The superpower United States of America will elect a new President next week Tuesday. Most Belizeans who live and work in the United States will probably vote for Hillary Clinton, the candidate of the Democratic Party, following as she does in the familiar footsteps of the incumbent President, Barack Obama.
At a time like this, Belizeans at home and abroad realize how very small Belize is, and how highly important the United States is in our scheme of things. The United States dominates the Western Hemisphere, even more so Central America, where Belize is placed, just a few hundred miles south of Texas, Louisiana, and Florida.
This Monday, October 31, 2016, is the 55th anniversary of the devastating Hurricane Hattie, which destroyed Belize City and Stann Creek Town back then. In March of 1961, seven months before Hattie, the People’s United Party (PUP) had won all 18 seats in the House of Representatives in the first general elections held under a new Ministerial constitution. The following month, April of 1961, the United States sent an invading force of Cuban exiles, which the Americans had financed and trained in Guatemala and Nicaragua, to attack Cuba in the massively unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion.
In 1961, the majority of Belize’s population consisted of the descendants of African slaves whom the British Baymen had brought here centuries before to cut logwood and mahogany in the forests of the settlement. By 1961, the British knew that the forests were virtually depleted, they were beginning to view Belize as an imperial liability, and they probably understood Belize as presenting an uncertain, if not outright dismal, future for the African-descent population.
When President John F. Kennedy came to office in January of 1961 in the United States, he inherited the Bay of Pigs invasion plans from his predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Apparently, Kennedy and his younger brother, the Attorney General Bobby, assured the then Guatemalan President, Ydigoras Fuentes, that in return for his cooperation with the Bay of Pigs matter, the United States would support Guatemala against Great Britain with its claim to the Belize territory.
Overall, the population of Belize did not know much about the true nature of the militaristic, oligarchical Guatemalan society. It is for sure that Belize’s majority black population led the opposition to the Guatemalan claim, primarily because of ethnic, language and religious reasons, although there were some Belizean blacks, at the base of the socio-economic pyramid, who felt that anything was better than a continuation of British colonialism in Belize.
We do not know how far discussions between the British and the Americans had gone during 1961, but we know that immediately after Hurricane Hattie the Americans invited all Belizeans with relatives in the United States to take refuge in America. And the following year, 1962, for the first time, the Americans hosted Anglo-Guatemalan talks on Belize, in Puerto Rico, those also being the first such talks to which Belizean political leaders were invited.
After John Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963, he was succeeded as President by another Democrat, Lyndon Baines Johnson, who was re-elected in the November 1964 presidential elections. So that, it was under the administration of the said LBJ that the American government in the spring of 1968 presented its proposals for a solution to the Anglo-Guatemalan dispute over Belize. Those were the Seventeen Proposals, which came out of the office of the mediator between Great Britain and Guatemala, one Bethuel Webster, a New York City attorney.
The Seventeen Proposals called for Belize to become independent, but as a satellite state to Guatemala. Belizeans violently rejected this notion, and essentially this is where we still are in 2016 – where we were in 1968. Belize has become politically independent, but Guatemala still claims half the territory of Belize, and the United States continues to behave as if their State Department believes that the interests of all would be best served by Belize’s submitting to the Guatemalan Goliath.
The election of the first black American President in 2008 changed nothing for Belizeans where aggression and threats from Guatemala were concerned. Hillary Clinton, if elected, would be a carbon copy of Barack. The Republican candidate for President, the one Donald Trump, is a racist, a xenophobe, and a misogynist, and his views on undocumented aliens, a group which includes an unknown number of Belizeans, are known to be very hostile. In the specific matter of the Guatemalan claim to Belize, however, Trump has never expressed a view. For him, and for most Americans, the Guatemalan claim to Belize is an insignificant matter.
The chances are that a Trump presidency would go along with the views of the career professionals at the State Department. The blueprint for State, as far as we can see, remains Webster’s Seventeen Proposals. For the American State Department, the Seventeen Proposals are how the Guatemalan claim to Belize would be best solved with respect to the interests of America’s financial, business, industrial, and military elite. The vast majority of American citizens know little and care less about Guatemala and Belize and our dispute.
The Guatemalan claim to Belize is fundamentally colonial and racist in nature. In the post-Seventeen Proposals era, the challenge for Belize has always been to inform the rest of the world about the real nature of the claim. When Belize is able to do this, as was the case in our internationalization campaign of the 1970s, led by Assad Shoman and C. L. B. Rogers, Belize comes out smelling like roses. But when Belize’s selfish, greedy attorney/politicians concentrate on making backroom deals with regional and international neoliberal capitalists, and ignore the interests of the masses of the Belizean people, then Belize ends up in the situation we are in presently where the Chiquibul and the Sarstoon are concerned. Whom this cap fits, let him wear it.
Power to the people.