The Belize Ambassador to Guatemala, Fred Martinez, told the press here last week that Guatemala was very “polarized” because of the Rios Montt conviction and jail sentence week before last. What he did not say, perhaps because he did not know, was that that polarization is built into the very socio-economic fabric of Guatemala, and that that polarization has been the order of the Guatemalan day for as long as anyone can remember.
Guatemalan structural polarization has experienced a flare-up because of the Rios Montt genocide trial, but that structural polarization has always been there. The forces which demanded and pursued the Rios Montt trial are those Guatemalans who are trying to heal the wounds of the Conquest and the subsequent socio-economic polarization. Theirs is an awesome task, but these are brave and sincere Guatemalans.
There are powerful business, political, and military Americans who have supported Guatemalans like Rios Montt for centuries. These are Americans who do not care about the masses of the Guatemalan people. They only care about Guatemala’s resources and desire a continuation of Guatemala’s neoliberal economic policies. These same Americans care even less about the Belizean people. They are interested in Belize’s natural resources. These are the Americans who decided fifty years ago that Belize should become a state which was a satellite state of Guatemala’s.
These Washington and New York City-based Americans are not the American people per se. They are, to repeat, the business, political, and military elite of the United States. They are on their collective heels because of the Rios Montt trial and conviction, one reason being that the American president they cherished the most in the second half of the twentieth century, Ronald Reagan, was a great apologist for Rios Montt, describing him as a freedom fighter.
In Belize, there are people in our business, political and security circles who represent what we may call “smart money.” They have hitched their careers to the American chariot, and they basically say and do whatever Washington and Wall Street want them to say and do. These were the Belizeans who led the United Democratic Party (UDP) at its formation in 1973, and some of them, including two former Leaders, are still around. They have a lot of clout in the UDP.
The present UDP Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Barrow, is not a 1973 pro-Republican UDP. He grew up during the UBAD/PAC era, and has been influenced by that phenomenon of the late 60s and early 70s. That influence, it must be said, was no more than modest. Whenever he is in trouble, the 1973 pro-Republican element of the UDP can usually intimidate Mr. Barrow. They sought to do so at the time of the Deputy Leader contest between Gapi Vega, the incumbent, and Patrick Faber, the challenger, earlier this year. Mr. Barrow was between a rock and a hard place. Long term, Vega would be a problem, but short term real, Barrow needed Gapi. The P.M. went against the 1973 UDP, featuring the two former Leaders.
In 2013, there are more independent voters in Belize than at any time since the nationalist political era began in 1950. Certain of Mr. Barrow’s moves, such as the BTL and BEL takeovers, appealed to the independents, while the recent rosewood and Noh Mul scandals have alienated same. Mr. Barrow knows that the independents do not represent his political base, so he is probably not in a panic mode.
The People’s United Party (PUP) could have made things a lot more uncomfortable for Mr. Barrow than they presently are, but this is a party which has not convinced the independents that they have a new deal to offer.
Municipal elections are not due in Belize for another two years, while general elections, all things being equal, are almost four years away. This is a period in the election cycle when the PUP could have experimented, come out of the box a bit, but the PUP, like the rest of the country, still can’t really figure out the March 2012 general election results. The PUP came so close to winning, they are nervous about changing their package. This is understandable. In a general election they themselves expected to lose last year, the PUP came within 60 or 70 votes of winning. Since incumbent governments in Belize are always losing ground, and since this is a UDP in its second term of losing ground, the PUP are thinking that 2017 is a sure thing for the blue.
We conclude with a look at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issue. With Guatemala City and Washington on their heels, Belize should be on an all-out diplomatic offensive. This is not a time for appeasement and complacency on the Belizean front lines. As soon as they get over this Rios Montt heat, Washington and Guatemala City will come after Belize again. We, the Belizean people, know this.
Elrington and Martinez are out of step with the Belizean mood, and they are damaging the UDP politically. Belizeans, large and small, have never been so militant on the Guatemala issue as they are today. Perhaps the main reason for this is because Belize is independent with all of our territory intact, and the PUP deserve the credit for this.
Some people say that the National Independence Party (NIP), which was the precursor to the UDP as Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, was a one issue party – “No Guatemala”, and that is why they never won a general election. Well, the Guatemala issue is still here, and, because of the oil and nickel fields, the issue is, we submit, bigger than ever. Any of the two major parties which gets on the wrong side of this issue today, will be in trouble at the polls. For now at least, Belizeans are thinking in an aggressive mode.
Power to the people.