Our sense at this newspaper is that many Belizean people are becoming almost intransigent where negotiations with the Guatemalans are concerned. Belize achieved political independence in 1981 without yielding any of our traditional lands and seas, and despite the controversy of the Maritime Areas Act in 1992, the 1981 status quo remains the status quo in 2013.
At this newspaper, we are not lawyers, politicians or diplomats. In fact, outside of the borders of Belize, we do not exist. The power structure in Belize here has made sure of that. The Belizean media is represented abroad in regional and international organizations, and at regional and international conferences, by many different practitioners, but never by Amandala. Yet, there is no doubt that this is the leading newspaper in the nation-state of Belize, and it has been so for more than three decades.
We do not normally approach issues cautiously at this newspaper. We are usually forthright and decisive. On the matter of the referendum on whether to submit the Guatemala/Belize differendum to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), however, we have been almost circumspect. This is because the matter is a very large matter indeed, loaded with gravitas, as the attorneys might say, and we appreciate the responsibility which accrues to us.
In this issue of Amandala, two of our weekly columnists have taken different positions on whether to go to the ICJ. Editorially, we will not submit our opinion until September. This is a discussion which requires the widest possible airing. It is serious business.
There is a creature called the agent provocateur which sometimes creates major problems for young organizations, especially activist ones. The agent provocateur is the person who is always pushing the envelope, as it is said, questioning the organization’s fiber and courage, and challenging the organization to be macho or reckless. An inexperienced leader, or one lacking in confidence, can be led astray by an agent provocateur, to the detriment of the organization.
Now the argument of most of the roots Belizeans we have encountered is, why do we have to go to the ICJ after we have already gained independence with all of our territory intact? The answer to that question is that we want to have the best possible relationship we can with the Guatemalans, because they are our neighbors. It is an important relationship, that of neighbors. A good neighbor is a real blessing; a bad neighbor is a terrible curse. In principle, we don’t have to go to the ICJ: in a pragmatic sense, however, there may be something to be gained, which is to say, an accommodation with our neighbors, who have been traditionally hostile, even aggressive.
The Guatemalans have had a chip on their shoulder from the nineteenth century, because they were pushed around by the British. We Belizeans say that is not our problem. But, pragmatically speaking, it is, because the British left it so. In our lifetime, the British have always done exactly what it suits them to do, because they are a world power. The Guatemalans are taking out their frustration on us Belizeans. We, of course, resent this, and we are also rightfully sensitive to the fact that, compared to Guatemala, we are black, and proudly, defiantly so.
Guatemala is a beautiful country, but Guatemala has had a brutal history since the country became independent of Spain in 1821. Domestic brutality in Guatemala reached an apex between 1966 and 1996 when a sick civil war claimed more than 200,000 casualties, most of them indigenous Guatemalans murdered by a rampaging military. The Guatemalan people have been making commendable efforts to achieve more civilian democracy, but the country remains an oligarchy, controlled by a neo-European elite.
In Belize, after 31 years of independence, we have become a brave and confident people. On the matter of the ICJ referendum, the priority is for us to become as informed as possible, so that our national decision is an intelligent, unified one. We don’t want this issue to divide us, Belizeans.
There is principle, and there is pragmatism. Then there is principle tempered by pragmatism. On this journey, we will demonstrate to the region and to the world that we Belizeans are a special breed – informed, educated, analytical, sober, and nationalistic.
Power to the people.