“Guatemala’s internal war, like the other conflicts soon to follow in Central America (in El Salvador and Nicaragua especially), was usually depicted in the context of rivalry between the United States, the Soviet Union, and Cuba, and local causes were downplayed, but in fact it was essentially a war to protect an entrenched elite. By the early 1980s, the Guatemalan Army’s highest-ranking officers had become wealthy. Almost all the death squads operating in Guatemala were linked to the Army, although their activity was regularly blamed on rogue right-wing extremists. Either you supported military dictatorship and the oligarchy or you were regarded as a leftist.”
– pg. 16, THE ART OF POLITICAL MURDER, Francisco Goldman, Grove, 2007
On the Guatemala matter, there has always been a disconnect between elected PUDP governments and the masses of the Belizean people. Why has this been so? It has been so because elected governments in Belize have to accept advice and instruction, in general terms, from the Americans and the British where the Guatemala matter is concerned. The masses of the Belizean people do not feel constrained to accept any such advice and instruction, so that their opinion on the Guatemalan matter is always manifestly different from that of the government. In 1968, the opinion of the Belizean people on the Seventeen Proposals was different from the approach of the George Price PUP government. Ditto in 1981 where the Heads of Agreement were concerned. And in 2013 there is a disconnect between the Belizean people’s opinion on the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the formal opinion of the Dean Barrow UDP government, which has said “yes” to the ICJ.
In Toledo, activist Wil Maheia, leader of the People’s National Party (PNP), has, for some years now, opened up a front on the southern Belize border with Guatemala. He has blown the whistle in the national media where various Guatemalan incursions into Belizean territory are concerned, and he has gone so far as to mobilize nationalistic Belizeans to plant Belizean flags at the border. Maheia presently has a project scheduled to begin in early March where Belizeans will clear the border with machetes and demarcate it with stone markers in the fashion of the British troops some decades ago.
On Friday the Guatemalan Foreign Ministry shot off a diplomatic note of protest to the Foreign Ministry of Belize. The Guatemalans are unhappy about Wil Maheia’s border clearing project. This is not surprising, because they had pressured Belize into giving up its border and declaring an “adjacency zone” some years ago. This was a victory for the Guatemalan government, and the method they had used to achieve it was to allow and/or encourage their desperate citizens to provoke border incidents. When Belizean security forces reacted with various levels of violence, the leading Guatemalan newspaper, Prensa Libre, responded with inflammatory articles of denunciation. Guatemala was not only able to arouse its own citizens’ nationalistic emotions, but it gained propaganda ground in the region by having it seem as if they were the aggrieved party and being attacked by aggressive Belizean soldiers. The Organization of American States (OAS) refereed negotiations whereby the “adjacency zone” replaced the border. This was a big win for the Guatemalans, and a major setback for Belize. But, at Belizean government levels it must have seemed a price Belize could pay for peace and quiet, a peace and quiet which proved to be, quite predictably, only temporary.
In response to last week’s Guatemalan note of protest, Belize’s Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington went on national television to oppose Wil Maheia’s border clearing expedition. He has even publicly speculated that the members of the expedition could wind up in jail, a Guatemalan one, we presume. The “expeditionaries” were expecting some protective cover from Belize Defence Force elements in the border area, but the Belize government is refusing this.
In the last fifteen years or so, Guatemala has done an effective job of cleaning up its regional image. Until they managed to end a thirty-year civil war in 1996, Guatemala had been Central America’s equivalent of South Africa under apartheid, and worse. Their human rights violations were so horrific that Guatemala’s most important ally, the United States, stopped supplying them with military aid in 1977. Israel and Taiwan, supposedly friends of Belize, stepped into the breach to ensure that the Guatemalan army had modern weapons in order to murder their indigenous Maya people. Israel actually built an ammunitions factory for the Guatemalan Army. “The Guatemalan Army eventually became the most brutal, corrupt, and criminal military institution in the Western Hemisphere.” (pg. 14, THE ART OF POLITICAL MURDER, Francisco Goldman, Grove Press, 2007.)
Even as the Guatemalans were recently electing a former Guatemalan general to the presidency, Otto Pérez Molina, who had been the head of the EMP (the Estado Mayor Presidencial, which was in charge of interrogation and torture), their regional image has continued to improve.
In Belize, our governments have taken it for granted that, regionally and internationally, Guatemala would always be seen as a bully and Belize would always be viewed as an innocent victim. In 2013, however, Guatemala now has Belize in a trap. Their claim is now a “legal” one, and if Guatemalans vote for an ICJ decision and Belizeans do not, Belizeans will suddenly appear to be quarrelsome, and even belligerent.
When your own government doesn’t want you to define your border and claim your national, sovereign territory, you have a problem. The Belizean people understood in 1968 and in 1981 that their government was compromised by outside forces, and so they took matters into their own hands. In 2013, the Belizean people may be less focused, less informed where this claim is concerned. Certainly, we are much more distracted, by frivolous things. There is danger here, cherie, and we shall see what we shall see.
Power to the people.