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Guatemala: President Colom Apologizes for the Bay of Pigs

In preparation for the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, the government of Guatemala allowed the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to train Cuban exiles for the operation. Even though the invasion failed with approximately 100 invaders killed, and many more captured, the memory still remains. Blogger Tokolshte Chapin [es] describes the historical facts connecting Guatemala and this invasion.

Picture of Cuba by Ilkerender and used under a Creative Commons license.

Nearly 50 years later, the current president Álvaro Colom visited Cuba and took the opportunity to officially ask Cuba for forgiveness for the use of Guatemalan soil for the operation. Some bloggers like Patricia Cortez of Guatemalidades [es] congratulate President Colom and supports the apology.

Additionally, Colom presented former Cuban leader Fidel Castro with the Order of the Quetzal, which is the highest honor given by Guatemala. The award was given to recognize the work that Cuban doctors have been doing across the region. Cortez also wonders why so many Guatemalans criticize the quality of life in Cuba, when in their own country, a free country, people in rural areas lack basic needs such as hygienic supplies, clean water, and other basic services. This description by Melissa Lockhart of Cuba – The World Affairs Blog Network shows why Castro was recognized:

Guatemala’s 70 year life expectancy ranks as one of the lowest in the Hemisphere—a full eight years below those of close neighbors Costa Rica and the United States—and there is little potential for improvement when the country’s current annual health care spending is a mere $15 per capita (according to data from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean ). Cuba’s generous policy of “exporting health” is consequently welcomed with open arms in Guatemala, and is good reason for President Colom to personally come to Havana to thank the Castros. Yesterday, in a gesture of his gratitude for over 17 million medical consultations and more than 40,000 eye surgeries performed by Cuban doctors in Guatemala, Colom offered to Fidel Guatemala’s highest distinction—the Order of Quetzal (Collar grade). Raul accepted the honor on his older sibling’s behalf.

Cuban blogger Colada of Ideas Ocultas [es] describes where the award's name came from, the bird called the Quetzal and that people should know for what the award is named. CR Aguilar of Nueva América Central [es] cannot understand why Castro accepted the honor of the Order of the Quetzal, since it is not considered that prestigious to some:

La Orden del Quetzal es la más corriente de todas las preseas, otorgada a miles de personas y organizaciones de la más diversa calidad, incluyendo al monopolista Carlos Slim, el ex vicepresidente Juan Francisco Reyes López, Benito Mussolini y la Lotería Nacional. Tan sólo durante el mandato de Portillo se entregaron 168 ejemplares, muchos de los cuales – no me sorprendería- están acumulando polvo en el rincón oscuro de algún desván. Manuel Ayau, entre otras personas dignas, han rechazado a la condecoración por considerarla más bien un insulto que un honor.

The Order of Quetzal is the most common of all the awards, given to thousands of people and diverse organizations, such as the monopolist Carlos Slim, ex-Vice-President Juan Francisco Reyes López, Benito Mussolini and the National Lottery. Just in the administration of (Guatemalan President Alfonso) Portillo gave 168 awards, many of which – I wouldn't be surprised – are gathering dust in some dark corner in some attic. Manuel Ayau, among other dignified individuals, rejected the decoration considering it more of an insult, than an honor.

Luis Figueroa of Carpe Diem [es] notes that President Colom was the only President who recently visited the island and returned home without a picture with Fidel Castro. This recent visit also seems to have brought the two countries closer together. The relationship between the two countries continues to grow stronger, for example, Guatemala's history and traditions were recently featured in a Cuban online magazine called Juventud Rebelde [es]. Rural bloggers, such as El Poptuneco [es] is proud of the fact that many more Cubans are learning about Guatemala.

There are even visits between the two countries via cyberspace, as Edgar Hernández Paz of Conmotio Cordis [es] is questioning why if there is supposed heavily restricted internet access, then why did he receive a Cuban visitor at his Guatemalan blog.

At the end of Colom's visit, Cuba honored Guatemala with a park dedication. But even when the President returned home, the debate about the apology is still active.


  • Tim

    It seems to me that Castro should be apologizing for the unfulfilled promises, ruined lives, and broken families.

  • It seems to me that many Presidents and authorities around the Globe should be not only apologizing but also acting for a better or at least an honest way to conduct their policies, especially foreign policies.

  • Daniel Cifuentes

    Apologize about what?¿?……….. For 36 years, a war took place in my country. One of the greatest instigators of this war was Fidel Castro. We, the people of Guatemala, do not have nothing about to apologize with that morderous, criminal regime.

    What happen in that years was responsability of U.S. goverment, not Guatemalan goverment. If someone likes to lick the shoes of Fidel, better if leaves Guatemala, and find home at Cuba. Otherwise, no one has the right to ask such apologize in name of my country

  • jlowell

    Kudos to Guatemala for recognizing the contributions of Cuba to the rest of Latin America. The Cuban revolution deserves the Nobel Prize for peace, not only for providing medical assistence around the world, but also for standing on the side human rights in Africa, Latin America, and elsewhere. Viva La Cuba!

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