Biden’s U.N. speech was a good one, but he should have come down harder on Cuba, Venezuela | Opinion

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Kudos to President Biden for mentioning Cuba and Venezuela as some of the world’s most authoritarian countries in his speech to the United Nations’ General Assembly on Tuesday. It was a much-needed reference — although he should have been more forceful, and include at least one other Latin American country.

In his first address to the United Nations as president, Biden spent much of his speech stressing that he will support democracy and human rights around the world.

“The future belongs to those who give their people the ability to breathe free, not those who seek to suffocate their people with an iron-hand authoritarianism,” he said. “The authoritarians of the world, they seek to proclaim the end of the age of democracy, but they’re wrong.”

He added that, “The democratic world is everywhere: It lives in anti-corruption activists, human-rights defenders, the journalists, the peace protesters, on the front lines of this struggle in Belarus, Burma, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela and everywhere in between.”

You might think that Biden’s two-second mention of Cuba and Venezuela doesn’t mean much. But it does. It’s a message that the U.S. government is not ignoring the almost 500 Cubans who remain in prison or are under house arrest after the massive July 11 anti-government protests on the island or the victims of political repression in Venezuela.

To put it in context, former President Trump also mentioned Cuba and Venezuela in his speech last year to the U.N. General Assembly. But former President Obama did not mention Venezuela in his last two annual addresses to the U.N., and only mentioned Cuba in the context of his decision to open diplomatic ties with the island.

Biden deserves credit for the overall message of his speech, which stressed America’s return to multilateralism after four years of Trump’s dangerous populist isolationism.

Biden accurately said that, whether it’s in the fight against COVID-19 or climate change, “Our own success is bound up to others succeeding as well,” and that his administration has returned the United States to the Paris Climate Accord, the World Health Organization and other international institutions that are critical to defeating global challenges.

But Biden should have been stronger on Cuba and Venezuela’s abuses — and included Nicaragua in his list of ruthless dictatorships.

Why did he mention Burma, Afghanistan, Cameroon and Sudan, but not Nicaragua? Unless some ignorant aide deleted the nation’s name from Biden’s speech at the last minute to save space, there is no explanation for Nicaragua’s absence.

In relation to its population, Nicaragua, perhaps, is the hemisphere’s worst human-rights abuser. More than 300 Nicaraguans were killed and 2,000 injured by police and paramilitary goons in anti-government protests in 2018, according to Human Rights Watch. In recent weeks, Nicaragua’s dictator Daniel Ortega has imprisoned or put under house arrest all seven major opposition hopefuls for the November 7 presidential elections.

Biden should also have dedicated at least one paragraph dealing with the Venezuelan crisis. Venezuela’s economic and political disaster has resulted in almost 6 million refugees and migrants in recent years — almost as many as the Syrian refugee crisis a few years ago. It’s straining the resources of Venezuela’s neighbors and threatening to destabilize the whole region.

Colombian President Ivan Duque, who spoke shortly after Biden at the General Assembly, was much more forthright.

Duque referred to Venezuela as a “narco-dictatorship” and said current talks between Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro and the opposition will be useless unless they lead to presidential elections that are “free, transparent and with a meticulous international observation.”

Biden should have included a similar line, which would have helped put pressure on Maduro at a critical time in the regime’s negotiations with Venezuela’s opposition.

In short, Biden is a huge improvement over Trump, whose occasional verbal tirades against Cuba and Venezuela were undermined by his own embrace of dictators in North Korea, Russia and other countries and who rarely showed concern over human-rights violations abroad.

But Biden badly needs somebody in his Cabinet who cares about Latin America — and who reminds him to pay attention to his own neighborhood.

Don’t miss the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show on Sundays at 8 pm E.T. on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera

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