Believe me, dear Sir, there is not in the British empire a man who more cordially loves a union with Great Britain than I do. But by the God that made me, I will cease to exist before I yield to a connection on such terms as the British Parliament propose, and in this, I think I speak the sentiments of America.
– Thomas Jefferson, November 29, 1775
Having been entrusted by the President with a Special Confidential Mission to Central America, on Wednesday, the third of October, 1839, I embarked on the British brig Mary Ann (Hampton, master) for the Gulf of Honduras.
– pg. 3, INCIDENTS OF TRAVEL IN CENTRAL AMERICA, CHIAPAS, AND YUCATAN, by John L. Stephens, Rutgers University Press, 1949
In 2005, Rosalio Reta was at summer camp, like all the other American teenagers his age – a short Texan fifteen-year-old with spiky hair, nicknamed “Bart” because he looked like a less yellow Bart Simpson and loved to skateboard. He was also into the Power Rangers, alternative pop, and Nintendo 64, especially The Legend of Zelda and Donkey Kong. At camp in that particular year, he was learning useful skills, ones he would remember for the rest of his life. Except at this camp, you don’t learn how to canoe, or sing in a chorus, or make a log fire.
He remembered the techniques he learned there well. Take beheading, for example. “There’s times I’ve seen it they’ve done it with a saw,” he told me through the prison glass. “Blood everywhere. When they start going they hit the jugular and –” he snaps his fingers – “(it’s) everywhere … They put the head right there. The head still moves, makes faces and everything. I think the nerves, you can see inside, the bone, everything’s moving. It’s like they’ve got worms. I’ve seen it move, when it’s on the ground. If he’s making a screaming face, it stays like that sometimes. Sometimes it slacks off.”
This camp was deep in the mountains of Mexico, and Rosalio was there for six months, slowly being turned into a human weapon. “They just teach you everything. Everything you learn at a military camp,” he says. “How to shoot, how to coordinate … All kinds of explosives, handguns, rifles, hand-to-hand combat.” The camp’s slogan is “If I retreat, kill me.” He used these skills to murder more people than he can count. He committed industrial killings, threw hand grenades into crowded nightclubs, and shot a man in front of his toddler son and pregnant wife.
A few years before his trip to camp, the United States government – determined to achieve Harry Anslinger’s mission of spreading the drug war to every country on earth – had decided to train an elite force within Mexico to win the war on drugs. The United States brought them to Fort Bragg to provide the best training, intelligence, and military equipment from America’s 7th Special Forces Group. Their motto was “Not even death will stop us.” Once it was over and they had learned all they could and received all the weapons they wanted, these expensively trained men went home and defected, en masse, to work for the Gulf Cartel. These breakaways called themselves the Zetas. It would be as if the Navy Seals defected from the U.S. Army to help the Crips take over Los Angeles – and succeeded.
– pgs. 120, 121, CHASING THE SCREAM, by Johann Hari, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015
More than three and a half decades ago, we wrote an extended essay entitled 6878 – Decade of Changes, which was published in this newspaper. With the improved vision of hindsight, we can see now that the table had actually been set for what we saw happening in Belize between 1968 and 1978 in the previous decade. In 1958, the British made their final attempt to smash Belize’s nationalist hero, Rt. Hon. George Price, when they tried him for sedition in the Supreme Court of British Honduras, and then in 1968 the United States published their blueprint for the future of Belize in Bethuel Webster’s Seventeen Proposals. In between these two major events, what we saw, without really being conscious of it at the time, was essentially the transfer of Belize from the orbit of the British Empire to the realm of the United States of America.
Once we understand what happened back then, we can better understand what has happened in the last five weeks, since the President of Guatemala, Jimmy Morales, went “ballistic” on his national media and threatened Belize militarily in the afternoon of Thursday, April 21, 2016.
Since two-day talks between Belize and Guatemala in the presence of Organization of American States (OAS) representatives concluded in Istanbul, Turkey, on Tuesday, May 24, the ball is now in the court of Guatemala’s Foreign Minister, Carlos Raul Morales. We say this because the Government of Belize has spoken and acted since Tuesday as if there has been some kind of de-escalation breakthrough in Istanbul. On at least two previous occasions since April 21, when the Government of Belize has similarly so spoken and acted, the military-backed government of Jimmy Morales has used Carlos Raul to tell the people of Guatemala, the people of Belize, and the people of our region that there has been no such de-escalation.
This chess game, if we may call it that, between Guatemala and Belize since April 21, is being overseen, orchestrated if you will, by the United States. The one thing that appears to change the game, where Washington is concerned, is any kind of indication that the people of Belize are prepared to take up arms to defend The Jewel. But, that is only a submission on our part.
Between 1958, when Mr. Price was acquitted of sedition and the anti-colonialism of the Belizean masses was militant, and January of 1964, the British began preparing Belize for self-rule. But, almost immediately after self-government in January of 1964, the PUP government announced, arbitrarily and without explanation, that Belize was changing its school summer holidays from April and May to July and August. This was to bring Belize’s school calendar in line with that of the United States. We cannot state categorically, however, whether any reason for the school calendar change was ever offered to Belizeans.
1964 was an important year for black Americans, because this was when the administration of President Lyndon Baines Johnson began pushing voting and civil rights legislation for blacks through the American Congress and Senate. (Johnson became President when John Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963. He was re-elected in November of 1964.) 1958 to 1963 saw the Guatemalan presidency of General Ydigoras Fuentes, who was the most aggressive Guatemalan president ever towards Belize before our boy Jimmy Morales. John Kennedy had cut a deal with Fuentes to have Cuban exiles trained in Guatemala to invade Cuba. In return, Fuentes later claimed, Kennedy promised to support Guatemala with its claim to Belize. Fuentes’ deal to support the American-financed invasion of Cuba sparked a nationalist rebellion amongst the rank-and-file in the Guatemalan military in late 1960, and many scholars see that rebellion, led by Marco Yon Sosa and Luis Turcios Lima, as the start of a civil war in Guatemala which lasted for 36 years.
The most important clue in our thesis with respect to the movement of Belize from British to American control took place following Hurricane Hattie in October of 1961. The United States allowed all Belizean families who had relatives in the United States to migrate to America, and offered transportation. Thus began a mass migration of Belize’s then majority black population which reduced blacks to a minority within two decades. The fact of the matter is that the black American civil rights struggle opened up job and education opportunities for blacks which some Belizeans, because of Belize’s superior education system at the time, were able to fill.
The quid for that quo first became evident in 1966 when Hon. Philip Goldson risked prison (for a second time) in order to expose the Thirteen Proposals, a secret draft of the 1968 Seventeen Proposals. Belizean innocence and self-rule euphoria arguably came to an end with the Thirteen Proposals. What that was, was an attempt by the United States to cater to the wishes of Washington’s most important and loyal Central American ally – Guatemala.
Guatemala had a longstanding “beef” with the British, a controversial “beef” in which the republic was always being encouraged by the United States. That “beef” had to do with the Belizean territory, and to understand the American support for the Guatemalan upper classes you have to go back into history.
As close as Washington and London have been since the United States joined the British side in World War II after Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, the first thing you should remember is that the original thirteen British colonies which have become today’s superpower U.S.A., fought a war to gain their independence from the British, an independence which they declared on July 4, 1776. As late as 1812, the Americans and the British went to war, a military conflict which lasted until 1815. Then, in 1823, the Americans declared the Monroe Doctrine, which said to Great Britain (Spain’s American empire having already died with the independence of Mexico and Central America in 1821): we run the Western Hemisphere.
It is in the light of the Monroe Doctrine that we must view the famous 1839/1840 trip of John L. Stephens, as a personal emissary of the President of the United States, to Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico, remembering that it was not until 1840 that Guatemala emerged as a sovereign state under Rafael Carrera. It is also in the light of the Monroe Doctrine that we must view the Clayton-Bulwer (1850) and Dallas-Clarendon (1856) Treaties between the Americans and the British. Once we do so, we will realize that the chances are great that it was Washington which “godfathered” the critical 1859 Treaty between Great Britain and Guatemala.
In fact, there are scholars who believe that the British were involved in the civil war which broke out in the United States in 1861, and that they were on the side of the Confederacy, which ended up being defeated by Abraham Lincoln’s Union in 1865. (As some of you may know, the British accepted some of the defeated Confederates into British Honduras after the war.)
Finally, let it be known that there were prominent, powerful interests in the United States, including the Bush family which produced two presidents of the United States (1988-1992 and 2000-2008), which favored Hitler’s Germany in the 1930s and pushed for the United States to remain neutral when war broke out between Germany and England in 1939.
Today, the evidence is growing that Belize has been moving from a British Caribbean culture to a Central American one. In Central America (except for Costa Rica), the culture has been one dominated by business, military, and political caudillos. In the British Caribbean, we enjoyed the rule of law. In Central America, by contrast, what has ruled historically is force. With Belizeans’ limited knowledge of Mexican and Central American history, most of us have ascribed the historically violent instability of the countries around us to their Spanish Empire antecedents. The reality is that the United States has been running Central America for more than 160 years. The British took pride in recreating their institutions in their colonies. The Americans, in contrast, don’t care what happens in the territories under their control, as long as Americans can do business, control things, and enjoy themselves there. This was the reality the Cubans rebelled against in 1959: Cuba was an American garbage can. In Belize, we seek a higher form of life than slavery, colonialism, drug dealing, and prostitution.
Power to the people.