29 October, 2015
It is election eve as you publish this, if indeed you see fit to do so.
I’ve been writing this letter since the day of the launching of the UDP manifesto when the Honorable Foreign Minister declared that not the PUP and not even the people are making an issue out of the Guatemala Sarstoon situation. I had been puzzled myself by the how cool Belizeans were – were they under some form of collective hypnosis, magical thinking, even collective unconsciousness? Were the PUP being cowards, afraid of being accused of politicizing a national issue as had already been suggested? Was it even some unspoken collective wisdom along the lines of the saying “discretion is the better part of valor”? Guatemala had made it public and official that it had MILITARILY SEIZED Belize’s portion of the Sarstoon River!
There, I’ve said it. MILITARILY SEIZED – the dreaded words everybody has been avoiding! Yes, we’ve been calling it everything but: aggression, violating our territorial integrity, chancing us, etc., etc. Yes, pure and naked MILITARY OCCUPATION of Belizean territory! That couldn’t just be left hanging out there! I kept thinking of 1948 when Guatemala shifted from diplomatic channels and negotiation and displayed force by a troop buildup at the border to which Britain responded with dispatching troops and warships to the area.
I was sitting next to an officer of the Belize Police Force and noticed the Crown as part of the emblem on the shoulder of the officer’s uniform. I inquired of the officer why the Crown. The response was because the Queen of England is our Sovereign. I then asked if the BDF wears that symbol also, to which the response was yes. My gut feeling as a citizen was, notwithstanding the withdrawal of British forces after Independence, does that not still at least make Belizean forces an extension of the Queen’s forces and, if yes, why are they not being reinforced by the British at this crucial time?
I waited and watched developments and reactions from all sectors – public, civic, private and official. I particularly listened for official word from the Government of Belize on how it intended to deal with the Government of Guatemala. None. I was encouraged by the Belize National Teachers Union’s press release. I noticed the PUP mentioning in a political campaign jingle the UDP “selling out to Guatemala.” Then came news of British troop presence in Belize. The BDF commander is denying this has anything to do with the Guatemala situation, saying it is a previously planned jungle warfare training in which international troops will also be participating in the near future. Coincidence? Not likely. Speeded up, the UDP government’s response to Guatemala? Likely. Two thousand British troops in Belize by December? That’s a lot of troops all at once for jungle warfare training, doubling the BDF! We understand the reasons for the General’s politically, or militarily, correct explanation. So does Guatemala.
It is as it should be. The British! I’m sure there is a huge, collective, quiet sigh of relief! But wait! There are still the questions. The Foreign Minister also talked about the OAS praising the progress made in regard to the Guatemala claim as being more than has ever been accomplished previously, giving credit to his government, of course. Was this progress the talk of going to the ICJ? (I had missed part of what he was saying due to interference in the broadcast). That proposal now appears dead in the water, so where’s the progress? When did this praise come? Was it before the military occupation? Was it before Guatemala stated in no uncertain terms that Guatemala does not recognize any of Belize’s borders? If the OAS praise came before the Guatemalan note, and every indication is it did, did not Guatemala dash that out the window?
Most importantly, if the UDP government and the OAS knew before Guatemala’s note the position Guatemala had taken, why were the Belizean people not told by their government immediately? If GOB did not in fact know, why not? Why was Guatemala left to take advantage of our weakness in Chiquibul and go after the Sarstoon? Why were the Belizean people not told by their government immediately Guatemala militarily occupied the Sarstoon? Why did the government leave the people living in ignorance and danger? If it were not for the Belize Territorial Volunteers, you the citizenry, how far would Guatemala have gone? Consider this as you cast your vote.
We are deep in debt under the UDP: 2.7 billion dollars and counting, according to one source. In the Wednesday 28 October edition of this newspaper, Mr. Henry Gordon gave some statistics on the shifts in government between the PUP and UDP from 1954 to 2012. They reveal that the PUP made the economy worse whenever they were in power! Consider this too as you cast your vote.
This is the most important election since Independence. Guatemala elected a joker rather than keep what it was tired of. You are no fools. You work hard, Belize. You keep it together. You deserve better governments. Let’s all recite tomorrow the nursery rhyme that ends, “All the King’s horses and all the King’s men.”