Duvalier had not finished. Across Haiti, there was another wave of beatings and arrests. In the countryside, two peasants were reported to have been crucified by the Tontons Macoutes. According to the NEW YORK TIMES, Duvalier personally finished off at least twenty prisoners in the basement of the National Palace, his good left hand supporting his arthritic right as he calmly shot them with his own revolver.
– pg. 327, RED HEAT, by Alex von Tunzelmann, Henry Holt and Company, 2011
Today we want to talk to you about a topic which is dangerous in Belize. The topic of ideology is dangerous in Belize, because ideology is a discussion which causes the Guatemalan oligarchy/military to become jumpy. And anything that causes the Guatemalan oligarchy/military to become jumpy, immediately becomes of great concern to the State Department of the mighty United States of America.
Sometimes we describe specific people as having a conservative ideology. Conservatives are people who are happy with the way things are, no matter what, the way things are being referred to by scholars as the “status quo.” Conservatives argue that there are good and justifiable reasons why the status quo, at any given time, exists. The status quo is where a society reached after a period of time, conservatives say, and there is something inherently good about the status quo.
Guatemala is a very conservative society.They are afraid of any kind of change. There are Guatemalan families which have been in power for many decades, some even for centuries. Between 1951 and 1954, Jacobo Arbenz threatened, initiated in fact, some changes in Guatemalan society. The ruling classes in Guatemala, in collusion with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), ran Arbenz out of town, and things Guatemalan returned to the pre-1944 status quo. The status quo in Guatemalan features wealthy, neo-European families, in alliance with a professional military class, who live luxurious lives while the Guatemalan masses, who are mostly of Indigenous ethnicity and culture, struggle to survive.
Another threat to the Guatemalan status quo, post-Arbenz, arose in late 1960. Most scholars blame that 1960 threat on nationalism, in the first instance, as opposed to ideology. Two Guatemalan junior army officers, Marco Yon Sosa and Luis Turcios Lima, led a rebellion against the Ydigoras Fuentes government, because they considered it an insult to the nation for Fuentes to allow Cuban exiles to be trained by the CIA in Guatemala for an invasion of Cuba.
It was decidedly not the case in late 1960 that the Cuban Revolution, which had triumphed in January of 1959 under the leadership of Fidel Castro, was considered Marxist-Leninist, or communist, by the people of Latin America. Fulgencio Batista, the Cuban dictator against whom Castro’s guerrillas had fought, was thought of by our region to be cut from the same cloth as other murderous dictators in the Caribbean and Central America who were being supported by the United States. These included Anastacio Somoza in Nicaragua, Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier in Haiti, and Rafael Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. In Latin America in 1960, Fidel Castro was a hero, hence the Yon Sosa/Turcios Lima uprising against Ydigoras Fuentes’ anti-Castro policies.
The initial fire ignited by Yon Sosa and Turcios Lima, a nationalist fire, was fueled by socialist ideology as time went by. The unjust, apartheid-like status quo which existed in Guatemala drove oppressed Guatemalans to organize and fight for change. Guerrilla movements, with the basic ideology and strategies of Castro’s guerrillas, rose in Guatemala. Some scholars say that there was a civil war in Guatemala between 1960 and 1996. Other scholars claim the war was from 1966 to 1996.
Whatever, as the Guatemalan military tried to run down the guerrillas, destroying many Indigenous villages and murdering many Indigenous Guatemalans in the process, the territory of Belize, under the leadership of a seeming socialist sympathizer, Hon. George Price, was seen more and more by the Guatemalan ruling classes, the Guatemalan military, and their American advisers, as an exposed eastern flank which allowed Cuban support for the guerrillas to reach the Petén. Bethuel Webster’s Seventeen Proposals, drafted from 1966 but not officially released until 1968, were intended to deal with that problem. Belize could become independent, but Guatemala would be in charge of Belize’s defence and foreign affairs. That was the Webster deal. It was rejected by Belizeans.
In the aftermath of that rejection, Guatemala’s nightmare of a socialist Belize began to take shape in early 1969 with the formation of the United Black Association for Development (UBAD) and the People’s Action Movement (PAC). UBAD and PAC actually joined to form one organization – the Revolitical Action Movement (RAM), between October of 1969 and January of 1970. When the two organizations separated, the two PAC leaders, attorneys Assad Shoman and Said Musa, defended the UBAD leaders in a dramatic sedition trial in July of 1970. The Guatemalan nightmare became more real when Premier Price accepted Shoman and Musa into the ruling People’s United Party (PUP) and they became PUP general election candidates in 1974.
Since that time, Belize has become a nation-state which has accepted tens of thousands of Central American refugees into these 8,867 square miles. Compared to the oligarchies in Central America, Belize is a free society where many of these refugee families from Central America have made a new, dignified, and even prosperous life for themselves. Belize, down the road, will represent a juxtaposed contradiction to the brutal, oppressive status quo in the Guatemalan republic. A sovereign Belize with all its territory intact is therefore seen as outright dangerous by the Guatemalan oligarchy/military.
Both major political parties in Belize are in a bind when it comes to figuring out what to do about Guatemalan citizens who were unconstitutionally naturalized by both parties and are now eligible to vote in the April 10, 2019 referendum which will decide whether Belize exposes itself to possible dismemberment. The fact that born Belizeans who live and work in the United States find almost impossible legal restrictions where their right to vote is concerned, appears to Belizeans in the diaspora to be a case of the most rank injustice. The Prime Minister of Belize, Rt. Hon. Dean O. Barrow, has recently stated that it is not possible to make it easier for diaspora Belizeans to register and thus vote in the April 10, 2019 referendum. We do not think the Prime Minister is telling “the whole truth and nothing but the truth” here.
There is nothing that will permanently prevent Guatemala from pressuring Belize unless Belizeans agree to hamstring themselves and submit to Guatemala hegemony. In their desperate desire to protect their unjust oligarchy, Guatemala’s ruling families want to subject Belizeans to the same brand of hammer which they wield over Guatemala’s Indigenous population. Guatemala’s ruling classes would like for Belize’s status quo to become like Guatemala’s. And, there are actually some Belizeans who do not have a problem with the status quo in Guatemala. That is indeed food for thought.
The reason the rest of the world, except for Israel, all voted for Belize’s independence and territorial integrity in 1981 was because they were sending a message to the Guatemalan fascists. The message was that Belize, flawed as it was and is, represents a model for Guatemala to emulate, not the other way around. And, that is precisely what Guatemala is afraid of. Having failed to murder Belize in the womb, Guatemala now seeks, like King Herod, to kill us in the cradle.
Long live Belize. Power to the people.