Features — 15 August 2018
Belizeans tu daam suspicious

I spent my childhood in Belize City, my youth in Belmopan, and my adult life has been shared, some years at sea and most years in the countryside. Sports dominated my childhood and youth, up to the eve of my 18th birthday, when I put away my ferocious gene. Work has dominated my adulthood, as that great gift from God has dominated the lives of all fortunate people. I have worked for myself, I have worked for others. I’ve been an employer, I’ve been employed. I haven’t been to all the cays but I’ve been to every city, town, and village in my country. I’m just saying that I have my experiences.

My experiences don’t make it gospel when I say that Belizeans are too daam suspicious. But I’ve seen Belize as much as anyone, and it is my opinion. Belizeans would have to suffer from genetic amnesia, if they didn’t harbor a hefty helping of skepticism, suspicion about the world and strangers. Yap, it is natural that Belizeans carry the suspicion gene. Lord knows that our African (slaves) and Mayan ancestors should be wary.

The passage across the Atlantic, and 300 years of slavery, make the tale of the African slave one of the two most gripping, painful stories in the history of man.The pain isn’t over. Slavery days done, but the scars linger. No tribe in Belize is as “suspicious” as the children of the slaves.

The Maya, along with the Aztecs and the Inca and the Taino and people on the plains of North America, saw their glorious world fall to ruin at the coming of Columbus and Cortez and Pizarro. This is the story of the most terrible genocide in the history of the world.

There has been no let up since 1492. Just across our border, the children of the white ancestor just completed the massacre and disappearance of 200,000 children of the brown ancestor. We are horrified when we read, in 2018, of more murders of native leaders in Guatemala.

No tribe in Belize has been immune from suffering. The Garinagu came to escape persecution and genocide. The Chinese and Indians came as indentured servants. The Mestizos and the Lebanese came as fugitives from wars. The Mennonites came because they were not allowed to live the way their ancestors did.

Even the settlers who came from Europe knew the pain of being outcasts. These men left their homes, never to return. Many of them could not return because the life that awaited them was behind bars. Some of them would have gone to the gallows.

Indeed, this people, this Belizean people, have every right to be suspicious of the world and strangers. Suspicion, of itself, is not a bad thing, but, as with all things, you can have too much of it. Too much suspicion can paralyze you. It is true that we have been stung by lenders from abroad. But every time a foreign country lends us money, it is not “economic hit man.” Too often the hit is all from local hustle.

Everything comes with a cost, even a gift. A gift car can be a burden if you can’t afford the fuel and the maintenance. A gift can make you become soft. The best we can do in this world is our homework. The rest we must leave to God.

Any and all legal claims

1946 -The Guatemalan Constitution of 1945 declared that Belize formed part of Guatemalan territory, and that negotiations leaning to its reincorporation were of general interest. This resulted in an immediate British protest, in the sense that Belize was British territory and that its boundaries had been established by the 1859 Treaty. Upholding what was set forth in the Constitution, on 9 April 1946, by initiative of the Executive Power, Guatemalan Congress issued Decree number 224, which reaffirmed expiry of the 1859 Convention due to Great Britain’s failure to comply, and stated that in consequence, restitutio in integrum of the territory of Belize to Guatemala applied.(from the essay, Background and Study of the Special Agreement between Guatemala and Belize – by Gustavo Adolfo Orellana Portillo of Guatemala)

1999 – Guatemala’s Note of 18 October 1999, addressed to Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Said Musa…is important because it advances a new position regarding the basis of the claim to Belize. Whereas traditionally Guatemala based its claim to all of Belize’s territory on the alleged breach by Great Britain of the 1859 boundary convention, in 1999 Guatemala changed its position. Now the basis of the claim became the 18th century Anglo-Spanish treaties… Guatemala claims that the area between the Sibun and Sarstoon Rivers was “illegally” occupied by Britain, and that this area must now be “returned” to Guatemala together with all cayes except St. George’s Caye.(from”The Guatemalan Claim to Belize, A Compendium of Relevant Documents”, by Ambassador James S. Murphy)

I think the compromis could have read, “any and all ‘treaty-based’ claims.” It is pretty obvious why Guatemala would try to brush aside the 1859 Treaty.The nations of the world voted overwhelmingly for Belize to become an independent nation. No doubt, these nations put their best lawyers and diplomats to study the claim Guatemala was pushing against Belize.We were told to keep negotiating with Guatemala, for a sensible solution so we could become better neighbors, but after 1981,territory was no longer in the discussion.

People keep asking why Guatemala opts for the ICJ if that country knows it is going to lose. In the past, Guatemala wanted to go to arbitration, where the judgment would not be strictly legal. Now, Guatemala wants a legal solution. Ambassador Fred Martinez (dec’d), said that Guatemala wanted to put the claim behind them. But Guatemala must have some hope that the ICJ will be a soft on landing.

Guatemalan oligarchy overplayed its hand

In the 1940’s, since declaring the 1859 Treaty failed, Guatemala’s oligarchy keeps declaring that we are occupying land that belongs to them. Guatemala’s response to the Webster Proposals (1968) and the Heads of Agreement (1981) has not been communicated to regular folk in Belize. Fast forward.

We know the Guatemalan oligarchy’s response to the “proposals” of Ramphal and Reichler in 2002. The “proposals” of 2002 offered considerably less than the ones in 1968 and 1981. Webster’s Proposals made Belize a colony of Guatemala, and the Heads offered Guatemalan oligarchs the “use and enjoyment” of certain islands, the rights to run oil pipelines through Belize, among other things.

Philip Goldson was clear in his mind, that the British should settle matters with Guatemala before Belize became independent. The British knew that this claim about a failed cart road was weak. Still, they offered Guatemala a piece of land in exchange for their relinquishing the claim.

Now, knowing that Guatemala had no claim, why would the British offer them land? The answer is very simple. The Guatemalan claim is being pushed by their military. And Britain didn’t want to maintain a garrison in Belize.

But Goldson would not agree to Belize giving up land. And Price could not. The past is partly responsible for Price hanging tough. He had been before the courts in Belize, for “contact” with Guatemala. Of course, in the end the victory went to both men.

The world told Guatemala in 1981 to put away its bully games. Belize got its independence in 1981, thanks to the overwhelming support of the world. And the British got a little prize too. Their hands were freed of the cart road claim.

The Guatemalan oligarchs should have accepted Ramphal/Reichler. The “proposals” offered the MAA (notably, the Belize government has not walked that back), and certain agreements based on the Joint Communiqué of 1991. The Guatemalan oligarchs held out for land.

Yes, the assumption is that Guatemala is going to claim land. The cart road will be brought up again. But there’s just no way that that can hold. It is absolutely stunning that Guatemala will drag out treaties made by Spain. Guatemala, an independent country, made a treaty with Britain. But Guatemala will drag out a treaty or treaties made by Spain.

Interestingly, a number of Belizeans are balking at the idea of going to the ICJ to settle a land claim that Guatemala cannot win. After this case is over, Belize and Guatemala can return to the negotiating table. But this time the Guatemalan oligarchy (military) will not be souring the meal. Then we will meet as respectful neighbors desirous of “improving and perpetuating friendly relations”, and increasing “the material prosperity” of the Republic and Belize.

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Deshawn Swasey

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