It will probably take a few days to get an accurate assessment of the impact of the town hall meeting held on Sunday evening, June 12, in Los Angeles, California. That is because it appears the organizers utilized modern technology to make it possible for Belizeans all over the United States and the world to listen to the proceedings live. In addition, we expect videotape of the meeting will become available on computer links. The post-meeting discussion will become international in breadth, by means of social media, and the cross-pollination of opinion will be going on for days. This is our sense at the newspaper of how this will work.
The town hall meeting was hosted by the Los Angeles-based BREDAA group, led by Nuri Akbar and Bilal Morris, who had organized a demonstration of Belizeans in front of the Guatemalan Embassy in Los Angeles some weeks ago. At Sunday’s event, Nuri Akbar was master of ceremonies, while the Leader of the Belize Progressive Party (BPP), Patrick Rogers, flew up from Belize to present, while Professor Egbert Higinio drove down from northern California to address the group. The third featured speaker was Mr. Hubert Pipersburgh, a Los Angeles-based activist who has BREDAA roots in the 1980s. After the presentation, a lively question-and-answer session took place. (It was good to hear the great Sir Andie.)
Our opinion at the newspaper was that this sort of Belizean response to Guatemalan aggression should have been taking place from late February of last year, when the Guatemalan military abducted a boatload of Belizeans from the Sarstoon River and forced them to go to Livingston and spend the night there.
The subject of discussion on Sunday evening in Los Angeles was the Guatemalan claim to Belize, historically and in the context of increased Guatemalan aggression against Belize, especially over the last two years or so. The subject matter included the 2008 Compromis (Special Agreement) and the proposed arbitration of the claim at the International Court of Justice.
The present United Democratic Party (UDP) Government of Belize, led by Prime Minister Dean Barrow and featuring Sedi Elrington as Foreign Minister, has been elected to three consecutive terms of office, unprecedented in Belize’s post-independence era. The UDP won general elections in February of 2008, March of 2012, and November of 2015.
In December of 2008, the UDP administration signed a Special Agreement with the Guatemalans in Washington which called for the two countries to hold simultaneous referenda for their populations to decide on going to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for the ICJ to rule, in a final manner and one which could not be appealed, on the Guatemalan claim to Belize, a claim which was revived in the 1930s and included in the Guatemalan constitution around 1945.
A lot has transpired since the Special Agreement of 2008, one thing being that the nature of the Special Agreement has come under increasingly intense scrutiny by Belizean nationalists and patriots, who smell a rat, who believe that independent Belize is risking too much in allowing half its territory to become the subject of a court ruling, who have been noting the increase in Guatemalan aggression in the Chiquibul and on the Sarstoon, and who have become more and more angry at the Government of Belize’s insistence on a policy of appeasement in the face of Guatemalan disrespect and intimidation.
Basically, parliamentary democracy in Belize involves two major parties — a ruling party, the one which wins a majority of Belize’s 31 seats in the House of Representatives in general elections, and an Opposition Party, that which wins the remainder of the seats. As far as we know, since 1974 only the UDP and the now Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) have ever won seats in the House, although when Hon. Philip Goldson won the Albert Seat in 1993, he did so as Leader of the National Alliance for Belizean Rights (NABR) in a coalition with the dominant UDP.
When the ruling party takes a position or implements a policy, the nature of parliamentary democracy is that the Opposition, which considers itself a government-in-waiting, will almost always oppose and criticize these positions and policies in its news organs and in the House.
With respect to the Special Agreement of 2008 and the ICJ proposition, however, a very powerful group of nations, led by the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Mexico, immediately endorsed both and continue to endorse them unconditionally and at every opportunity. There are high-ranking leaders of the Opposition PUP, including a former Prime Minister and several former Foreign Ministers, who have publicly endorsed going to the ICJ. In addition, as far as we know, the PUP has never publicly examined the Special Agreement with as critical an eye as the Sunday evening presenters did in Los Angeles.
You should remember that when the PUP was voted out of office in February of 2008, the people of Belize were in a state of rage because of the routine and arrogant abuse of public funds by the PUP. The results of the last three general elections, and all elections since 2006 in fact, suggest that the voters of Belize are still angry at the PUP. If this is so, then we can conclude that the UDP, to an extent, has benefited from a free ride here. And nowhere would this be more evident than in the matter of the UDP’s mishandling of Guatemalan aggression.
It is our opinion that the Belizean people, both at home and abroad, have overall been so hostile to a PUP return to office, that they have been reluctant to take this UDP administration to task on matters such as government corruption and their sickening appeasement posture. This UDP administration, to repeat, has gotten a free ride. And Guatemala has been having a frolic in the Chiquibul and on the Sarstoon.
Belizeans in the United States are strategically placed to publicize the real nature of Guatemalan aggression against Belize in the media of the United States. They really have not done much, if anything. One of the reasons for this, we submit, is that they don’t want to challenge or embarrass the Dean Barrow UDP government. Another reason is that, individually, they would, quite wisely, prefer not to run afoul of American foreign policy.
The situation in the Chiquibul and on the Sarstoon has, however, reached crisis stage. It absolutely reached that stage on Thursday, April 21, 2016 when the Guatemalan President threatened Belize militarily. If Belizeans in the diaspora did not react in late February of 2015, in May of 2015, or in August of 2015, they should have reacted in April of 2016. If Sunday evening’s town hall meeting constitutes a delayed reaction, then it behooves us to say, better late than never.
Power to the people.