At this Wednesday afternoon’s press conference hosted by the Prime Minister of Belize, Hon. Dean O. Barrow, one of the aspects of the press conference which has remained with us afterwards was how much Brigadier-General David Jones, the commandant of the Belize Defence Force (BDF), was sounding like a politician. His line was, and he repeated it, that the initiatives of the Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV) to “show their patriotism” were endangering his BDF soldiers.
At the head table on Wednesday, from left to right, sat Belize Coast Guard Admiral John Borland, Foreign Affairs Minister Wilfred Elrington, Prime Minister Barrow, National Security Minister John Saldivar, and General Jones. Elrington and Saldivar never spoke. Shortly after the Prime Minister gave his extended opening statement and the questioning from the media began, the microphone was turned over to General Jones.
Some BDF history is relevant here. When the BDF was formed in 1978, more than a decade after the Opposition National Independence Party (NIP) Leader, Hon. Philip Goldson, had issued a call for same in the National Assembly, the army was commanded by a British officer. In 1978, Belize was still a self-governing British colony. After independence in 1981, protocol demanded that command be turned over to a Belizean.
The “Belizeanization” of army command became a serious issue. The People’s United Party (PUP) Government leaders had been well advised about how dangerous armies could be for the politicians of Third World countries. The logical Belizean officer to assume BDF command after independence was Captain Charles Good, but the PUP politicians were apparently afraid of him. The PUP leaders moved Tom Greenwood from the Volunteer section into the regular army and sent him for special training at Sandhurst so that he could take command of the BDF. By all accounts, Greenwood’s command was not a sparkling success. But, the politicians felt safe with him. Captain’s Good’s story became a Belizean tragedy.
Belizean commanding officers of the BDF are only allowed to hold command for three years, after which they are retired. Again, this is a precaution designed to protect the civilian leaders of Belize from ambitious generals.
As this newspaper has always been seeking to inform you over the years, the republic of Guatemala, unlike Belize, is a highly militarized society. Apart from Juan José Arévalo, a professor of philosophy who served as president of Guatemala from 1945 to 1951, all the presidents of Guatemala from 1931 to 1986 were military generals. And the present president of Guatemala is a military general.
The Organization of American States (OAS) is controlled by the State Department of the United States of America, planet earth’s superpower. It appears that OAS guidelines with respect to the Guatemalan claim to the territory of Belize, and the dispute arising therefrom, have contributed to the Belize Foreign Affairs Minister, Wilfred Elrington, becoming so chummy with his “Guatemalan counterparts” that Belizeans have become unhappy with Mr. Elrington. It now appears that General Jones has become so chummy with his “Guatemalan counterparts,” those in the military, that his relationship with them is more important, has a higher priority, than the protection of Belizean patriots in Belizean territory.
If this is so, then General Jones is in sync with the thinking of the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) politicians of Belize. UDP leaders consider the Belize Territorial Volunteers a nuisance which is undermining their political popularity and credibility, so much so that the patriotism and courage of the Belize Cabinet have been publicly questioned by militants. It is true that the duty of the General is to follow the instructions of his political bosses, but his job description does not call for him to articulate the position of his political bosses. We are saying, in other words, that at Wednesday’s Government of Belize press conference, it is National Security Minister Saldivar who should have been speaking when the General spoke. The General’s job is to fight, not to talk.
Guatemalan aggression has forced Belizeans into a situation where we have no choice but to begin considering our military options. Belize cannot continue crying like a baby indefinitely. It may well be that this Guatemalan aggression is being orchestrated or countenanced by the State Department in order to frighten Belizeans into running to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Guatemalan aggression, however, is having the opposite effect: Belizeans are becoming angry.
If Belizeans are not to be forced into considering desperate military options, then a way must be found to change those State Department policies which were originally declared in 1968 in Bethuel Webster’s Seventeen Proposals. Those State Department policies were rehashed in the 1981 Heads of Agreement and the 2002 Ramphal/Reichler proposals. Those policies are not acceptable to the people of Belize. That is the reason the Belizean people have become skeptical of our Cabinet’s patriotism and courage. Belizeans do not want to be a part of Guatemala. Belizeans do not want to cede territory to Guatemala. Belizeans do not want to become a satellite state of Guatemala. What is it about that that Washington does not understand?
The fact that the leadership of the BTV has been of a spontaneous, civilian nature, and the fact that that leadership has come from the Toledo, Cayo, and Orange Walk Districts is noteworthy. Belize is at a crossroads, and it appears that Belize City may have lost its traditional leadership of this country. Government’s move to Belmopan in 1970 did not change Belize City’s national leadership on the ground. Some years ago, spontaneous, civilian rebellions arose for the first time in the Tower Hill and Benque/Succotz areas of the Orange Walk and Cayo Districts, respectively. Those rebellions were in response to bus transportation controversies. They marked a change in the historical patterns of rebellion in this territory. Everything used to start in Belize City, then spread out to the Districts.
The Belize Territorial Volunteers began in Toledo, then spread to Cayo and Orange Walk. Belize City has never really been involved. That is because Belize City is controlled by the ruling UDP, which is hostile to the BTV. The Opposition PUP, all things being equal, should have been able to exploit Sunday’s Sarstoon River incident to bring heat on the UDP in the streets of Belize City. Instead, all the PUP were able to do was hold a feisty press conference on Tuesday at Independence Hall. Beloved, a story goes with that.
Power to the people. Remember Danny. Fight for Belize.