We have already seen that since 1790, it was feared that a new war would start between Spain and Great Britain, and the latter had ordered Belize to be fortified, and munitions and stores to be sent to that place. Likewise we have remarked that against the good faith of the treaties – as with everything in British Honduras -, Hunter fortified the entrance to the port and St. George’s Cay, and militarized the population. We have also mentioned that the British Government’s appointment of Barrow was not alone that of a Superintendent, but principally that of Commander in Chief.
The danger of a war was imminent and the Belizeans more than anybody feared it: they knew that at the first opportunity, Spain might punish their violations and misdemeanors, and were terrified at the possibility of an armed conflict.
Nevertheless, despite all preparations, those men who were at other times so brave and accustomed to jeopardize their lives in storms and trained in constant battles against nature and man, and who were skillful in the wars of piracy and buccaneering, certainly were not soldiers, and were frightened at the fame of the unconquerable courage of the Spaniards. The Baymen had asked for authorization to transfer their families to places which offered more security, and Lord Balcarres, when breaking the news to Barrow that the “Merlin” was transporting arms and munitions to the inhabitants, added that if they were incapable of defending themselves, they should evacuate their families to the places they wanted.
The Belizeans lived for more than six years in constant fear of the ghost of a war, whereof the danger grew more threatening. Finally, in October 1796 war broke out, though the news did not reach British Honduras until the month of January 1797, when a Spanish prisoner arrived, after Spanish forces had captured some British ships. Barrow immediately declared martial law in the Settlement. During the whole day the Baymen exercised and practiced how to handle weapons, under the direction of a special instructor.
– pgs. 61, 62, BRITAIN AND HER TREATIES ON BELIZE (BRITISH HONDURAS), by Jose Luis Mendoza, November 1942, (Translation from the Spanish by Lilly de Jongh Osborne), publication by the Guatemalan Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1959.
Ultimately, President Ydigoras became convinced that his ace in the hole would be the results of his meeting with President John F. Kennedy. According to his son, Ydigoras Laparra, his father thought that he had obtained an “understanding” with the White House that, in exchange for U.S. support for the annexation of Belize, Guatemala would grant American enterprises long-term concessions for the exploitation of minerals, petroleum, lumber, and fishing resources in that country. Ydigoras obviously believed that if he could come back with U.S. support for the annexation of Belize, it would be a great nationalistic triumph that would neutralize the Army and most of his detractors.
– pg. 285, MIUSUNDERSTOOD CAUDILLO: Miguel Ydigoras Fuentes and the Failure of Democracy in Guatemala, by Roland H. Ebel, University Press of America, 1998
– (Ed. NOTE: Ydigoras Fuentes was President of Guatemala from 1958 to 1963, while John F. Kennedy was President of the United States from 1961 to 1963.)
The basic American attitude is that the normal condition of the world is peaceful, so if there’s a problem, someone is causing it. If we defeat that person or country, everything will become harmonious again.
By contrast, the Chinese do not believe in permanent solutions. To Beijing, a solution is simply an admission ticket to another problem. Thus, the Chinese are more interested in trends. They ask, “Where are you going? What do you think the world will look like in 15 years?”
– pg. 56, THE ATLANTIC, December 2016, from an article by Jeffrey Goldberg entitled “The Lessons of Henry Kissinger.”
We think it would be educational, and also interesting, to place the Guatemalan claim to Belize, also referred to as the Guatemala/Belize differendum, in two different historical contexts: that of the region between Guatemala and Cuba in the years between 1954 and 1962, and that of the region from Nicaragua through Belize to Yucatan (Mexico) between 1790 and 1798.
The Roman Catholic kingdom of Spain, with the blessing of the Pope of Rome, ran roughshod in this region from the time of Christopher Columbus’ first voyage in 1492. Spain introduced African slave labor into the so-called New World. Spain raped the New World, in the name of God.
Challenges to Spanish control of the high seas and hegemony in the New World came from English, France, and Dutch pirates, and these attacks on Spanish ports in the Americas and their shipping increased after the Protestant Reformation began with Martin Luther’s rebellion against the Roman Church in 1517. Large portions of France and the Netherlands broke away from the Roman Church to become Protestant, while Henry VIII took the whole of England into Protestantism in the early 1530s.
With the conquest of the Aztec empire in Mexico by the Spanish conquistador, Hernan Cortes, in the early 1520s, and the conquest of the Inca empire in Peru by another Spanish conquistador, Francisco Pizarro, in the early 1530s, Spanish ships became exponentially more attractive as targets for English, French, and Dutch pirates, whose nations also nursed religious grievances against the Spanish. Spanish ships, especially after Cortes’ and Pizarro’s conquests, were loaded with Aztec and Inca gold, silver, jewels, and other riches being sent back to Spain across the Atlantic Ocean.
In the Caribbean itself, Spanish Cuba had been the base from which Cortes’ attacks on Aztec Mexico had been launched. In 1655, the English privateers took Jamaica from the Spanish, while the French gained control of Haiti, the western half of the island of Hispaniola, in that same seventeenth century.
If you look at a map of the Caribbean, you will see that Cuba, Jamaica and Haiti are all islands which are close to each other as you move from Cuba in the west to Haiti in the east. Belize is on the mainland of Central America, just a few hundred miles southwest of Cuba, and Belize is in between Guatemala on our west and Cuba to our northeast.
In the second half of the sixteenth century in England, with the crowning of Queen Elizabeth I in 1558, the line between English pirates on the high seas and the English monarchy began to become blurred. Elizabeth invested in the raiding voyages of the pirates in the Caribbean Sea and on the Atlantic Ocean, and also in the African slave trade in which some of these same pirates participated. Soon, the British became the Europeans who were most heavily invested in the West African slave trade which kidnapped Africans and transported them across the Atlantic to the New World to work in mines and on plantations in the Americas.
African slaves and their descendants became a large part, at least half, of the population of Cuba, and they became the bulk of the populations of Haiti, Jamaica, and Belize. But African slaves were a very small minority in Guatemala, where the Spanish relied on Indigenous slave labor.
By 1954, when the neo-European oligarchy in Guatemala, assisted by the CIA, overthrew the reformist President, Jacobo Arbenz, the Guatemalan oligarchy was bitterly viewing Belize as a Black country which had been made so, Black that is, by the British. The Guatemalan oligarchy, which openly supported apartheid in South Africa, is, and has always been, notoriously racist. When Fidel Castro’s Revolution came to power in Cuba five years after Arbenz was overthrown in Guatemala, the Guatemalan oligarchy hated the new Cuba, which not only declared itself communist, but also gave very strong indications that Cuba’s large Black/Brown population would be guaranteed rights in post–1959 Cuba.
Under President Ydigoras Fuentes, Guatemala assisted the CIA to train Cuban exiles to invade Castro’s Cuba in 1961. Cuba survived that Bay of Pigs invasion when the new U.S. President, John F. Kennedy, refused to involve the United States militarily in the invasion. It is likely that this refusal to go along with right-wing fanatics in the American military and “deep state” cost Kennedy his life in November of 1963. In any case, the Kennedy administration, in return for Guatemala’s support with the Bay of Pigs training, apparently gave Ydigoras Fuentes verbal assurances of U.S. support with the Guatemalan claim to British Honduras. In 1961, remember, the dispute was between Great Britain and Guatemala. British Honduras was still a full-fledged British colony.
Revolutionary Cuba, with a relatively liberated Black/Brown population, became Belize’s most important regional supporter where Belize’s fight for sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity was concerned. Racist, white supremacist Guatemala continued to view Belize as a Black problem or aberration in Central America, even though Belize’s population was changing from majority to minority Black by the late 1970s, when Panama became the first Central American nation to support Belize’s independence.
Let us go back now to the late eighteenth century. Between 1790 and 1798, there was no Guatemalan state, as such. The British pirates in the region between Nicaragua and Belize, with the Bay Islands in between, had become woodcutters and settlers, but Spain considered them trespassers and invaders. Military “backative” for the Baymen in Belize and the British settlers in Nicaragua and the Bay Islands came from British Jamaica. In Nicaragua, the British settlers had forged a strong, enduring alliance with the native, anti-Spanish Mosquito Indians of Nicaragua’s Atlantic coast and Bluefields region.
In the latter part of the 1780s, a large amount of British settlers, forced out of Nicaragua’s Mosquito Coast by Spanish pressure, came to the Settlement of Belize. This created conflict between themselves and the established Baymen of Belize, and because Belize Superintendent Edward Marcus Despard was sympathetic to the new arrivals from Nicaragua, he was vilified by the Baymen of Belize and has been treated as a villain by Belize’s historians, especially the late Emory King. (Despard’s wife, incidentally, was Black.)
The Battle of St. George’s Caye in 1798, in which critical military support came from British Jamaica, is best understood in the context of the war between Spain and England which had broken out a couple years earlier. In a sense, the Battle of St. George’s Caye featured British Jamaica and Spanish Yucatan as the antagonists. Guatemala was a nonentity in the Caribbean in 1798.
In the late 1950s, there was a press conference held in Belize which included foreign journalists. Historians and other commentators in Belize never refer to this press conference. (Press conferences were very, very rare animals in British Honduras during that era.) Ruling People’s United Party (PUP) Leader, Hon. George Price, made a sensational statement which he must have subsequently regretted. Asked by a foreign journalist what he would do if his projected independence for Belize, failed, Mr. Price’s response was that he would give the northern part of Belize to Mexico and the southern part to Guatemala. As it is in 2018, this is precisely the split of Belize which is envisioned by white supremacist Guatemala.
Mexico has been extraordinarily quiet for years where the Guatemala/Belize differendum is concerned, but the Mexicans are on record for decades as declaring their official position to be that, if there is ever any adjustment made to the border between Belize and Guatemala, Mexico reserves her rights. You and I are left to figure out what that means for our Belizean selves.
And this brings us right back, we submit, to Cuba. Belize is being bullied into accepting International Court of Justice (ICJ) arbitration on the Guatemalan claim. Belizeans are being given the impression, and have been given the impression ever since the Special Agreement of 2008, that the only alternative to the ICJ is war. This is a repeated Elrington line. In other words, Belizeans are being coerced into accepting ICJ arbitration, 37 years after the United Nations voted overwhelmingly for Belize’s sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity. Cuba, under its own pressures, has not been providing the militant support to Belize which their late Fidel Castro did during the 1970s. At this stage, it would appear that the final burden of proof in the Belize/Guatemala matter may end up lying on Mexico. And the irony of that, is that it is from Mexico’s Yucatan that the ships came in September of 1798.
Power to the people.