History was made in Washington, D.C., late Wednesday morning, to be followed within hours early the Wednesday afternoon by history being made in Placencia, a seacoast fishing village turned modern resort in South Stann Creek.
In Washington Wednesday morning, President Barack Obama announced executive measures to change the relationship between the United States and Cuba, which freed and exchanged some high-profile prisoners as a gesture of goodwill towards each other. The United States will open an embassy in Havana after 53 years of diplomatic disengagement.
In Placencia Wednesday afternoon, Guatemala President Otto Perez Molina signed a 13-point agreement with Belize Prime Minister Dean Barrow for cooperation in important areas such as security, mineral exploration, tourism, trade, business, and the environment. With Jose Insulza, the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS) in prominent presence, it did appear that what took place in Placencia at the executive level was, ultimately, a rebirth of the practically forgotten International Court of Justice (ICJ) initiative.
The Placencia gathering of Central American heads of state was the 44th summit meeting of the Central American Integration System (known as SICA -Sistema de Integración Centro Americana). Perez Molina was taking over the chairmanship of SICA, which is shared among the different heads of state on a rotational basis, from the Belize Prime Minister.
Interesting to note, in the press session Wednesday afternoon following the summit proceedings, Perez Molina was questioned about the major breakthrough just hours before in the hostile relations between the United States and Cuba, who have been at odds since 1961 when Washington both sponsored an invasion of the island by Cuban exiles and imposed a crippling trade embargo on the Fidel Castro government. Perez Molina said that he welcomed the breakthrough, and he congratulated both President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro.
On MSNBC Wednesday morning, a prize-winning, black American Washington Post columnist, Eugene Robinson, described the Cuban government as “Stalinist,” but in Latin America, Cuba is widely recognized for the tremendous benefits the Castro regime managed to deliver for the masses of the Cuban people in the key areas of education, health, housing, culture, and sports. Insofar as the level of technological training of the Cuban people is concerned, Cuba has risen from illiteracy and misery to a point where its work force would be able to compete with First World work forces. Essentially, communism under Fidel Castro, despite various problems, was a rising tide which lifted all Cuban boats, except for the traditional white oligarchy which fled to the United States. (A discussion of Cuban military contributions to the liberation of southern Africa and the destruction of apartheid would require an editorial all to itself.)
When the dictator Fulgencio Batista fled and Fidel Castro took power in Cuba on New Year’s Day 1959, the United States was leading the capitalist world in a so-called “Cold War” against the communist bloc led by the Soviet Union. (The Cold War began shortly after the end of World War II in 1945.) Once Castro declared he was a communist, he and Cuba had to be punished by Washington. If Castro’s communism succeeded, it would have endangered pro-U.S. capitalist governments in Central America, the Caribbean, and even South America, besides becoming an ideological temptation for the millions of black Americans who felt oppressed by the American system. (Remember, a surging black civil rights movement had begun in the American South in 1955 with the Rosa Parks bus incident.) That is why Washington instituted a trade embargo against Cuba in 1961, and went on to enforce it all these 53 years since. Obama’s measures on Wednesday morning did almost everything short of removing the embargo. That would require a Congressional and Senate vote, and the Cuban exiles and the Republicans have already begun an all-out political offensive against the new Obama policies.
The United States’ most important Central American ally in its fight against communist Cuba was Guatemala, led from 1958 to 1963 by President Ydigoras Fuentes, a former Guatemalan army general. Fuentes claimed that U.S. President John F. Kennedy offered to support Guatemala’s claim to Belize in return for Fuentes’ allowing the Cuban exile force to train in Guatemala for its April 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.
Once the Cuban economy is opened up to trade and interaction with American markets, Cuban standard of living will rise dramatically. Washington will, of course, want to use the opportunity to interfere in Cuba’s politics. But, Cuba had to give up something (security) in order to gain something (market and wealth opportunities). The Cubans have been Belize’s most consistent and important regional supporters in our fight for self-determination and territorial integrity, which culminated in our achieving political independence in September of 1981, against the imperialist wishes of Guatemala.
The Guatemalans have, of course, been Belize’s worst enemies, and the problem is that most American Presidents, except for Jimmy Carter, have considered Guatemala’s interests much more important than Belizean rights. Suddenly, and within a matter of hours on Wednesday, Washington and Cuba have begun to reason after more than half a century of bitter enmity, while Guatemala has made moves on paper to reason with Belize. It is that time of year, you know, of peace and goodwill amongst men.
Wednesday’s Placencia accords between Guatemala City and Belmopan were sprung upon the Belizean people as a surprise. This editorial is being written before we have a chance to examine them in detail. The Belizean people are very suspicious of our elected leaders in matters of accords with Guatemala, as “godfathered” by the OAS. The masses of the Belizean people have come to believe that these accords are always more favorable to the aggressors than they are to us.
On Wednesday, the vibes were so nice between Washington and Havana, followed by such groove vibrations between Guatemala City and Belmopan, that everything was looking good, on the up-and-up. We wish it would stay that way. Bless up.
Power to the people.