Sun. May 29, 2016–The speculation around the Guatemalan president’s recent irresponsible and inflammatory national television broadcast accusing Belize of human rights violations, and his threat to beef up military presence both on the Western border and the Sarstoon River, is that Mr. Morales is creating a smokescreen to cover up his already less-than-favorable performance in the presidency and a distraction from Guatemala’s internal woes. This explanation seems to have been accepted in Belize as fact; it may be so.
However, that is a stance that Belize cannot afford to take. It is a speculation that will cause us to relax, take our eye off the ball, which is asking for trouble. One must remember that the position Guatemala has taken, particularly on the Sarstoon, did not begin with Jimmy Morales’ troubled presidency. The leaked BDF report on Guatemalan military activity on the Sarstoon indicates this is a trend which began more than 10 years ago. It was ratcheted up to a large degree almost a year before the beginning of the Morales presidency with the detention of Belizeans in Livingston in February of 2015 and that trend is simply continuing, Guatemala is taking full advantage of incidents, even instigating incidents, on both borders.
Plans and counterplans
It’s wise to be skeptical of any ready explanation as that itself could turn out to be the real smokescreen. Let’s consider a couple alternatives that are not so obvious. One explanation is we are witnessing the early stages of the current phase of what is possibly a Guatemalan counterplan put in place after the rejection of the Ramphal-Reichler Facilitators Proposal circa 2002-2003. Just check out the timing and sequence of events. Of note is that it was not long after that rejection the harassment of our BDF on the Sarstoon began, as revealed by the dates in the leaked report.
This counterplan would include the Confidence Building Measures of 2005, which in effect formally recognized Guatemala’s “rights and claims” as being on the same level with Belize’s; the Special Agreement (Compromís) of 2008; the so-called protocols for the Sarstoon (actual inception date unknown); the playing up of a professed Guatemalan friendship with Belize in the intervening years; the 2014 Placencia 13 Agreements and the agreement to let Guatemala hold their ICJ referendum during the 2015 presidential elections, a date that has come and gone and an agreement, by the way, that has left Belize in the awkward position of “who is going to blink first.”
We can’t breathe!
The counterplan includes or has led to the seizure and nationalization, call it annexation if you will, of Belize’s portion of the Sarstoon, not an armed incursion as some believe – not when travelers are told they are in Guatemala’s “national waters” and have to check in with Guatemalan Immigration. All put together, what we have is the nation of Belize caught in an ever tightening noose, a chokehold, with little to no breathing room.
Jimmy Morales is making sure he has air holes. A thought that keeps lingering at the tip of this pen, so to speak, a necessity of said counterplan, is this: Jimmy Morales and his military could be “testing the waters” to find out exactly where Britain stands, and possibly other international players, particularly the Commonwealth, when it comes to Belize’s military defense. Guatemala tested Britain’s military resolve on more than one occasion regarding British Honduras. Morales may be trying to “flush out” BATSUB to test if there’s an agreement with Belize beyond mere jungle training for these troops. This is not to suggest there is such an agreement; just noting that the announcement last year of a BATSUB presence, and its numbers, closely followed the just-elected Morales’ spouting off about getting back Belize. We cannot expect GOB to make public all its plans, definitely not any of its ploys or bluffs; that would be putting Guatemala on notice. Hence Morales’ uncertainty.
Recognizing all the dots
In watching events and their timing, let’s not overlook the recent announcement of a number of US Marines soon to be stationed (if not already) in Belize at the American Embassy in Belmopan. While it is common practice for the US to station Marines at its embassies, why in Belize at this time after all these years? Again, not to suggest America is on our side, rather just pointing to simultaneous and closely occurring events as dots to be connected. What foreseeable conditions make the Marines’ presence necessary to protect US interests?
There also have been lots of speculation about what may be behind the resurgence of Salvadoran refugee processing, everything from a Barrow administration/UDP cover-up of their advance planning to secure votes for a fourth term, to said administration not leaving any stone unturned to come up with funds to pay Ashcroft for BTL. While the truth is of serious concern, it should not be made the main concern. After all, we can’t afford to lose precious time chasing in all directions for truths that will be manipulated endlessly so as to make them elusive, near impossible to pin down; that’s how the power brokers roll. Rather, it should be treated as yet another dot to connect to reveal the bigger picture.
Little can we afford to be distracted and give Guatemala yet another opportunity, and, for example, they grab the cayes, pulling territory out from under us on three sides (many Belizeans have repeatedly been expressing concerns about Guatemalans using the cayes and surrounding waters unimpeded over the years). Then there’s El Pilar.
The Empire strikes
Considering the close involvement of the US ambassador in the refugee debacle, let’s note here that both Guatemala and the USA, the latter known to manipulate the UN and its various agencies at will, are taking full advantage of the fact that Belizeans, including Cabinet Ministers and others in leadership and administrative accountability roles, are an under-informed, even uninformed people – uninformed about their own history, even their own laws and their Constitution; uninformed as to world and regional social and political conditions. Let’s throw in that more than enough Belizeans are, dare one say, hustlers – corrupt, easily bought; more than enough lack creativity and originality and prefer to mimic their beloved USA in everything from names of businesses and governmental departments, e.g., DOT and DOE, to swearing-in oaths for public officials. Take today’s swearing-in of the new UDP deputy party leader – word for word the oath of the president of the United States of America! We must be a laughing stock. What makes Belizeans that much more pliable, easily kneaded like dough, is this colonial mentality, this slave mentality Belize has which makes successive governments continue to place themselves at the service of the Empire, no questions asked; eager to please and hungry for praise and acceptance into “The Club.”
Consider too that Guatemala and the USA, like the many criminals and opportunists passing through, take full advantage of the gaps in Belize’s legal system, the absence of laws long recognized as necessary in developed countries, and the lax enforcement of the laws that do exist in Belize. Examples: the world knows how easily available Belizean passports and identification documents are; it knows about the virtually non-existent deportation system, the ridiculously low bail or light to no penalties for serious offenses by foreign law breakers; it knows about the breakdown in the extradition treaty with Mexico. For good measure, add widespread GST evasion; add gender, age and racial discrimination in employment (see the classified ads in the Wednesday, May 11 Amandala for “manageress” with “Slavic” language capability and “1 male” and “1 female” worker ages 25–35. Such advertising/practice is illegal in the US and elsewhere, something for GOB and Labor to pay attention to).
Giving unto (into) Caesar
Guatemala and the USA are very aware that their job is made easier by the traditional Euro churches, aka the Council of Churches, who, instead of confining themselves to the moral and social justice aspects of governmental activity, or lack of, simply toe the line. They know the church is complicit with the government in sustaining the status quo of the uninformed population by under-educating them. Of particular note is the Council’s announced “yes to ICJ” position rather than plans to guide their flock in making their own decision. No doubt these two countries take full advantage of this church-state system where Caesar controls the church as evidenced by making the church a “social partner” and keeping it in line with public funds and representation in the Senate. Whatever happened to give unto Caesar (only) the things that are Caesar’s – not the people’s minds! Who knows, this setup may be typical in British ex-colonies, but as old-school Americans would say, “who would have thunk!”
Unfortunately, things will get uglier before it’s over. Where will the church be? Because of the refugee issue, the racial make-up of the country is now in the mix, muddying the waters even more. There will be more and more fires to put out, figuratively and literally (the Plett encounter with the Guatemalan military comes to mind). At the time of this writing, eight Belizeans are being held in Guatemala for alleged fishing infractions. We have to keep a clear head. How does the church plan to help get us through?
You can fool some of the people some of the time
The good news: YOU CAN’T FOOL ALL THE PEOPLE ALL THE TIME! Folks across Belizean society are beginning to think for themselves! They are realizing that good citizenship goes beyond voting; beyond going to church, school and work and upholding laws; beyond delivering or keeping up with the news, ensuring workers’ rights, running businesses and other institutions, etc., etc. Belizeans now realize they must also be the watchdogs over the governments they elect. They are questioning the government and speaking out with feet in the streets of Belize rather than in Melchor. People with vital knowledge and information are going public. Some are putting flesh on defense ideas, though largely only informally through the media to date. Those in the arts, music and education are responding to the challenges.
This change in Belizeans cannot be fully realized overnight. It will take generations to erase the damage that’s been done to the Belizean psyche. But we must continue to stand our ground. We must act as one, stay focused, gather and process information and ideas and connect the dots, analyze and test theories where possible, expose, inform, demand, confront, boycott, challenge, question, plan, advocate, demonstrate, organize, strategize, advise, protest, cooperate, educate, and be vigilant. This could have been the case at least since the months leading up to last November’s elections after it turned out we had been sold down the river. However, better late than never.
Still missing from the scene are the youth. We remain hopeful.
FOOTNOTE: Guatemala had the nerve to go hat in hand to Great Britain begging for funds to help the process of settling a dispute she started and to aid economic development for the Guatemalans she herself has oppressed to the point they have had to plunder Belize! Just when we thought we’d seen it all! In spite of Britain’s past sins, one must admit the British are just too polite.