“In mid-January 1972, the UK received intelligence reports of an impending Guatemalan invasion of Belize. The Costa Rican foreign minister informed the British that the Guatemalans had asked him how Costa Rica would react if Guatemala and El Salvador occupied Belize, perhaps in February or March.”
“Fabio Castillo, a former member of a Salvadoran Junta, later affirmed that Salvadoran President Fidel Sánchez made a deal with (Guatemalan) President Arana to join in an invasion of Belize and that the quid pro quo for the deal was to send El Salvador’s ‘surplus population’ to Belize.”
– pg. 74, Belize’s Independence and Decolonization in Latin America, by Assad Shoman, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010
“Between 1968 and 1973, the Chagossians, then numbering about 2,000 people, were expelled by the British government to Mauritius and Seychelles to allow the United States to establish a military base on the island (Diego Garcia.) Today, the exiled Chagossians are still trying to return, claiming that the forced expulsion and dispossession was illegal.”
There was a week or two during the Heads of Agreement crisis in 1981 when I got the feeling that Belize had been totally cut off from the rest of the world, as if nobody out there knew what was happening to us. This is how it feels when the mighty powers of the planet, in Belize’s case these being the United States and Great Britain, are turning the screws on you and forcing you to submit to their decisions and instructions.
During the recent Amandala holiday, I was watching John Pilger’s documentary on the Diego Garcia story. Diego Garcia is one of the Chagos Islands, a range situated in the Indian Ocean between East Africa and Southwest Asia. A couple thousand people of African and Indian descent had been living on Diego Garcia for three or four generations when the said United States and Great Britain decided to get rid of them because they wanted the island for an American military base.
There was a point in the twentieth century when the black population of British Honduras appeared to be of the opinion that we held some value for the British Empire. I suppose this kind of thinking would have reached its peak in the years immediately after World War II. The British had been the leaders of the Allied war effort (1939-45) which stopped Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany, and Belizeans had fought in that war on behalf of British “democracy.”
One of the mysteries of Belizean history is how our militant Marcus Garvey movement of the 1920s had become pro-British Empire by the 1940s. Garvey’s back-to-Africa mobilization was totally opposed to international white supremacy. But Garvey was a complex man. He met with the white racist Ku Klux Klan, because he felt that their goal of separation of the races coincided with his own ideas. And he was very much against communism, which had triumphed in Russia in 1917. Whereas some black American icons, like Paul Robeson, were seeing great possibilities for oppressed black people in the Marxist-Leninist dream of workers’ liberation and a classless society, Marcus saw nothing in Russia to consider or emulate. Garveyism, of course, splintered after Marcus Garvey went to jail in 1927, and Belize’s leading Garveyite, Samuel Haynes, remained in the United States from 1921 until his death in New Jersey in 1971.
The People’s United Party (PUP) was born in 1950 with an anti-British attitude. One aspect of the early PUP which is usually glossed over is a pro-United States strain, as expressed in their waving of the American flag in PUP parades and their public singing of “God Bless America.” The early PUP was pro-American because of Bob Turton, George Price’s boss, who was dong most of his business with American companies, and because thousands of Belizean workers returning home from work in the Panama Canal Zone had become pro-American.
The PUP here remained anti-British right up to independence in 1981, but Belize’s pro-British minority, which formed the opposition to the PUP in 1951, became decidedly pro-American in 1973 when the United Democratic Party (UDP) absorbed the National Independence Party (NIP). The NIP, Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, had become somewhat anti-American in 1966 when Philip Goldson, the NIP Leader, exposed the Thirteen Proposals, confirmed as factual in 1968 when Bethuel Webster, the U.S. mediator in the Anglo-Guatemalan dispute, officially released his Seventeen Proposals.
With the formation of the UDP in 1973, a party which began pushing free market capitalism and anti-communism, in direct accord with U.S. foreign policy, the ruling PUP became more skeptical of American intentions in Belize, even while they were absolutely convinced that the British could not be trusted. This is how Belize staggered through the 1970s, with the PUP government being pressured by both the British and the Americans to cede land to the Guatemalans, while the pro-American UDP was riding a wave of anti-PUP sentiment.
The Belize population was a hundred times larger than Diego Garcia’s. Like the people of Diego Garcia, nevertheless, the people of Belize, especially black ones, had become obstacles to the interests of the superpowers – Washington and London. Black Belizeans were encouraged to migrate to the United States after Hurricane Hattie in 1961, and then in the latter part of the 1970s Belize’s borders were opened up, with United Nations’ encouragement and financing, to Central American refugees fleeing war and revolution in Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. The population of Belize changed quickly between 1961 and 1981, but not radically enough to drink the Heads of Agreement cocktail mixed by Washington and London in 1981. There was violent Belizean resistance to the Heads, and that resistance almost led to civil war here.
There are many Belizeans who are proud of their British DNA. But, despite what they may think or wish, they are not white, and race matters. Race matters, Jack. The British spent two billion pounds in 1982 defending the white Falkland Islanders, just months after they refused black Belize a mere defence guarantee. This is the real of the British Empire. Still, some of us wear their medals, and we revere Buckingham Palace.
By now, however, we roots Belizeans should know this for a fact: we, the Belizean people, are irrelevant and dispensable. The lesson of Diego Garcia is cold. We Belizeans live on a piece of land and sea which is very valuable – “wealth untold.” But we, the Belizean people, stand in the way of “progress.” This is how Wall Street and the City of London see it. The evidence is very, very strong. 32 years after Belizean independence, there are few of you who can deny this reality.
We are, nonetheless, in a better position than the one in which the Chagos Islanders found themselves. We have contact with each other, at home and abroad, and we have contact with the region and with the world. We need to increase the frequency and intensity of these contacts. We need, also, to identify those voices amongst us which have been bought and paid for, as it is said. Finally, and fundamentally, it is as the old people said it, and they said it best: “Sleep wid yu own eye.”