In a couple days the people of Guatemala will vote in a run-off presidential election to decide between Jimmy Morales and Sandra Torres as their new President.
Belizeans will have noted that whereas between February and August of this year, the temperature in Belize-Guatemala relations rose dangerously high, featuring repeated incidents at the mouth of the Sarstoon River and around the Sarstoon Island, since the resignation and arrest of Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina in September, things have quieted down substantially.
We think Belizeans can expect the Guatemalan power structure, which is dominated by a continuing alliance between the Guatemalan business/industrial sector and the extraordinarily powerful Guatemalan military, to become aggressive again towards Belize once a new Guatemalan President is installed. The new President will be a civilian, but the nature of Guatemala’s very delicate democracy is such that any civilian President who defies the Guatemalan military would be behaving in a suicidal manner. This is a historical reality.
The 1859 Treaty which defined Belize’s present borders was negotiated between Great Britain and Guatemala when Britain was still the most powerful nation in the world and Guatemala was a nonentity, a Central American republic which was very poor and very violent and run by a dictator named Rafael Carrera. The United States of America, on the heels of their 1823 Monroe Doctrine, had become Guatemala’s patron, and the U.S. was the most powerful force in our Western Hemisphere, but America was about to enter a bloody civil war in 1861 which exposed terrible divisions in the country between the North and the South, Abraham Lincoln’s Union and Jefferson Davis’ Confederacy.
In the latter part of the 1930s, President Jorge Ubico, then a military dictator in Guatemala, saw that Great Britain was about to face a serious challenge from Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany, with whom Ubico’s Guatemala was friendly, and he began to test Britain on the Belize (British Honduras) issue. The Belize issue became a matter of national pride for the ruling classes cum military in Guatemala (their own version of the “military-industrial complex”), and the Guatemalan politicians decided to make it a part of their constitution that Belize belonged to Guatemala. This was a macho move by the Guatemalans.
When World War II ended in 1945, Germany had been defeated by the British-led Allies, but Great Britain had been weakened by a second twentieth-century world war. The United States, Guatemala’s patron now more than ever, had clearly become a greater industrial and military power than Great Britain.
Five years after the end of World War II, the people of Belize began fighting against their British colonial masters for self-rule. The experience of Belizean workers in Panama had led them to admire the American way of doing things. In the early 1950s, the Belizean rebellion against the colonial British viewed the United States of America as a haven, an anti-colonial sympathizer, and a place of economic opportunity. But the United States was Guatemala’s patron, and Guatemala now had it enshrined in its constitution that Belize belonged to Guatemala.
At a press conference hosted Wednesday morning by the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) to launch the manifesto part of their general election campaign, Nuri Muhammad, who is serving in a temporary capacity as the assistant editor of Amandala, the leading newspaper in Belize, approached the media microphone to ask a question. The room at the Biltmore Plaza Hotel was crowded with UDP standard bearers, UDP cronies, and yes, UDP muscle. Everyone was dressed in red and the UDP personnel were in a high state of emotional mobilization.
Press conferences in Belize held by the two major political parties have now deteriorated to the level of political rallies. The politicians who are being questioned try to ridicule their questioners from the media, and, worse than that, the politicians also seek to bully the press. The ranking politicians skillfully appeal for raucous support from their party officials and party faithful, and such raucous support is readily forthcoming.
Mr. Muhammad asked two very intelligent and very relevant questions. The first was about the Guatemala situation and the Sarstoon issue, to which Foreign Minister Sedi Elrington replied. Nuri then asked a question about the various financial management moves being presented in the UDP manifesto, and on which the Prime Minister/Minister of Finance Dean Barrow had spent most of his time while introducing the manifesto. Mr. Barrow responded to this second question.
After the Guatemala/Sarstoon question by Nuri Muhammad, and Sedi Elrington’s defensive answer, the UDP chairman, Alberto August, who was the master of ceremonies, had spoken in a disrespectful and condescending manner to Mr. Muhammad. Both Mr. Elrington and Mr. Barrow sought to intimidate Mr. Muhammad and treat his questions as if they were absurd. Under the circumstances, Mr. Muhammad behaved with great dignity and exemplary courage. A single Belizean man surrounded by many barking dogs, he rose above the fray. We give Mr. Muhammad great respect.
We could not help but contrast the two UDP leaders’ behavior towards Mr. Muhammad with their public rhetoric and behavior during the heat of the various Belize vs Guatemala confrontations between February and August of this year. Truly, in the words of the Creole proverb, “cow know weh weak fence deh.”
The only thing on Wednesday morning at the Biltmore is that Mr. Muhammad was not a weak fence. He stood as Danny Conorquie must have stood at Caracol on September 25 of 2014. He stood against the world, so to speak.
The nineteenth-century Prussian military theorist, Carl von Clausewitz, famously said: “War is a continuation of politics by other means.” There has been a cynical attempt by some Belizean politicians to convince Belizeans that our situation vis-à-vis Guatemala can only be defined in political terms. For individual Belizeans, however, such as Danny Conorquie and some members of the Belizean Territorial Volunteers, the Guatemalan claim on specific, documented occasions went beyond politics. For Danny Conorquie, in defence of his sovereign nation and in the honorable assertion of his manhood, he had to stand against bullets from invaders. This newspaper will not cease to honor Danny Conorquie. If there is one lesson world history teaches us, it is that there is a reality beyond politics. There are times when politics is continued by other means. This is not a choice a man makes. Sometimes this is a choice forced upon a man.
Power to the people. Remember Danny Conorquie. Fight for Belize.