Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more,
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility,
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger …
– HENRY V, Act III, scene i, lines 1-6
The news that the soldiers were coming stirred the Indian camp into immediate action. “I will ride out alone and kill this Hancock!” Roman Nose shouted. There was no time to dismantle the lodges or pack anything. They put the women and children on ponies and sent them racing northward. Then all the warriors armed themselves with bows, lances, guns, knives, and clubs. The chiefs named Roman Nose their war leader, but they assigned Bull Bear to ride beside him to make sure that in his anger he did nothing foolish.
– pg. 154, BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE, by Dee Brown, Henry Holt and Company, 1970
It is said that when Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany invaded Russia in June of 1941, the Russian general Georgy Zhukov at one point decided to open the Russian prisons. The story may be apocryphal, but the point is this: when a man invades your country, all bets are off. Do or die.
On Thursday afternoon, April 21, Guatemalan president Jimmy Morales did not invade Belize: what he did, essentially, was threaten to do so. Perhaps the question for Belizeans at that moment should have been: what would Zhukov have done?
In the Middle Ages, you know, those who were kings actually led their soldiers into battle. As late as two hundred years ago, France’s legendary emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte, was leading the French army into combat. A couple decades before, the United States of America’s George Washington, the U.S.’s first president, was doing just that – leading his soldiers into battle. And, in between George Washington in the late 1770s and Napoleon in the early 1800s, Haiti’s Toussaint L’Overture led his troops on the battlefield in the 1790s.
Times have changed, surely. Over most of the world, it is civilian leaders who give the orders to the nation’s generals. Fidel Castro was so special because he personally led the Cuban army in defence of the island during the April 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. And, as some of you may know, Nelson Mandela, an attorney by profession, ended up serving 27 years in prison, before becoming president of South Africa, because he was captured while leading Umkhonto we Sizwe, which was the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC).
Most modern nation-states, to repeat, have considered it appropriate for their Maximum Leader to be a civilian, although sometimes Maximum Leaders actually have substantial military backgrounds. Charles de Gaulle served several terms as president of France after World War II. He had been a French army general. Winston Churchill, who became Prime Minister of Great Britain in May of 1940 when the British were in the most dire of German bombing straits, had fought in military battles as a young man. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was elected to two terms as United States president from 1952 to 1960, had been an American army general during World War II.
In the case of Guatemala, except in the case of the schoolteacher, Juan Jose Arevalo, who was president from 1945 to 1951, their leaders have been army generals or had army general backgrounds from 1931 until 1986, when the civilian, Vinicio Carezo, was elected president. The Guatemalans returned to military leadership with Otto Perez Molina in 2012. And the new president, Jimmy Morales, a professional comedian, is considered to be the political creation of Guatemala’s generals.
That hostile republic to the west and south of us, is a heavily militarized state. Any fool can see this. And yes, Carlos Raul, your army is a professional one: it was trained and armed by the Americans and the Israelis, and your army got several decades of practice torturing and killing hundreds of thousands of Indigenous Guatemalans. Your army not only killed children: your army killed Indigenous women, some of them pregnant. Perhaps your generals learned that from Chivington.
The recent, crisis performance of the civilian leadership of Belize has been unsatisfactory. The outburst on Thursday afternoon by Jimmy Morales was politically opportunistic and cynically brutal in its threats and bullying. But, the leadership of Belize should have been on guard for something like this. Belize’s Foreign Minister is always referring to how well-read he is, and how unschooled the rest of us are: yet, he has been ignorantly insisting on treating a dangerous viper as if it were a pet Chihuahua. We have said to him over and over: Guatemala is the Central American equivalent of apartheid South Africa. Jimmy Morales proved this last week.
Morales’ outburst on Thursday afternoon terrified older Belizeans, especially those in Belize’s western and southern border areas. As we write in the pre-dawn of Monday morning, April 25, Belize’s Foreign Minister has still not said a single word to the nation. The Prime Minister of Belize did not say anything to the nation of Belize until more than twenty four hours after Morales’ dangerous call to arms in Guatemala City. There was news of a National Security Council meeting on Friday, with the Minister of National Security in effect, but we don’t have a record of a Ministerial statement to the people of Belize. We did see, on national television news, an encounter between the Belize media and Deputy Prime Minister (DPM), the Acting Prime Minister in the absence of the Prime Minister in New York City, wherein the DPM pleasantly urged Belizeans to be “calm but vigilant.” Hon. Sir, Morales’ threats were not the equivalent of a hurricane warning exercise: Belizeans needed to have some idea of our national response to the Guatemalan president’s vicious, gratuitous assault on our national security.
Apologists for this United Democratic Party (UDP) government may well argue that ours is a civilian government, and that this administration did not expect the Thursday afternoon version of Jimmy Morales. Well, beloved, we are not in the “told you so” business, but the elected Government of Belize had from February of 2015 to begin getting its act together, as we would say. Come to think of it, Belizeans as a whole had from September of 1981, almost 35 years, to begin a national mental and physical preparation for Thursday afternoon. Morales’ behavior on Thursday afternoon was in keeping with the history of his bloody republic. In retrospect, it should be considered to have been inevitable.
Morales’ Thursday afternoon speech will be recorded as a game changer. The question is now a stark one for Belizeans: which of us will walk into the gas chambers without a murmur, and which of us will resist by any means necessary? If the majority of us wish to resist, as was the case in June of 1797, then it may be that Belize needs a different government, or a different kind of government, in place.
A little more than twenty four hours before Jimmy Morales‘ internationally broadcast threats against Belize on Thursday afternoon, April 21, the Belize Minister of National Security had travelled to the northern bank of the Sarstoon River for the ceremonial opening of a military forward operating base. During the course of the ceremony, the Minister and his accompanying security forces (BDF and Coast Guard) were disrespected by the inflammatory entry of Guatemalan navy vessels with armed personnel into the Belize side of the Sarstoon. This type of Guatemalan military behavior has been the order of the day since February of 2015. But, this time we had a member of the Belize Cabinet and his BDF and Coast Guard commanding officers as targets, so to speak.
Then the Guatemalans flew a drone aircraft over the Belizean party. The Belize Coast Guard commanding officer, Admiral John Borland, took up a rifle and aimed it at the drone. That single move may have been the most macho public gesture yet by a Belizean in the face of Guatemalan aggression. In the streets of Belize, John Borland became an instant hero that day. His brave statement may have been something for Belizeans to build on. It may also have been seen by Jimmy and Carlos Raul as a threat.
For Guatemala’s already politically embattled president, advised by his Foreign Minister, it is clear now that Belizeans must be kept in a state of intimidation. With respect to that, it must be said that the BDF is at the front line of our defence, and it is presently most of what we have in the event of invasion. For that reason, we Belizeans have absolutely no choice, and indeed no hesitation: we support our boys. We stand for Belize. In the militant lyrics of Brother David, “Stand up, Belizeans!”
Power to the people. Remember Danny Conorquie. Honor Staff Sgt. Richard Lambey. Big up, Wil Maheia and his Belize Territorial Volunteers. Right on, John Borland. Support the park rangers of Friends of Conservation and Development. Salute SATIIM. Stand strong, BNTU!