Focusing especially on the economic dynamics of U.S. Empire, revisionist historians and others have generally held that following the conquests of 1898, the United States primarily became an empire of economics, as exemplified by Open Door trade policies initiated in China after the Boxer Rebellion. These scholars argue that the nation largely avoided the colonialism of the European powers based on territorial expansion and direct rule over subject peoples in favor of a more discreet, nonterritorial kind of economic imperialism. Economic control and exploitation, scholars say, have largely emanated from policies of the Open Door and later the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. “The best preferred strategy,” says, geographer, Neil Smith, “was to organize resource and commodity extraction through the market rather than through military or political occupation.” The market and the use of state power to open up capitalist opportunities became the basis for exploitation and continued imperialism, with geopolitical and military tools of only secondary importance.
Other scholars have pointed to the significance of military bases. Among them, Chalmers Johnson suggests that unlike older European empires that relied on a series of colonies and direct rule over other peoples to exert their power, the United States has for the most part avoided colonial rule. Since World War II the United States has instead used its bases to exert control, influence, and economic domination over weaker nations. Bases, he and others say, have become a primary means by which the United States keeps other nations within a global political-economic order most favorable to the United States, thus maintaining its global political and economic supremacy.
– pg. 43, ISLAND OF SHAME: THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE U.S. MILITARY BASE ON DIEGO GARCIA, David Vine, Princeton University Press, 2009
In this Western Hemisphere, the Spanish, the British, the French, the Dutch, and the Portuguese all owned colonies. The colony was a specific territory which the specific European society controlled with the use of force, and the colony existed primarily in order to contribute to the enrichment of the motherland, be it Spain, England, France, the Netherlands, or Portugal.
The socio-cultural relationship between the colony and the motherland was based on the understood, enforced, and accepted superiority of the European motherland and the inferiority of the colonized populations. In this Western Hemisphere, the bulk of the colonized population were Indigenous peoples, while millions of Africans were introduced as slave labor between the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries.
What we know as the United States today was actually a group of thirteen colonies controlled by Great Britain. What we know as Mexico today was a colony of Spain, as was Cuba. Brazil was a colony of Portugal. The Dutch owned Suriname. The French ruled Haiti. The British took Jamaica away from the Spanish in 1655.
The thirteen American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain in 1776, and bought the Louisiana territory from France in 1803. By 1823, the United States was strong enough to declare the Monroe Doctrine, which basically said that the Western Hemisphere henceforth constituted an American regime.
In 1810, a Mexican priest by the name of Miguel Hidalgo had led 80,000 Indigenous Mexicans on the colonial capital of Mexico City in revolt against Spanish rule. In 1821, Mexico and the Central American states, including Guatemala, declared their independence from Spain, while in 1823, the same year of the Monroe Doctrine, the Central American states separated themselves from Mexico and began fighting among themselves, most notably liberal Salvador against conservative Guatemala.
Between 1846 and 1848, the United States and Mexico fought wars which ended with the United States seizing from Mexico most of the territory which now constitutes the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, Utah, and California. This was the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed February 2, 1848.
In 1847, the Caste War had broken out in the middle of the southeastern Mexican state of Yucatan, and an inability to defend the northern territory of the settlement of Belize, coupled with financial indigency, probably prompted the settler, landowner class of Belize to seek colonial status from Great Britain. Belize became a British colony in 1862, three years after the British and the Guatemalans had signed the 1859 border treaty.
Belizeans began to seek self-rule with the formation of the People’s United Party (PUP) in 1950. Between 1914 and 1918, and then again between 1939 and 1945, the European colonial powers had fought so-called world wars amongst themselves for control of Asia and Africa. The United States had sided with Great Britain and France in both the world wars, while in World War II Italy and Japan had sided with Germany against Britain, France, the United States and Russia.
The result of the destructive world wars amongst the Europeans was that colonized peoples in Asia and Africa, and indeed the Caribbean, saw an opportunity to achieve self-rule. A couple years after World War II ended in 1945, mighty India became independent of the British, though at the price of being divided into Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan. In 1957, Ghana became the first African colony to gain independence, while in the Caribbean, Jamaica and Trinidad led the way in achieving political independence in the early 1960s.
These were years of excitement in the non-white, colonial world. British Honduras achieved self-government in early 1964, with the expectation of going on to an early independence. That was not to be. Because of the Guatemalan claim, Belize did not achieve political independence until 1981.
In post-colonial Belize of 2016, the optimism of the 1960s has been replaced by the stark¸ violent reality of a lawless society and the apprehension of renewed Guatemalan aggression on our western and southern borders. After World War II, the European nations who had fought against each other came together to form the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the United States introduced Marshall Plan funding to rebuild broken European economies like those of Germany and Italy. The reconstruction in Europe was rapid. Those who had been our colonial rulers have regained all their economic power, and then some, while we in the so-called Third World have been unable to translate our political independence into technological progress and economic strength. In Belize, we are at a critical point in our history. It may be that we are experiencing an existential crisis. Are we to be or are we not to be?
What we have seen in Belize in the last two decades, which have featured two PUP and three United Democratic Party (UDP) administrations is that our political leaders have become selfish, greedy, and cynical. It seems they have given up on the dream of revolutionary Belizean nationalism we saw lived in the persons of Belize’s national heroes – Rt. Hon. George Price and Hon. Philip Goldson.
The Europeans who fought amongst themselves in the first half of the century, have regrouped, while we in Belize are experiencing major problems in governing ourselves. Our situation has become so dire that some of us have reached the point of asking if we would have been better off remaining British, as the people of the Cayman Islands and Bermuda did.
When our people emerged from slavery in the 1830s, we knew there were no guarantees down the road. The road was indeed long, with many a winding turn. But, when we beat colonialism in 1981, we Belizeans may have taken some things for granted where our nation’s future was concerned.
The fact of the matter is that we are now more divided than ever before, specifically where the growth of a discernible class of extreme wealth, alongside massive, crushing poverty, is concerned. The troubling thought here is that there are too many similarities between Belize’s elite and the Guatemalan oligarchy which rules the republic. 43 years ago, a new political party, and that political party has been in power here since 2008, came on the scene in Belize, and that political party declared that they would de-emphasize the Guatemalan claim and focus on economic development in Belize. 43 years later, the Guatemalan claim is more ferocious than ever before, and there are the outlines of an oligarchy in Belize which did not exist in 1973, the year of Kissinger when Pinochet overthrew Allende. Think about it.
Power to the people!