GROUP A: THROUGH A COLD WAR LENS
World Cup Fever is here!! Since you can’t get away from it, I thought it might be fun to look at the South Africa World Cup Qualifiers through a Cold War lens. Who are they and what role did they play in the half century Cold War conflict?
Let’s start with Group A: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, and France. (All stats and team info are courtesy of ESPN.)
Nickname: BAFANA, BAFANA (The Boys, The Boys)
Record: W 1/ D 3/ L 2
Best Performance: Group Stage in ’98, ’02
Group Stage Schedule:
June 11 vs. Mexico – Draw
June 16 vs. Uruguay at 2 PM ET
June 22 vs. France at 9:30 AM ET
BAFANA BAFANA and the South African people are elated to be hosting the 2010 World Cup. Their makarrpas and vuvuzelas contribute to the palpable excitement on and off the field. Their manager Carlos Parreira (from Brazil) and Captain Aaron Mokdena hope that the home field advantage and the team’s “Piano and Shoeshine” style of play will give the country even more reason to celebrate!
For two centuries South Africa’s center of the political universe was Great Britain. After World War II, however, this focus was replaced by the United States. South African pilots participated in the Berlin airlift of 1948-1949. Later, a squadron flew ground attack and interdiction missions as part of the US Air Force’s 18th Fighter Bomber Wing in the Korean War.
During the Cold War, South Africa was a racially divided country. The majority black population was ruled by a white minority. The racial fault line — APARTHEID — almost perfectly paralleled the Cold War divide.
Fear of Communism haunted the white minority government from the 1950s to the collapse of single party rule in Eastern Europe in 1989. Anti-communism informed almost every aspect of the South African government’s foreign policy and much of its domestic policy during the Cold War years.
In contrast, the impoverished black majority in South Africa looked to the Soviet Union and its allies for intellectual and financial support. In fact, South Africa and Egypt were the first two countries in Africa to give rise to Communist parties — both in the 1920s.
From America’s perspective, however, the core concern in South Africa was not ‘communism’ or ‘anti-communism.’ Instead, the US was worried about whether the minority regime had access to nuclear weapons. As it turns out, they did. But although they manufactured seven fission gun-type devices, these were never used and South Africa signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty on July 10, 1991.
The 1974 Carnation Revolution in Portugal (team playing in Group G) led to the end of Portuguese colonial rule in Africa. Angola, a former colony, entered into a decades-long civil war. The superpowers and South Africa were quickly drawn into the conflict which became a flash point for the Cold War. Three main guerrilla groups, the FNLA, MPLA and UNITA were fighting each other and the country was well on its way to being divided into zones controlled by rival armed political groups. The United States, Portugal, Brazil and South Africa supported the FNLA and UNITA. The Soviet Union and Cuba supported the MPLA.
After a short period of stability another former colony Mozambique also entered into a devastating civil war. Their new government gave shelter and support to the South African liberation movement, the African National Congress.
By 1989 when the Berlin Wall was breached, the continuing conflict involving South Africa had grown domestically untenable. Western multinationals were pressured by the stigma attached to investing in APARTHEID South Africa and the negative effect it had on their corporate image. So far as the US was concerned, South Africa had lost its pivotal role.
The Soviet Union no longer had any desire to be involved in expensive wars abroad.
Multiparty democracy was the only way forward. The success of South Africa in ending apartheid and moving forward as a multiracial democracy is evident in their ability to host and promote the South Africa World Cup Soccer event!
Nickname: EL TRI (The Three Colored)
Record: W 11/ D 12/ L 22
Best Performance: Quarterfinals in ’70, ’86
Group Stage Schedule:
June 11 vs. South Africa – Draw
June 17 vs. France at 2 PM ET
June 22 vs. Uruguay at 9:30 AM ET
Mexico enters World Cup 2010 with renewed spirit and hope, united around Manager Javier Aguirre. When EL TRI began to struggle, Aguirre returned to the team as Manager. He turned things around just in time for Mexico to qualify for the South Africa World Cup Soccer extravaganza.
As we know, the United States saw the Cold War as a global struggle against communism as embodied by the totalitarian Soviet state. The United States government and a significant portion of its citizenry considered communism an evil force in the world, one that must be combated with all available ideological, military, and financial means.
On the other hand, Mexico, America’s close neighbor, took a much less critical view of communism and was less likely to associate all things communist with the Soviet Union. As a result, Mexicans viewed the Cold War not as a principled crusade, but as an example of aggression by imperialist states whose financial and military power allowed them to dominate less developed countries.
Hemispheric unity was shaken when Mexico decided that snubbing Russia’s client, Cuba, was not worth the risk. Mexico’s government maintained diplomatic and economic relations with the island nation over the objections of the United States.
Nickname: LA CELESTE (The Sky Blue)
Record: W 15/ D 10/ L 15
Best Performance: Winners in ’30, ’50
Group Stage Schedule:
June 11 vs. France – Draw
June 16 vs. South Africa at 2 PM ET
June 22 vs. Mexico at 9:30 AM ET
Uruguay is one of five countries to have won the World Cup twice, in 1930 and 1950. Although LA CELESTE has been quiet for decades, in 2010 its explosive offense — led by prolific goal scorer Diego Forlan — has re-energized the team and given the country hope for a third trophy.
In 1930, Uruguay was chosen as the site of the first Football World Cup. Although the field was much smaller than the competitions of today, the event was a source of national pride when the home team won the tournament over neighboring Argentina.
At the height of the competition between Washington and Moscow for influence in South America, Uruguay was thought to be a nest of US and Soviet spies.
Drawing on the recollections of those involved as well as on declassified intelligence documents, Raul Vallarino, author of The CIA in Uruguay, claims that the country was the Soviet spy center for all of Latin America.
An urban guerrilla movement known as the Tupamaros formed in the early 1960s, first engaging in Robin Hood type protest activities, such as robbing banks and distributing the proceeds to the poor, and then attempting political dialogue.
The Tupamaros were also known as the MLN (Movimiento de Liberación Nacional) or National Liberation Movement.
When the government banned their political activities and the police became more oppressive, the Tupamaros engaged in armed struggle with the police, kidnapping corrupt officials and perceived enemies.
The US Office of Public Safety (OPS) began operating in Uruguay in 1965, training Uruguayan police and intelligence agents in policing and interrogration techniques.
President Jorge Pacheco declared a state of emergency in 1968. This was followed by a further suspension of civil liberties in 1972 by his successor, President Juan María Bordaberry, who brought in the Army to combat the guerillas.
After defeating the Tupamaros, the military seized power in 1973.
In 1984, massive protests against military rule broke out. After a 24-hour general strike, talks began and the armed forces announced a plan that would return Uruguay to civilian rule.
National elections were held in 1984. Subsequently, economic reforms were implemented and there was a consolidation of democratic rule.
Nickname: LES BLEUS (The Blues)
Record: W 25/ D 10/ L 16
Best Performance: Winners in ’98
Group Stage Schedule:
June 11 vs. Uruguay – Draw
June 17 vs. Mexico at 2 PM ET
June 22 vs. South Africa at 9:30 AM ET
In the last three World Cups, France has reached the finals twice, winning in ’98 and coming in second in ’06. But lately LES BLEUS have been overtaken by controversy. In South Africa, Henry, Ribery, and Anelka hope to put the “Hand of Gaul” behind them. They want to give the French a reason to celebrate on the Champs-Elysees.
France hosted the 1938 and 1998 FIFA World Cups.
During the Cold War France fashioned its foreign policy first in conjunction with, and then in opposition to, the United States. In the immediate post-war era the French diverted American monies intended for economic growth and military defense against the USSR to colonial struggles in Indochina and Algeria.
On April 27, 1954, the Geneva Conference produced the Geneva Agreements; supporting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Indochina and granting it independence from France.
France relinquished any claim to territory in the Indochinese peninsula.
Neither the US nor South Vietnam signed the Geneva Accords. South Vietnamese leader Diem rejected the idea of nationwide election as proposed in the agreement, saying that a free election was impossible in the communist North and that his government was not bound by the Geneva Accords.
The events of 1954 marked the beginnings of serious involvement in Vietnam by the United States.
This involvement led to the Vietnam War.
In the 1960s, France dissented from American policy in Vietnam, withdrew from NATO’s integrated command, and pursued its own agenda in the hope of achieving détente.
Tim Wolfe says
Very enlightening! I can’t wait to see the other groups too!
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