Between Cold War and Colonialism: The X Central American and Caribbean Games in San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1966

Saturday, January 7, 2012: 9:20 AM
River North Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Antonio Sotomayor, University of Chicago
The Central American and Caribbean Games are the oldest regional Olympic games in the world. Beginning in 1926 with just three nations (Cuba, Mexico, Guatemala) these games have been the scenario not only for the competition of the region’s best athletes, but also for friendly competition between neighboring countries. Imbued with nationalistic overtones, these regional olympic games have been the scenario to test not only national athletic progress, but also for national publicity, strengthen political ties, and show off levels of modernization of hosting countries. Puerto Rico, after being a constant participant since 1930, received the privilege to host the Games of 1966. Yet, the 1966 games are known for more than an athletic event between friendly nations. Due to the broken relations between the U.S. and Cuba, Puerto Rico, as an unincorporated territory of the U.S., was placed in the middle of a regional political conflict imbued in Cold War tensions. The U.S. did not allow Cuban athletes to enter the island, which placed the games at risk of being cancelled by the IOC, and as a consequence, embarrass Puerto Ricans in front of the world audience. Puerto Ricans, regardless of claiming a decolonized status under the the newly created Commonwealth of 1952, was shown to still be immersed in a colonial relation with the U.S. This paper will present the nuanced and visible ways in which colonialism was evidenced during the years leading up to the games. At stake in these games are the very meanings of twentieth century U.S. colonialism, the dynamics of Caribbean Cold War tensions, the inevitability of politics and Olympic games, and the evidence of what I call “Diplomatic Athletics.”