Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Colombia and Cuba: A Difficult Relationship

Good friends? Juan Manuel Santos
and Cuban leader Raul Castro.
Pres. Juan Manuel Santos is visiting Havana, Cuba today, meeting with the long-ruling Castro brothers and Venezuelan Pres. Hugo Chavez, who is in Cuba once again being treated for cancer.

Colombia's leaders find themselves in a difficult situation, with the continent's leftist governments demanding that Cuba be allowed to attend the Summit of the Americas to be held in mid-April in Cartagena.

Cuba has been historically excluded from the organization because it's not a democracy. But Cuba's leftist allies demanded that Cuba be allowed to attend this time, even threatening not to attend themselves, tho since then some appear to have backed off of that threat.

Unsurprisingly, Colombia has stuck to the position of its close ally Washington, that non-democratic Cuba doesn't deserve a spot at the summit.

For Cuba's supporters, some of whom have had their own democratic credentials questioned by Washington and international organizations, Cuba's participation would provide something of a safeguard: it would be difficult to eject other nations from the organization for failing the democracy test as long as Cuba, a dictatorship, was allowed to belong.

Cuban-Colombian ties? Che Guevara looks
down over the central plaza  of the
National University in Bogotá.
The Colombian-Cuban relationship has never been easy, despite Santos' recent description of Raul Castro as his "good friend." Perhaps the two governments started off on the wrong foot as far back as Che Guevara's visit here during his famous Motorcycle journey across the region. (He actually came to Colombia on a riverboat, having ditched the bike in Peru.)

El Che didn't like Colombia, which was then ruled by a military dictator, and left quickly for Venezuela. Nevertheless, Che's portrait looks down over the National University's central plaza, commonly known as La Plaza del Che.

During the 1960s and '70s, Cuba sponsored leftist guerrilla groups in Colombia and other Latin nations. But the only place where such guerrillas fight on is Colombia, altho Cuba long since ceased supporting them and they found financing in narcotrafficking and extortion instead. In recent years Cuba has accepted exiled Colombian guerrillas such as the M-19 and served as a site for negotiations between the Colombian government and the ELN, altho those talks have gone nowhere.

'Try it old man!' 'Never!' A cartoon in El Tiempo newspaper
makes fun of the U.S.'s refusal to either consider
drug decriminalization or to talk to Cuba. 
Today, Bogotá and Havana have normal diplomatic, economic and cultural relations, despite deep ideological differences.

For its part, Cuba has experienced two difficult decades since the fall of the Soviet Union, its main ideological and economic backer. But, some of that support was replaced when Chavez became president of Venezuela in 1999.

With the Castro brothers aging, and Chavez ailing, however, two of Colombia's leftist neighbors may soon experience deep political changes.

March 12 addendum: Colombia now say it'll help Cuba to participate more in international meetings. Cultural and economic ties are one thing. But does Cuba, a dictatorship which does not allow a free press, deserve the respect brought by a voice in international affairs? What will such a move signal to other countries sliding toward authoritarianism? Would people look at Cuba differently if it happened to be a right-wing dictatorship rather than a left-wing one?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

1 comment:

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