Latin America, the 1947 UN Partition Plan, and decolonization
By Ramona Wadi
In 1947, Latin American countries led by Guatemala played a crucial role in passing UN Resolution 181, setting in motion the goal of partition in historic Palestine. However, Cuba’s anti-colonial history offers an alternative which can still be revived today.
On July 7 1937, the Peel Commission presented its report to the League of Nations, where it made the case for partitioning Palestine. “The National Home is bent on forcing the pace of its development, not only because of the desire of the Jews to escape from Europe, but because of anxiety as to the future in Palestine,” the report partly reads. Within the context of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which was incorporated into the British Mandate, partition was the next phase in the Zionist colonial enterprise.
The UN has since reinvented the anniversary of its disastrous Partition Plan with the “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People,” which is marked every year on November 29. The truth is, the UN created a veneer disguising the fact that it gave colonialism a major political platform, allowing the ideology and its implementation to shape the Palestinian people’s oppression.
Upon the UN Special Committee on Palestine’s (UNSCOP) recommendations for partition, as in its September 1 1947 report, the UN General Assembly swiftly moved towards the proposal and Resolution 181 was approved on November 29, 1947, setting in motion the concept of the two-state paradigm which plagues Palestine to date. The vote passed with 33 votes in favor, 13 against, and 10 abstentions.
Notably, 13 out of the 33 votes in favor of partition were from Latin America as a result of Guatemala’s intensive lobbying, whose UN Representative, Jorge Garcia-Granados, was also one of UNSCOP’s members. The Jewish Agency’s lobbying was reflected in UNSCOP’s composition – Garcia-Granados was not the only representative who recommended partition as part of a UN body, while also directing their respective countries’ foreign policy on partition. However, given how crucial the Latin American vote was for Israel, Guatemala is regularly lauded as one of Israel’s earliest allies.
Notwithstanding that the majority of Guatemala’s population is indigenous, Garcia-Granados made a case for colonial conquest, reflecting Spanish colonialism in the region and in Guatemala; the latter commencing in 1524.
“An ignorant majority,” Garcia-Granados declared at the UN, “should not be allowed to impose its will. A million progressive human beings should not be the plaything of a few ringleaders supported by millions of human beings of less advanced ideas.” The concept was not alien among UN member states in 1947, many of which still held colonies or whose societies were influenced by settler-colonialism.
Guatemala was the first country to recognize Israel in May 1948, when it declared independence as the ethnic cleansing of Palestine was underway. Garcia-Granados also served as Guatemala’s first ambassador to Israel. The historical ties with Guatemala which Israel lauds are particularly telling, especially in the Reagan era, when Israel supplied the Guatemalan military with surveillance equipment, contributing to the massacre of indigenous Mayans in the early 1980s, under the military dictatorship of Efrain Rios Montt .
By that time, Israel had already built a reputation for stepping in where the US took a step back in arming Latin American dictatorships, having established its expertise as a result of its surveillance and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population. “The only type of regime that Israel would not aid would be one that is anti-American,” a former Israeli Knesset member had stated, thus effectively linking colonial and imperialist interests.
While six Latin American countries abstained from the vote, Cuba stood out as the exception in its anti-colonial stance and its vote against the UN Partition Plan. Dr Ernesto Dihigo, Cuba’s representative to the UN, commenced with the Balfour Declaration’s consequences to show that Britain had no right to bequeath land it had no right to dispose of, to the Zionist movement. With that introduction Dihigo noted that partition goes against the principle of self-determination of people as inscribed in the UN Charter. “We have solemnly proclaimed the principle of self-determination of peoples, but with great alarm we see that when the time comes to implement it, we forget about it.”
Cuba urged for a collective solution for the plight of Jewish refugees as a result of World War II, arguing against the selective choice of Palestine. “Do not tell us that sometimes we have to accept a political solution even if it is unjust, because peace and cordiality between peoples cannot be founded on injustice,” Dihigo stressed.
Dihigo served as Cuba’s Foreign Minister during the short-lived presidency of Carlos Prios, between 1950 and 1951. He went on to serve as the first Cuban ambassador to the US from January 1959 until February 1961. Cuba’s stance is noteworthy, as it reflects the revolution’s principles on anti-colonialism, even prior to the Moncada Barracks attack by the July 26 Movement, led by Fidel Castro. However, Prios recognized Israel in 1949 and Cuba only severed diplomatic ties with Israel in 1973, after a meeting of the Non-Aligned movement at the UN.
The anti-colonial stance became more prominent after the revolution, as Cuba embarked on its own brand of internationalism supporting the right to liberation. In June 1959, Argentine revolutionary Ernesto Che Guevara visited Gaza, which paved the way for Cuba’s involvement in the Palestinian anti-colonial struggle.
Decades later, the two polarizing policies shaped by Guatemala and Israel have been overshadowed by the two-state paradigm, which traces its roots back to partition. However, the connection between the 1947 Partition Plan and the two-state framework is rarely made, particularly since the Oslo Accords and its agreements, which sealed Palestine’s territorial demise.
While there has been a pro-Palestine shift in Latin America, as the people process their historical trauma of US-backed military dictatorships and supplied by Israeli weapons, the 1947 Partition Plan has left its influence, as it has on the rest of the international community. Staunch supporters of Palestine, such as Venezuela and Bolivia, alongside Cuba, have aligned themselves with the two-state compromise, as per international consensus. In Cuba’s case, particularly, this constitutes a departure from what its UN representative advocated for in 1947, since the two-state politics endorses the protection of Israel’s colonial project.
Cuba was one of the first countries to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) the same year it was founded, in 1964. The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) also benefited from Cuban-Palestine relations in terms of guerrilla training. Cuba considered Palestine’s anti-colonial struggle as being in line with the Cuban’s own struggle against US imperialism.
In 1988, Yasser Arafat announced the PLO’s acceptance of the two-state paradigm, through the “Declaration of Independence”, which brought about tacit acceptance of Israeli colonialism. While Cuba still has not reinstated ties with Israel – a stance emulated also by Bolivia and Venezuela in more recent years – the PLO’s overtures towards diplomacy may have contributed to Cuba shifting towards an approach that can be perceived as contradictory in terms of the 1947 thesis against partition, and its later stance of aiding Palestinians in their anti-colonial resistance.
Reverting to Cuba’s 1947 stance is imperative if solidarity with the Palestinian people is to be truly achieved. The UN’s Partition Plan exploited pragmatism to support Zionist colonization, to the point that it now refutes all possible alternatives to the two-state compromise. Many Palestinians have called for a single democratic state – one that is based upon decolonization and equal rights for all. The choice stands between supporting Israel’s colonial expansion and de-facto annexation, and upholding the legitimacy of decolonization which the UN pontificates about but excludes when it comes to Israel. Cuba has provided an excellent starting point, and it can play an important, internationalist role once again if it makes the choice to uphold revolutionary values against the flawed, and pro-colonial, international consensus.