Mexico, a Haven for Leftists in Exile, Provides Evo Morales With a Landing Spot

Mexico, a Haven for Leftists in Exile, Provides Evo Morales With a Landing Spot


MEXICO CITY — When Evo Morales stepped off a Mexican government plane on Tuesday and into exile on Mexican soil, he followed a well-trod path. During the past century and a half, Mexico has been a haven for those on the left who have sought asylum — Spanish leftists, American socialists and Communists from Europe among them.

In explaining its decision to invite Mr. Morales, the leftist Bolivian leader who stepped down on Sunday, the administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said that Mexico “has shown itself as an inclusive and supportive state whose doors have been open.”

Those doors have opened to Cubans who fought for independence against Spain in the 19th century, most notably José Martí, the poet and revolutionary who spent a couple of years in Mexico in the mid-1870s during a long period of banishment from the island.

Spanish leftists who fled after the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s were also welcomed by the Mexican authorities, a wave that included the filmmaker Luis Buñuel, who arrived in Mexico in the 1940s and became a Mexican citizen.

During the Nazi era in Germany, thousands of European Jews and Communists sought protection in Mexico, many of them artists and writers. And a number of American socialists migrated south during the Red Scare campaign of the 1950s, driven away by Senator Joseph R. McCarthy.

Lorenzo Meyer, a historian and emeritus professor at the Colegio de México in Mexico City, said that Mexico’s welcome of generations of left-wing exiles has been a way for its government to assert independence from the United States without presenting an overt foreign policy challenge.

“Of course, with the United States next door, Mexico cannot be completely sovereign, but that does not stop it from taking some symbolic measures,” Mr. Meyer said.

In the 1970s, Argentines and Chileans, fearing for their lives during the dirty wars in their countries, sought refuge in Mexico, which also protected the family of President Salvador Allende of Chile, who died in a 1973 coup.

More recently, Guatemalans escaping the scorched-earth tactics of the Guatemalan military in the 1980s migrated to Mexico, the most famous being Rigoberta Menchú, the Indigenous advocate who went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992.

And in the past few years, tens of thousands of Central Americans have applied for asylum here, many having done so after being foiled in their attempt to reach the United States.

Other prominent exiles have included the deposed Shah of Iran, who in 1979 was granted a Mexican tourist visa and spent a few months living in the city of Cuernavaca, south of the capital, before going to the United States for medical treatment. In this case, Mexico’s open arms stretched only so far: The Mexican government blocked him from returning.

For some, Mexican refuge has not only provided a second lease on life, it has also proven to be a staging ground for a successful return to the homeland. After failing in an early assault on a Cuban military barracks, in 1953, Fidel Castro lived in Mexico City and plotted his ultimately successful campaign to topple the Cuban leader Fulgencio Batista.

But Mexico hasn’t worked out so well for others.

Among the best-known figures granted sanctuary in Mexico was Leon Trotsky after his exile from the Soviet Union by Joseph Stalin. In 1940, during a visit with Mr. Trotsky, a Stalinist agent who had infiltrated his inner circle sunk a pickax into his skull. Mr. Trotsky died at a hospital the next day.



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