloping double standards.