In Johannesburg on Tuesday, having flown there for the ceremonies in honor of former South African president, Nobel Peace laureate, and international hero – the late, great Nelson Mandela, the president of the United States – Barack Obama, whose father came from Kenya in East Africa, and the president of Cuba – Raúl Castro, whose father came from Galicia in Spain, shook hands in a spontaneous, unplanned gesture which was photographed and flashed all over the world in television and newspaper images.
The United States, a capitalist nation which is considered the superpower of planet earth, more than fifty years ago imposed and has sustained an economic embargo against the relatively small island of Cuba, which became communist after the Cuban Revolution of January 1, 1959, led by Raúl Castro’s older brother, Fidel. The relations between the two nation-states have been quite hostile for more than a half century, because of the embargo, because of the Bay of Pigs invasion in April of 1961 and because of the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962.
The White House had to move quickly this week to do damage control where the Barack–Raúl photograph was concerned, because the politics of Florida is greatly influenced by a large and rabid anti-Castro group of Cuban exiles, and it is for sure that in the United States overall, such a photograph constitutes negative politics for the Barack presidency.
One of the aspects of the situation involving the United States and Cuba is race. Half the population of Cuba is black, as we define “black” in the Western Hemisphere, whereas almost all of the Cuban exiles in Florida are white. The main reason this is so is because Castro’s revolution has benefited the black population of Cuba, even though the leadership faces of the Cuban Revolution remain white.
In this third millennium Belizeans need to become more aware of regional and international events. Even as Barack Obama and Raúl Castro were shaking hands in South Africa, the Guatemalan president, Otto Pérez Molina, was in Tel Aviv meeting with the Israeli president, Benjamin Netanyahu. You Belizeans must understand this, and the Foreign Minister of Belize cannot deny this: two of apartheid South Africa’s most serious allies were Israel and Guatemala. And the most important Western Hemisphere ally of all southern African liberation movements, including Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC), was Cuba under Fidel Castro. Cubans fought the armies of apartheid South African in several military actions. After he was freed from prison in 1990, Mandela openly and unreservedly acknowledged his and southern Africa’s debt to Fidel and Cuba.
168 years before the Cuban Revolution, there was a slave rebellion in Haiti, whose western extreme is only a few miles away from the eastern extreme of Cuba, with Jamaica just to the south of Cuba and to the west of Haiti. Black slaves in Haiti won their freedom under the leadership of the great Toussaint L’Ouverture, but when Toussaint was at the height of his power, disaster struck. Napoleon Bonaparte, the emperor of France, the European nation which had owned Haiti, decided to send troops to Haiti. The former slaves interpreted this as indicating that Napoleon wanted to re-establish slavery in Haiti. But Toussaint was like Mandela: he wanted to keep Haiti together, black and white. Toussaint tried to be diplomatic. The French captured him while he hesitated. Dessalines then led the former African slaves on a campaign of fire and brimstone which ravaged Haiti but led to the establishment of the Western Hemisphere’s first black republic in 1804. The Haitian Revolution triumphed, but was victimized, even as the Cuban Revolution triumphed and has been embargoed.
There will likely be trouble in South Africa after Nelson Mandela is buried. Mandela did not achieve the socio-economic changes in South Africa which Fidel Castro achieved in Cuba. The proximity of the United States and its wealthy, flashy capitalist economy for sure have had a destabilizing effect on the poor but egalitarian Cuban socio-economy, but Cuba is not the cauldron which South Africa now is. There is dangerous volatility in South Africa, which is the largest and most important economy on the African continent.
Mandela wanted peace in South Africa, and he accomplished his objective. He held South Africa together, but the contradictions of capitalism remain. In capitalism, the few are allowed to accumulate excess of food, while the many go hungry, and some even starve. In South Africa, billionaire mining companies shot down protesting miners last year. To repeat, there is dangerous volatility in South Africa.
In Guatemala, the neighboring republic to the west which claims the territory of Belize, a Guatemalan version of apartheid remains in place. We have a different system in Belize. We are capitalist, but we have a conscience. This itself is a contradiction, and that contradiction contributes to the prevalence of criminal violence in Belize. Criminal violence is at a minimum in Cuba. The Cuban exiles say that is because Cuba is a dictatorship. But, for some reason most black Cubans do not want to leave.
For the nation-state of Belize to survive and thrive, we Belizeans need to look around us and become educated about the region and about the world. Ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance is hell.
Power to the people.