At this point of our existential crisis in Belize, it is important to understand why the ruling politicians have been harping on one thing over and over. They keep saying, leave everything to the defence professionals, you “misguided patriots,” and don’t be going near the border areas and waving any Belizean flags and singing the Haynes national anthem.
Through their media spokesmen, the ruling politicians have also sought to lull Belizeans, as we would say, into a sense of false security. One of the lines they encourage their ruling party followers to repeat is, “Oh, we di hear ‘bout dis Guatemala ting long time, from hatchet was a hammer …” The ruling party is trying to assure the masses of the Belizean peoples that this too will pass away, that the ongoing series of provocative incidents featuring Guatemalan aggression since February of last year does not represent anything special or different in the history of the Guatemalan claim to Belize.
The truth is, when a much larger and much more powerful neighbor claims the land and rivers and sea and air which you consider your sovereign patrimony, and which you use to make life from day to day, whatever becomes the most recent act of provocation and aggression always demands your most vigilant attention. The history of planet earth teaches us that someday, this could be for real. The fact that the threat did not turn out to be real, the threat did not become an invasion in 1948 or 1972 or 1975, does not mean it cannot become a shooting invasion in 2016. The logic which the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) is informally and implicitly presenting to Belizeans, is a spurious logic.
This UDP Government of Belize is not in a position to advise Belizeans to “rest easy and sleep well,” as British Governor Richard Posnett famously did in 1975, because the UDP Cabinet does not possess any Harriers as the British did. British Honduras was a self-governing colony in 1975: the colonizer was still responsible for our defence and foreign affairs.
When the then People’s United Party (PUP) Government of Belize established the Belize Defence Force (BDF) in 1978, they amalgamated a Belize paramilitary force, which had been organized ten years before (right after the Seventeen Proposals) primarily to control internal dissent, and the British Honduras Volunteer Guard (BHVG), which had probably been seen here more as a parade group than a fighting force. The new BDF was a kind of subsidiary of the British garrison, whose control headquarters was at Ladyville, near Belize’s international airport.
It was just three years after the BDF was commissioned that Belize became a sovereign, independent nation, its boundaries defined by an 1859 Treaty between Great Britain and Guatemala. At the precise point when Belize became independent and sovereign on September 21, 1981, the Belize Defence Force, to the best of our knowledge, assumed responsibility for the defence of Belize, the British refusing to give us a defence guarantee but agreeing to leave their garrison here for an “appropriate period.” That appropriate period apparently came to an end in 1993.
The centerpiece of British defence strategy with respect to British Honduras in the modern era was controlling the international airport for at least 24 hours after any hostilities broke out, in order to give reinforcements the opportunity to be flown into Belize. The centerpiece of British defence strategy was not patrol of Belize’s western and southern borders with Guatemala, although the British did carry out such border patrols on a regular basis.
Today, permanent military presence on the part of Belize at our western and southern borders with Guatemala has become a necessity. Desperate Guatemalan civilians have been entering Belize from our west and south in order to exploit Belize’s land and river and sea resources. Such entry, which amounts to illegal incursion, if not outright invasion, is a daily physical reality which is not a straightforward invasion in the socio-political opinion of the ruling elite of Guatemala and their professional military, because the constitution of Guatemala declares that the territory of Belize belongs to Guatemala. So then, it now appears that at the Sarstoon River in the south, illegal Guatemalan civilian fishers, with the support of the Guatemalan armed forces and the Guatemalan Foreign Minister, have taken possession of Belizean territory. This is not the case, as far as anyone is aware, in the west. Illegal Guatemalan settlements in the west of Belize are not protected by the Guatemalan armed forces and supported by the Guatemalan Foreign Minister. Those Guatemalan civilians who entered Belize illegally and murdered Danny Conorquie in September of 2014, and those Guat civilians who entered Belize illegally and shot BDF Staff Sergeant Richard Lambey on Saturday, March 26, 2016, are not being supported by regular elements of the Guatemalan armed forces. But, at this juncture, no one can be absolutely sure of what is going on in the Chiquibul. In addition, there are criminal organizations, including regional narco-trafficking cartels, which have operational interests around Belize’s western and southern borders.
The UDP Government of Belize has been maintaining the fiction that Belize’s present relationship with Guatemala is normal and acceptable. This must be what the Americans and the British are encouraging our ruling politicians to do. Because the Government of Belize says things are cool and groovy between Belize and Guatemala, organizers of the Saturday, March 19 Bandfest, felt they were free to invite and welcome participation from Melchor de Mencos, and one week later, on Saturday, March 26, the Belize Cycling Association was proud to invite formidable cyclists from the Guatemalan national selection to compete in Belize’s hallowed Holy Saturday Crosscountry race. The Guatemalan cyclists humiliated Belizeans on the most sacred day of our annual sporting calendar. Four hours later in the Chiquibul, a Guatemalan poacher was emboldened enough to open fire on an officer of our national army.
In the eyes of the Belizean people, and this has been the case for more than a year, we do not see our present relations with Guatemala as “normal and acceptable.” There is a major disconnect between the official line of the ruling UDP and the gut feeling of the Belizean masses. But the present Government of Belize is one which was returned to office as recently as November of 2015. Belize’s political leaders sometimes argue that by voting for the UDP on November 4 of last year, we Belizeans were endorsing the foreign policy of the party.
And, where is the Opposition PUP in all this? Constitutionally, the PUP should be leading the charge against UDP appeasement, but the PUP have not even issued a press release reference last weekend’s attack on Staff Sergeant Lambey. Meanwhile, Belize’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry has insisted that any boycott of Guatemalan businesses and products should absolutely not be contemplated. Things are normal and acceptable. To say otherwise in today’s Belize, is to be branded a “warmonger” by the ruling party.
In conclusion, we return and refer to this essay’s first paragraph. The reason the ruling politicians keep warning that everything must be left to the defence professionals, is because there is a formula in place which excludes the Belizean people from stepping forward to assert themselves. There has been a Cabinet attempt, successful so far, to place the Belizean people in a comfort zone, to convince us that we do not have to participate in our own defense. After Saturday afternoon in the Chiquibul, however, we suggest that the professionals now need the people. The professionals will lead the people, but the professionals will need the people. Read some history: on Bastille Day, there was really no role for the politicians.
Power to the people. Remember Danny Conorquie. Honor Staff Sgt. Richard Lambey. Big up, Wil Maheia.