Editorial — 07 April 2018
IC of J: yes or no?

“The astuteness of Mr. Dallas managed to arrive at some understanding with Lord Clarendon, and as a consequence therefrom the Dallas-Clarendon Treaty was signed on October 17, 1856. Though it certainly managed to have the two powers come to some understanding, by obtaining the stipulation whereby Great Britain should evacuate Nicaragua and the Honduras islands, it was, however, ominous for Guatemala’s rights in British Honduras: a minor item in the arrangement of the Dallas-Clarendon pact was the stipulation on boundaries of the British settlement in British Honduras, preventing a tragic encounter between the two great powers.”

– pg. 106, BRITAIN AND HER TREATIES ON BELIZE (BRITISH HONDURAS), by Jose Luis Mendoza, (a translation from the Spanish by Lilly de Jongh Osborne), publication by the Guatemalan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Guatemala, 1959.

“Britain exercised control over much of the Central American coast. In the 1840s, however, US interest in Central America was heightened after it took California from Mexico, thus becoming an Atlantic-Pacific nation in need of a maritime link between its two coasts. Although the British dominated the Mosquito Shore in Nicaragua, that country in 1849 gave the US the right to build an inter-oceanic canal and to fortify that route. Britain and the US appeared to come close to open conflict, but they decided to resolve their differences peacefully through the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850.”

“Between 1854 and 1856, British and US interests in Central America often conflicted, exacerbated by the actions of US filibusters like William Walker, who captured Nicaragua and declared his own government there. This caused grave concern not only among the Central American states, but also to the UK. Indeed, it sometimes seemed as if hostilities could break out between the US and Britain.

“Negotiations to resolve their conflicts over Central America resulted in the Dallas-Clarendon Treaty of 1856. Britain agreed to return the Bay Islands to Honduras and the Mosquito territory to Nicaragua. In return, the US agreed that ‘Her Britannic Majesty’s Settlement called the Belize or British Honduras, (is) bounded on the north by the Mexican Province of Yucatan and on the south by the River Sarstoon,’ and called on Britain to settle its boundary on the west with Guatemala within two years.”

– pgs. 10, 11, HOW YOU CAN END THE GUATEMALAN CLAIM, by Assad Shoman, published by the Belize Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Belmopan, 2013.

The Republic of Guatemala is expected, despite a recent attempt in their courts to block it, to have a national referendum next week Sunday, April 15, 2018, to decide whether to submit their claim to Belizean territory to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for arbitration. If the Guatemalans vote “yes” to the ICJ, pressure will come on Belize to do likewise, that is, accept ICJ arbitration, when Belize holds its own national referendum on the matter later this year or early next year.

At this newspaper, we have never considered ourselves experts on what is now referred to as the Guatemala/Belize differendum. You should know that good Belizean friends of ours immediately opposed the ICJ option from the time it emerged with the Special Agreement in late 2008. The newspaper’s humble opinion has been and remains, however, that Belizeans cannot reject the ICJ option out of hand. It will be difficult for Amandala to avoid declaring itself in favor or not in favor of ICJ arbitration once a national referendum is to be held.

We wish Hon. Philip Goldson was alive to give us guidance on this matter. Our post-World War II generation of Belizeans always held Mr. Goldson in the highest of regard where his reads on the Guatemala question were concerned. That is primarily why the UBAD Party, the founders of this newspaper, agreed to support Mr. Goldson’s political party in the December 1971 Belize City Council election.

 And yet, it was the Right Hon. George Price, of whom our generation had generally been suspicious, who led Belize to sovereign independence with all our territory intact in September of 1981. Every now and then, political opponents of Mr. Price’s People’s United Party (PUP) complain, to a certain extent legitimately, that Belize entered independence without the Guatemalan claim being resolved and without a defence guarantee. Still, the fact remains that we have had almost 37 years to gird our Belizean loins for whatever Guatemala throws at us. Jump high, jump low, the incontrovertible fact is that the British wanted us to cede territory to Guatemala. Yet, Mr. Price led us to independence with all our territory intact. Respect is due.

The Guatemalans claim that they inherited sovereign rights to Belize from Spain, from which Guatemala became independent in 1821. They claim that Great Britain repeatedly bullied Guatemala on the Belize question until the Treaty of 1859 demarcated the borders between Guatemala and Belize, which did not become a British colony until 1862, and then a British Crown Colony in 1871.

What we know as the Settlement of Belize began in the seventeenth century as a haven for pirates of British descent who began taking refuge inside the Belize Barrier Reef after raiding Spanish shipping and ports in this area. After a while the pirates became woodcutters, exporting logwood and later mahogany, to Great Britain and other metropolitan destinations. Spain could not crush or discipline the pirates-turned-woodcutters, so she signed treaties with Britain in the second half of the eighteenth century which allowed the woodcutters, with some restrictions (primarily against farming and fortifications), to continue their activities. But sometimes there were wars between Britain and Spain in Europe and elsewhere, and these precipitated violent flareups between the woodcutter/settlers (Baymen) in Belize, on the one hand, and the Spanish in the Yucatan, on the other. The last of those flareups was the Battle of St. George’s Caye in September of 1798.

After Guatemala became independent from Spain and began declaring her rights to the territory of Belize, the United States of America, which had declared its independence from Great Britain in 1776 and then announced the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, became a power player in Central America. And when the U.S. expanded its land mass to California with the signing of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo with Mexico, Uncle Sam became desirous of travelling between America’s eastern Atlantic coast and its western Pacific coast by sea, hence there arose the idea of cutting a canal through Nicaragua. The British were established players in Nicaragua and Honduras, so the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty of 1850 between Britain and the United States sought to establish working relations between the two powers.

When the Americans and the British signed a follow-up treaty in 1856, Dallas-Clarendon, the Americans called for the British and the Guatemalans to demarcate the boundaries between Guatemala and Belize. But in that 1859 Treaty, a road connecting Guatemala to Belize was to be built by the British, and they did not do so. Nobody could force King Britain to do anything in those days, so the Guatemalans waited until Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany started threatening the British in the 1930s, and then said the 1859 Treaty was null and void because the British had not built the road between Guatemala and Belize.

Guatemala had always treated Belize strictly as a British possession. In other words, Belize’s majority Black population, first slaves and later British colonial subjects, were viewed by the Guatemalan oligarchy as mere and anonymous chattels and appurtenances of the British. But when the Belizean government of self-governing British Honduras began internationalizing Belize’s rights to independence and territorial integrity, Belize’s leaders did so on the grounds of our people’s inalienable right to self-determination. It is on that basis that the rest of the world supported Belize at the United Nations, because it had become clear to the nations of the world in 1981 that the majority of the citizens of Belize were of Mayan and African descent: we were not British.

In the nineteenth century, Great Britain bullied Guatemala, but in the twenty-first century it is Guatemala which is bullying Belize. The ruling classes of Guatemala, who are of European ancestry, always felt it was a matter of honor for them to assert their rights to Belize. This was a beef between them and the British. The thing is, in the nineteenth century there were two kinds of racist oppression taking place side by side in Guatemala and British Honduras. The neo-European Guatemalan oligarchy was oppressing Guatemala’s indigenous Maya, while in British Honduras the British colonialists were oppressing the descendants of their African slaves, who were being joined by Maya Caste War refugees from the Yucatan.

Guatemala is seeking to return the Belizean people to an era of racist imperialism. All the historical arguments between the neighboring republic and Buckingham Palace do not mean anything to Belizeans in 2018. If the British are as civilized and as fair as they claim to be, and if the Guatemalans want compensation, let the European British and the neo-European Guatemalans sit down and work things out. After all, they are both white supremacists.

Roots Belizeans and roots Guatemalans want to live in peace and friendship with each other. In Belize, we will fight to ensure the democratic nature of our ICJ referendum. It will be interesting to examine the precise nature of Guatemala’s April 15 referendum. We are sure that the masses of Guatemala’s indigenous majority do not know what all the legal arguments about Belize are. In fact, Guatemala’s indigenous majority may be even more afraid of the Guatemalan military than roots Belizeans are. Think about it.

Power to the people.

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Deshawn Swasey

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