Today in Latin America; Montevideo, Embargo, Boycott

argentina-independence-stampToday in 1807 (102 years ago), Montevideo was invaded by 3,000 British troops as a part of the Napoleonic Wars. This was an afterthought of sorts from the British invasion in Buenos Aires in 1806 that lasted 46 days (a second invasion proved just as foolish).

The account of the military battles and the “heroes” are tiring business in history, and I will not recount what one can read elsewhere. It is, however, important to delineate this time period. There was, more so in Buenos Aires, a resistance to the British (and Spanish, for that matter). Montevideo would continue as if nothing happened on Feb. 4, 1807, but Argentina moved separately and this would lead to the May Revolutions of 1810, where Argentines, in the bare sense of the word, rebelled against Spain leading to their declaration of independence six years later in July of 1816.

US and the Embargo of Cuba
jfk-blockadeIn a familiar story to reader of Latin America, today in 1962 (47 years ago), President John F. Kennedy announced (and enacted on Feb. 7 of the same year) an embargo against the Castro government in Cuba. The embargo stands to this day.

The Embargo came after Castro expropriated properties of US citizens, a common theme and powerful tool in Latin American countries during the time. This act was preceded by countries like Mexico, who nationalized its oil reserves in 1937. Castro took corporate land and capital from giants of history – the United Fruit Company, who played a role in the overthrow of Jacobo Arbenz, and ITT.

What turned out to be more of a sibling rivalry emerged into a serious and demented game. Kennedy imposed the embargo, but not before securing the last transaction between the US and Cuba in the form of 1,200 H. Upmann cigars. He tightened the embargo further following the disaster that was the Bay of Pigs in February of 1963 by limiting travel and again, in July ’63, with the Cuban Assets Control Regulations act that froze Cuban assets in the United States. In 1964, the OAS imposed its own sanctions (only abandoned in 1979). Despite the waning support from Americans, in 1992 Congress tightened the embargo for the last time with the Cuban Democracy Act, which made the embargo contingent on “democracy,” and the Helms-Burton Act, which penalized businesses doing business with Cuba. Even in 2006, task forces were being created to pursue violators of the embargo.

But if we’re looking for a change, is Obama the one to lead? Some in Latin American think so. On Jan. 19, during his weekly radio show, “Breakfast with the President,” Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva urged the new president to end the US trade embargo against Cuba since “there is no scientific and political explanation for the embargo to continue.” His sentiment is shared among many, including the author. Former Secretaries of State have called the embargo “insane.” The UN General Assembly has been calling the embargo a violation of international law since the 1990s. In 2002, it condemned the embargo 173 votes to 3 (Guess who…the US, Israel, and…Palau(?)…with Micronesia abstaining).

It has been too many years to pretend that we are blockading a country based upon its leader, Fidel Castro, who is on his last throes on truly remarkable, any way you look at it, life. As tensions eased, thus the embargo should be lifted. The interests are strong in the case of former Batista loyalists and their families, but what’s right is right. 47 years is too long.

Black and Puerto Rican Boycott
Integration 1959In a pre-Brown v. Board of Education America, racial justice in schools were often a problem. In a recent book, “Is This America?” Lawrence, Kansas in the 1960s by Rusty Monhollon, he displays a world I did not ever think about. Much of his book dealt with the beautiful town of Lawrence, Kansas, and the issues of race and classification in America. One would assume, possibly with good reason, that integration in the Midwest (and especially the Kansas that many people have in their heads) would be harder and more violent than in cosmopolitan metropolis’ like New York City. But in 1964 (45 years ago today), 464,362 of the city’s 1 million school children boycotted school today. That this protest followed the March on Washington and the height of the civil rights movement is no coincidence.

Why boycott? Schools in the ghettos of (non-white) New York City, like Harlem and Brooklyn were 90% black and Puerto Rican. TIME magazine puts it bluntly:

With ample evidence that such schools tend to “manufacture” retarded pupils because of overcrowding, poor teaching and lack of cultural stimulus, Negro leaders want compulsory integration with the better and often underused white schools.

The tensions of the time are palpable and exist today. TIME made it a point to tell readers of white fears – such as black and Puerto Rican populations expanding faster than their own populations (soon to be 3 to 1, the magazine stated). In many new books, like Monhollon’s and Rick Perlstein’s equally thrilling Nixonland have stressed the touchiness of “busing” – which was at the heart of this boycott. Plans were even being made to build segregated schools close to one another in order to nix the busing issue. Said disheartened Rabbi Myron Fenster:

What the whites are saying is: If the whole society is rotten, why start with me? I don’t want to take the first step. I want to take the last step.

The importance of this movement toward integration is extremely important in the history of civil rights in America. Tearing down a system where one school 87% white and one 97% black can be only six blocks apart is essential to today’s world. Unfortunately, Rabbi Fenster’s views are predominate from the world I come from. Why me? Why not them? If we learn to ask why, then the answer soon emerges and thanks to boycotts like these across the country, the dream of some kind of equality lives – if not in the hearts of the old, then at least in the minds of the young, who grew exposed to the world these boycott’s fought for.


~ by Daniel on February 3, 2009.

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