A trap has been sprung on Belize. The Guatemalan Ministry of Foreign Affairs essentially told Belizeans this week that Guatemala has taken control of the Sarstoon River/Island, and that the only way Belize can regain our rights at the Sarstoon is if the International Court of Justice (ICJ) gives it to us. Ergo, go to the ICJ, or else.
Fifteen years or more ago, the Guatemalans pulled a stunt on our western border which was similar in concept, except that it took place on land. The Guatemalans built a village called Santa Rosa inside Belizean territory, Belizean territory as demarcated by the 1859 Treaty between Great Britain and Guatemala, and Belizean territory as confirmed by the United Nations when Belize gained independence on September 21, 1981. Although it took many years, Belize managed to get Santa Rosa dismantled without a war breaking out. The Guatemalan peasant farmers were returned to their country of origin. Incursions of various kinds continued to take place, of course, but there was nothing of the organized scope and intent of Santa Rosa.
The Guatemalans learned from the Santa Rosa experience when they began planning the initiative which has so far worked well for them at the Sarstoon. Santa Rosa was a purely civilian initiative. But Guatemala’s political directorate cleverly and cynically employed their military in the Sarstoon region to protect and support the entry of their civilian fisher folk into Belizean waters for the purpose of economic exploitation. When Belizean civilians, led by Wil Maheia, exposed the incursions and cried foul, the Guats made statements to the effect that they claim from Sarstoon to Sibun, so this was no big deal. What’s your beef, Belize? The Belize political directorate, caught with their pants down, have now been fumbling and stumbling for more than a year.
To a great extent, this newspaper’s editorials on the Sarstoon issue represent exercises in futility, especially now that a new Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) leadership appears to have decided to cooperate with the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) government of Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow. Once the PUP takes a similar position to the UDP’s, it means that the great majority of Belize’s adult citizens take that position. The die appears to be cast.
Historically, what the Guatemalan upper classes saw when they looked northeast to British Honduras was a British possession with a majority African population. The demography of Belize began to change after the Caste War broke out in 1847 in the Yucatán territory of Mexico, immediately north of Belize. Maya and Mestizo refugees from the Caste War became the majority population in the Corozal and Orange Walk Districts of Belize. These two Districts, incidentally, are not claimed by Guatemala. Guatemala claims from the Sibun to the Sarstoon, which consists of the Toledo District, the Stann Creek District, and parts of the Cayo and Belize Districts.
In the second half of the twentieth century, two diametrically opposed political systems emerged in Belize and Guatemala. After universal adult suffrage was introduced in British Honduras in 1954, a parliamentary democracy was established in Belize which theoretically gave power to the African/Mestizo/Maya majority of the population. In the same year of 1954 when universal adult suffrage was introduced in Belize, Jacobo Arbenz, a reformist, democratically-elected president, was driven out of Guatemala, and the rule of brutal military dictatorship returned to that unhappy republic.
Guatemala’s socio-political system has been defined by racist, oligarchical injustice for centuries. A small, neo-European upper class absolutely dominates land holdings, business, and industry in Guatemala, and they have financed the building of a fearsome military class which has carried out the oligarchy’s repression of Guatemala’s majority Indigenous population for 150 years.
A complete antithesis to the Guatemalan neoliberal system lies a few hundred miles northeast of Belize. This is the communist island of Cuba, which has withstood imperialist enmity and aggression from the United States for more than 50 years. Since Guatemala is the United States’ foremost ally in Central America, and went so far as to help train Cuban exiles for an invasion of Fidel Castro’s revolutionary Cuba in 1961, you can add one-and-one to see how Guatemala and Cuba view each other. Geographically, Belize is between these two opponents. In 2016, Belize is closer to Guatemala in economic development philosophy than we are to Cuba. But, there was a time in the 1970s when Belize had become more socialist than neoliberal, under the leadership of Rt. Hon. George Price.
Guatemala has sought to bend Belize to Guatemala’s racist, neoliberal will. The reason you can hear some Belizean voices expressing appeasement in the fact of Guatemalan aggression is because those voices belong to Belizeans who espouse the neoliberal economic philosophy and desire a pro-Washington future for Belizeans. The problem we see is that while these neoliberal Belizean voices belong to Belizeans of African and Maya/Mestizo descent, the vast majority of such human beings in Guatemala are being crushed by Guatemala’s neoliberalism. What do such Belizean neoliberals see as the future for Belize’s Africans, Mayas, and Mestizos under Guatemala’s racism and neoliberalism?
As we write, the Belizean people are a confused and divided people. Belizeans are being told by UDP government spokesmen that those Belizeans who insist on demanding Belizean sovereign rights at the Sarstoon River are seeking to promote war and bloodshed. This is a ridiculous line which the Government of Belize has taken, but it is a line which has been successful so far. Mr. Goldson must be turning in his grave. The Belizean people are standing on one of the most valuable pieces of real estate on planet earth, but our schools have never taught the children of Belize about our history and our rights. It is because of a lack of knowledge that the Belizean people are confused and divided today, Thursday, March 17, 2016. This is disturbing. This is a point in Belize’s history when we should be mobilized at the highest level of awareness.
Tangentially, we see that the UDP Minister of Education is now aspiring to become his party’s First Deputy Leader, replacing the one Gapi Vega. This means that Mr. Faber considers himself qualified to become his party’s next Leader, and Prime Minister, it being the case that the present UDP Leader and Prime Minister is constitutionally lame duck. Mr. Faber has been Minister of Education in Belize for the last eight years. What has he done to educate the Belizean people about our geographical realities and historical rights in this blessed Jewel of ours? We pause for a reply.
Power to the people. Remember Danny. Big up, Wil.