There are billions of people in the world who live from day-to-day, from hand to mouth. The majority of Belizeans would probably be included in that number. But, there are other people, different people, who are the rulers of the world. They are extremely wealthy and surpassingly powerful, and they can afford to consider matters from long-term perspectives. The people who work directly for the rulers of the world work on Wall Street, in the City of London, in Zurich, and so on and so forth.
Now then, here we have this small country called Belize, blessed with bountiful natural resources, and inhabited by a relatively tiny and diverse population of people who have been trying to build a home here and make a future for ourselves. We Belizeans inherited this territory from the British, who were our slavemasters and, afterwards, our colonial masters. Our belief is that we fought the British to achieve sovereign independence, and they decided to grant us that independence in 1981. This is our Belizean belief.
Across our western and southern borders is a republic called Guatemala. The socio-political and financial elite in Guatemala are of the opinion that they inherited certain rights from Spain, who were their colonial masters until 1821, and among those rights were hegemony over most of the territory of Belize.
Guatemala could not enforce what she considered her right to Belize, because the place was controlled by the British, who ruled an international empire and were probably the most powerful military/naval world reality in the nineteenth century. The Guatemalans were as nothing compared to the British, and thus it was that in 1859 the Guatemalans, under the caudillo Rafael Carrera, agreed to a treaty with Britain to respect the borders of British Honduras if the British would build a “cart road” from Petén to the colony’s Caribbean coast.
The British didn’t need to comply with any promises or treaties back then, so they just ignored the 1859 treaty with the Guatemalans, and continued on their merry way. In the late 1930s, however, when Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler was rattling sabers in Europe, the Guatemalan caudillo Jorge Ubico saw that the British were taken up with serious matters, and perhaps they were even vulnerable. So, he revived Guatemala’s then dormant claim to Belize.
British Honduras was the only British territory on the Central American mainland. Everything else was Spanish, Roman Catholic, and controlled by the light-skinned descendants of Spaniards and other Europeans. British Honduras was not only British: British Honduras was black. The colony was black because the British had required African slaves to work the forests, and the descendants of these slaves were the clear majority of Belize’s population in the twentieth century.
Guatemala, the Central American republic which claimed Belizean territory, was an important ally of the regional powerhouse, the United States. What the modern Americans who had emigrated from Europe had done to the Native Americans in the United States, was essentially what the Guatemalans of European ancestry had done to the indigenous peoples whose ancestors the Europeans had met on their arrival in Central America. What the conquerors and rulers had done, was nothing nice, to put it mildly.
There was a status quo in this region when black Belize began its push for self-government and political independence in 1950. The national bourgeoisie of Guatemala were the loyal allies of the oligarchical business octopuses in New York and Washington. The modern Americans were closer to the British than they were to the Guatemalan elite, but just barely. No one in the regional power mix really gave much of a damn about the black folk in Belize, except for our compatriots of color in the Caribbean.
The British, pressured by the Guats, began getting together with the Americans in the 1960s to settle the Belize question. The modern Americans were looking out for the interests of the Guatemalan elite. The British had a little sentimental attachment to Belizeans, but after a while they just said, to hell with it. And they cut us loose, which is what the majority of us thought at the time was what we wanted.
Remember now, the regional rulers of the world were in no great hurry. There was the matter of substantial petroleum deposits in the Belize territory where it shared borders with Guatemala in the west and in the south. There was a lot of money to be made by the American oil companies and their Guatemalan business partners. The second solution to the nationalist noises coming out of black Belize in the 1970s was to dilute the population with Central Americans to the point where the blacks become a marginalized minority, which is what we have been for the last three decades. The first solution had been to allow black Belizeans to migrate to the United States in the 1960s, where we became an insignificant minority and, unlike the black Americans, friendly to whites.
The Americans, with the support of the British, are attempting to settle the Belize question again. This is what next year’s referendum on the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is all about. Remember, the Americans and the British tried with the Webster Proposals in 1968; they came back with the Heads of Agreement in 1981, and they followed that up with Ramphal/Reichler in 2003. None of those initiatives really worked. But, the rulers of the Western Hemisphere can afford to be patient. They don’t live from day-to-day, or from hand to mouth. They can plan by decades and by centuries. Sooner or later, they will achieve their objective. Or, will they?
There are populations which give so much trouble that the big boys sometimes decide it best to leave them be. Try Castro’s Cuba, for example. So far, we roots Belizeans have been stout and we have been stern. The important thing presently is to recognize those of us who are actually working for the rulers instead of for us. We have to identify those Belizeans who have chosen self-interest and their offshore bank accounts over their brethren and sistren. They want to become like the rulers; they want to trade us like slaves.
The struggle goes on.