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Small Axe 10.1 (2006) 28-58

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Guyana, Cuba, Venezuela and the "Routes" to Cultural Reconciliation between Latin America and the Caribbean

Despite the physical and often linguistic crossings that occur between Latin America and the Caribbean, the largest "border" between the two is not language or culture but race.1 Any substantive crossing of this border will not simply happen by migration for work, increased trade between Latin American and the Caribbean, or the growing black population in Latin American countries, as the examples of the discrimination faced by Afro-Limonese in Costa Rica and the marginalization of poor blacks in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, demonstrate. Contemporary references to the "Haitianization" of Cuba and the current difficulties between the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) show both the cultural and political consequences, respectively, of the failure to deal with this last issue of race, especially within the liberal, multiculturalist rhetoric of governments, which often limits cultural difference to a productive resource of the state.2 While gains have been made, for example, with the [End Page 28] embrace of black expressive culture and racial origin by Puerto Ricans in diaspora and within some urban centers throughout Latin America, these gains continue to be isolated and ideologically limited.3 This suggests that the crossing of this last border cannot occur with globalization and the false promises of free trade or by racial, cultural, and linguistic mixing. This barrier rests on the ideological ground on which Négritude confronts mestizaje, indigenismo, and créolité; it is, as such, a border fused from the symbolic resonance of history and ontology. It is literal as much as it is figurative. This paper is about the border of race and the "routes" to reconciliation initiated and foreclosed between Latin America and the anglophone Caribbean, as the uneven relationship of blackness to whiteness in the region plays out the logic of its imperial and colonial history. Taking Cuba, Guyana, and Venezuela (in the late 1960s and 1970s) as its object, this paper is about culture and the dynamism that exists for bringing us together and keeping us apart.4

After Guyana gained its independence from Great Britain in 1966, then Prime Minister and Peoples National Congress (PNC) leader Forbes Burnham actively sought a relationship with Cuba and Fidel Castro. Castro had declared Cuba an "Afro-Latin" nation and pledged overt support for African and other nations struggling against colonial and neoimperial forces. With this declaration and commitment to black cultures, Castro essentially provided a bridge for black (Afro-Creole) nationalism and predominantly "white" Latin cultural nationalism, with their attendant discourses of créolité and mestizaje, to meet.5 Over the years, however, Castro's expression of solidarity with black culture proved less resilient. Further, Burnham's discourse of cooperatism, coupled with a black nationalism that sought to undermine East Indian historical and cultural [End Page 29] identification with the state (and hence their equally valid right to rule the country), came to represent one of its closest Latin neighbors, Venezuela, as a threat to both the geopolitical integrity of the Guyanese state and to black liberty. The Venezuela-Guyana border dispute serves as a tangible representation of the ontological divide between blacks and whites in the region and as such it is invested with all of the historical meaning that surrounds the conflict. Further, Guyana's predicament as a nation in but not of Latin America is a social and psychic elaboration of the border showing both the difficulty of and the possibility for its resolution.

In order to configure the problem of blackness and whiteness in the region, this paper begins with the dispute between Guyana and Venezuela. It then explores the early "route" to cultural reconciliation through Cuba (Burnham traveled to Cuba to fly with Castro to the Non-Aligned Movement conference in Algiers in 1973) and looks at how and why a relationship with Cuba was possible before Burnham had fully cemented the discourse of Afro-Creole nationalism in...


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