A joke goes, “An Argentine is a Spanish-speaking Italian who thinks he’s an Englishman living in Paris.” For all of its cosmopolitanism, though, Argentina seems filled with moral morons.
On May 25, left-wing politician Néstor Kirchner became Argentina’s sixth president in the last 18 months. His inaugural guests included Cuban autocrat Fidel Castro and Venezuelan Castro wannabe Hugo Chávez, with Castro receiving the longest round of applause by Argentina’s congress.
On May 26, Castro spoke at the University of Buenos Aires to a cheering audience of approximately 15,000. “The United States wants to impose a universal, Nazi-fascist dictatorship,” he said among other things.
“Bravo, Castro!” and “Bush is a terrorist!” were among the crowd’s reactions. Buenos Aires’ mayor Aníbal Ibarra awarded Castro a medal and told him, “…you are one of the most respected men in the world, and you will always have the gratitude of Argentina and the city of Buenos Aires.” Ibarra also described Castro as “an emblem of the ideals of freedom.”
Argentines’ Castro-philia is nothing new. “Over the years, I have personally heard some of the most appalling statements about Cuba and Castro from Argentineans,” remarks Ricardo Fernández, an architect and Cuban exile. Cuban scholar Dr. Moisés Asís recounts of living in Argentina in the late 1980s:
People didn't want to listen my experience and insisted that Cubans had a better life than Argentineans. There were many pro-Castro philocommunists, but I had the hope that the fall of Berlin Wall and all the news about what has been happening in Cuba and other totalitarian countries would make a difference to them. I was wrong.
Kichner’s officials have taken a policy of willful blindness toward Castro’s totalitarianism. “I do not dare to openly say, ‘Human rights are violated in Cuba,’” Foreign Minister Rafael Bielsa said. Secretary of Human Rights Eduardo Luis Duhalde claimed that “there is not a systematic violation” of human rights in Cuba.
It’s a crime for Cubans to criticize Castro, his functionaries, or communism; associate conscientiously or develop independent media; or leave Cuba without permission. A colossal terror-apparatus of secret police, informers, and paramilitary thug squads maintains these prohibitions.
If that’s not a systematic violation of human rights, then Auschwitz and the Gulag were resorts.
Like neo-Nazis who claim the Holocaust is a fiction, Bielsa and Duhalde deny an egregious evil. Suffice it to say this denial is unbecoming, especially in the latter’s case whose office is dedicated to the defense of human rights.
Argentina has experienced dictatorship in recent memory (1976-1983)—Duhalde fled to Spain in 1976—as have its neighbors Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay. This would imply solidarity for victims of tyranny, but no small number of Argentines consider Castro’s victims unworthy of solidarity—victims like physician Oscar Elías Biscet and economist Martha Beatriz Roque, sentenced to 25 years and 20 years in April for their human rights advocacy along with over 70 more dissidents. These Argentines’ solidarity is for the perpetrator of these atrocities.
Argentina is hardly devoid of conscience vis-à-vis Cuba, however. A May 27 editorial in the Buenos Aires-based newspaper La Nación called Castro’s amorous reception an example of “the virus of ideological extremism” and noted:
Since his arrival to power in 1959, Castro has persecuted the free press in a relentless manner. The Cuba of Fidel has been and is a kind of large prison in which it is not permitted to dissent with the government and much less to publicly express that dissidence.
In La Nación on June 6, Argentine novelist Marcos Aguinis refuted the Castro lovers with a sardonic portrait of what Argentina would become if it adopted his regime:
For example, there would be no sterile debates over the government's actions. Criticism would disappear and, with that, we would all push in the same direction. There would be no need to waste neurons or saliva over the problems of society, because that is the exclusive task of the regime's functionaries, who are never mistaken. Neither would there be a need to choose among diverse newspapers, newscasts, radios, magazines, because there would be the minimum requirements, with official news only. Thus we would not have to doubt among diverse sources or to be afflicted by the defeatist news that the enemies of the people invent.
In short, life as a muzzle and mindlessness.
I have no doubt that Argentina is a vibrant country rich in style and tradition. It’s the country of one of my favorite writers, Jorge Luis Borges, and I’d love to visit his hometown of Buenos Aires.
But when it comes to moral instruction, I’ll look elsewhere.