Features — 13 June 2018 — by Rowland A. Parks
At book launch, Assad Shoman said Che Guevara supported Belize’s independence from 1961

BELIZE CITY, Fri. June 8, 2018– Just at the time when the nation-state of Belize is grappling with the existential question of the Guatemalan territorial claim, whether or not the ancient claim should be settled by the judicial arm of the United Nations at its International Court of Justice (ICJ), the man who established the Belize Independence Secretariat and was the diplomatic genius behind the internationalization of Belize’s right to self-determination launched a new, relevant book tonight: Guatemala’s Claim to Belize: The Definitive History, by Assad Shoman.

The book was launched at the Image Factory Art Gallery, located on North Front Street, shortly after 7:00 p.m. when attorney Dickie Bradley was called to say a few words about author Assad Shoman.

Bradley said that the 461-page book is an easy read without any big words or complicated sentences, and also that it has a summary at the end of each chapter.

Referring to Guatemala’s 2015 stance on the Sarstoon River, Bradley explained that Belizeans could not go to certain parts of the river, even for leisurely purposes, because they would be committing a crime. “We can never get back that half of the Sarstoon River,” Bradley remarked.

Bradley referred to the two political parties in Belize (the UDP and the PUP) as “twiddle-dumb and twiddle dee, who are hell bent on taking us to the ICJ, and they are convinced that that is the only way…” He then said, “the Ministry of Education which spends hundreds of  millions of taxpayers’ dollars better get off their butts and declare Assad Shoman’s book a must-read in the schools… All the information deh inna this man’s book…”

The artist Kathy Usher, who was also acting as mistress of ceremonies, began her introduction of Assad Shoman by saying, “When I was about 14 years old at St. Catherine’s, I was charged to read The 13 Chapters of History of Belize…it opened my eyes to a lot of things. Assad Shoman formed and headed the Belize Independence Secretariat. He led international missions at the United Nations from 1975. He represented Belize at international forums until 1981 when we achieved our independence.

“And since independence, he has followed and commented on the ongoing negotiations to resolve this dispute, occasionally serving on advisory boards relating to this issue. He has spoken widely on his issues and has written several articles and books, for example Land in Belize 1975 to 1981, with O. Nigel Borland; Belize Independence and De-colonialization in Latin America, 2010, and How We Can End the Guatemalan Claim in 2013. And now we have this great book.”

Usher said, “The book is a very legal matter… It is about treaties and compromis at the end.”

The man of the hour, Assad Shoman, told the audience that he has to give a lot of thanks, but that those are already in the book.

Shoman thanked Yasser Musa and the Image Factory and Kathy Usher for the work they are doing and he also thanked everyone in attendance at the book launch. Shoman also thanked the artist Ida Ramirez, who designed the cover of the book. “I just have to say that she is French, but if you see her, she looks like one of we,” Shoman said. “She actually was born in Guatemala in 1983,” he went on to note.

Shoman went on to explain that from 1976 to 1985 was the era of civil war in Guatemala and her parents had to flee.

Shoman said he remembers around the 5th of February 1976, when there was an earthquake in Guatemala, and people said they were just about to invade Belize. He then remarked, “And people said God send that earthquake to punish them. And you know, I have been hearing the last couple days about the volcano in Guatemala and I di hear people di seh, ‘God send da volcano, because they wan carry we to the ICJ’, and I feel like cry when I hear that. Because in the earthquake and the volcano, you think da the rulers and the elite suffer? Da the poor people; da the downtrodden; da our brothers and sisters, dat during our fight for independence, organized in guerrilla forces, risked their lives to come out and speak in our favor of Belize’s independence and our freedom.”

Shoman read two parts of the book that he said he wanted readers to feel when they read the book. “I say it is essential to understand what we mean when we say Guatemala, and I mean inna dis book, yu wan si da word wan lot,” he said.

Shoman said that he often uses the word “Guatemala” to refer to the Guatemalan government, the ruling class, the official bureaucracy, the military, but not the ordinary, everyday Guatemalans, who he said are people who are oppressed by a small, white ruling class, supported by the military, and who are subjected to racism and class discrimination. “The regular Guatemalans are our brothers and sisters…,” Shoman said.

Many Belizeans are descendants from the people of Guatemala, Shoman added.

Shoman said the book explains how the Guatemalans, with the help of Israel, and with the support of the US and also the UK, which they saw as a colonial power, had the duty to deliver a country free of any claim. “They failed, and that is why we are here tonight talking about it,” he said.

Shoman said one of his favorite chants during the Vietnam war was by Ho Chi Minh, “We shall fight and we shall win.” “Somehow we have to think about something for ourselves, we have to fight and we have to win,” he said.

Shoman then turned to the second part of his book, “The Unresolved Claim.” Shoman said some people today try to deny that there is a claim. “There is a claim and it is unresolved,” he said.

He went on to say, “…We cannot let the matter ride; we cannot surrender; we must continue to struggle,” “Belize versus Guatemala is not a fair fight, with one having 350,000 people and with 6 million; one with an army of one thousand and the other with thirty-five thousand; one with a defense budget of less than $20 million and the other with over $200 million; one with the support of Israel and one without the support. But Belize has faced bigger adversaries than that and come out on top,” he said.

Shoman explained that during the struggle for Independence the British and the Americans tried to get Belize to agree to be dominated by Guatemala, in the Webster Proposals, and then to get Belize to give territory to Guatemala. “They both leaned hard with Belize, but we did not give in; we persisted and gained independence with our territory intact. So we can win, but we have to assemble the necessary resources that will enable us to win,” he said.

Shoman said, “We got independence because we had fantastic support from Third World peoples, African peoples and Caribbean peoples. The first was Cuba. When nobody mi deh support we, when we no mid di support we self, before even George Price talk ‘bout independence, Che Guevara, at a conference in 1961, supported the independence of Belize.” (Che Guevara is the Argentine doctor who fought in the Cuban Revolution along with Fidel Castro. He was assassinated in Bolivia with the assistance of the US CIA.)

Shoman said that Belize got the support of the Nicaraguan government when the Sandinista Revolution triumphed, because before that Nicaragua was supporting Guatemala. In 1980 and 1981, the civil war in Guatemala heated up and they could not think about invading Belize, Shoman explained.

“If we had waited one year later, we would have gone to hell, because Ronald Reagan came to power. We don’t have the same international configuration right now,” Shoman said.

Shoman related what occurred in 1982, when he and George Price met George Bush, who was then Ronald Reagan’s vice president. Price had mentioned to Bush that he wanted to establish relations with the Sandinista government. Bush told him that Belize was an independent country and he had no problem with that, said Shoman.

But, when they arrived back in Belize, the US sent an emissary to Belmopan to inform Price that Vice President Bush had misspoken and that the US did not want Belize to have relations with Nicaragua.

Shoman said the same thing occurred in regards to Belize’s relationship with Cuba. Belize had to turn down a lot of help from Cuba, because of pressure from the empire, Shoman said.

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