In the beginning of this newspaper in August of 1969, as the organ of a black-conscious organization, a certain amount of our energy was similar to COLA’s – we young people in the capital city were dissatisfied with the tame and submissive attitude of Belize’s PUP government where the Guatemalan claim to Belizean territory was concerned. It may be said that history, after a fashion, is repeating itself: Belize’s young people, 44 years later, are dissatisfied with the tame and submissive attitude of Belize’s UDP government where the Guatemalan claim to Belizean territory is concerned.
When Mr. Price’s PUP government surged forward to political independence in September of 1981, despite the fact that Belize was under martial law, the Belizean people were divided, and the British were refusing to give us a defence guarantee, this represented a gamble on the PUP government’s part.
This newspaper had rejected the Heads of Agreement in March of 1981. But we, who had supported the PUP all-out in the pivotal 1979 general elections, had begun to withdraw from our PUP alliance after October of 1980, when it became clear that Belize would become independent because of a decision by the Jimmy Carter administration in Washington. At Amandala, we had reason to believe that once they achieved independence, PUP leaders would seek to crush this newspaper, because it had become too powerful.
More than that, there were special interest groups very well connected inside the PUP, who saw independence as an opportunity to become wealthy with the British out of the way. These special interest groups included drug traffickers.
Soon after independence, the PUP government attacked Amandala with two huge libel suits – one from Prime Minister George Price and one from Communications Minister Louis Sylvestre. You young readers should research both those cases, tried and adjudicated in the Belize Supreme Court by a Portuguese and a Barbadian judge in 1982 and 1983, respectively. The PUP won both cases, but Belizean public opinion turned savagely against the ruling party. In December of 1983 and December of 1984, the vaunted PUP were mauled in Belize City Council and general elections, respectively.
With all that said, we need to point out that the PUP gambled on independence because they did not trust the British. They had good reason not to trust the British. The Margaret Thatcher government was urging Belize to cede land to Guatemala, and the PUP’s experience with the Belizean people told them that their political heads would be forfeit if they tampered with the country’s territorial integrity.
From Toledo, the Guatemala-friendly Alejandro Vernon went all the way to the United Nations to argue that Belize had to settle the claim with Guatemala before we became independent. If Belize had not become independent, however, we would have been in the position of the Falkland Islands, which are claimed by Argentina. And remember, there is one important difference between us and the Falkland Islanders: they are white, and Belizeans are black. Falkland Islands spokespersons have travelled to Belize on more than one occasion in the last few months to present their arguments: they have never chosen to visit Kremandala. That is their choice, not ours. You figure it out.
Belize is different from the Falkland Islands in another important respect: we have all the attributes of a nation, and everybody knows it. The Falkland Islands look and behave like a British colony: they have a defence guarantee, and everybody knows it. Good for them, but 32 years ago our leaders decided to gamble, and today we Belizeans will take our chances with the hand we’ve been dealt. You may say we don’t have a choice, but, in any case, we Belizeans prefer to be where we are today rather than where the Falkland Islands are.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Mexican Ambassador to Belize visited Kremandala on Partridge Street. This was a stunning honor, and we scrambled to prepare the necessary protocol. Licenciado Mario Velazquez is a senior diplomat who has worked in many countries across the world. In the presence of a giant, we do more listening than talking, because we want to learn.
For many years, Mexico has been very quiet on the Guatemalan claim to Belize. But Mexico is on record as opposing any change in Belize’s borders. Mexico is on record as saying that if there should ever be any such change, then Mexico reserves all her rights where the Belize territory is concerned.
The Mexican Ambassador’s purpose in visiting Kremandala was not to discuss the Guatemalan claim. It was we who felt we had to bring up the subject, because we have always believed that Mexico’s stated position on the claim works in Belize’s favor. Mexico is not a banana republic: Mexico is big time, and the Mexicans know that they are big time.
In Belize, there are a lot of voices chattering on the airwaves, and there are newspapers here, there and everywhere. Some of the people who are chattering and scribbling are muddying the waters: they do not have the necessary credentials/”bona fides,” and some of them are singing for suppers. As a result of all the chattering and scribbling, there is no shortage of opinions in Belize, on any subject you care to name.
On certain serious subjects, nevertheless, less chattering and scribbling would essentially amount to more. The Belizean people will have to reach an unprecedented level of knowledge and maturity on a massive subject like the Guatemalan claim. When Mexico talks, we Belizeans have to listen. This does not mean we are going where the Mexicans want us to go, but we have to listen.
At Amandala, we don’t think we have to listen to the Pope of Rome or the Archbishop of Canterbury. In this respect, we constitute a minority in Belize. As times goes along, however, you will see that there is no national profit in abiding by the advice of slavemasters and colonizers. 32 years ago, we gambled to go independent, and now it is what it is. Our God must be a God of Belize.
Power to the people.