The Guatemalan Foreign Minister suddenly flew into Belize last Wednesday to visit with his Belizean Cabinet counterpart. The vibes were all friendly and cordial and cooperative. Conversation about the International Court of Justice (ICJ) was resumed. Everything was out of the blue, as we would say.
This was just a few weeks after we saw Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina fly to Tel Aviv to confer with the Israeli President, Benjamin Netanyahu, at the exact same time that the rest of the world’s leaders were in South Africa to mourn and pay their respects to the departed international icon – Madiba, Nelson Mandela. Guatemala and Israel paid no such respect.
In these pages, we have said to you repeatedly that Israel and Guatemala were two of apartheid South Africa’s most important allies. The point has not gained traction in Belize, the main reason being that hard-core Christians in Belize cannot separate the holy, struggling Israel of the Bible from the nuclear-powered Israel of the third millennium which threatens Arab nations of the Middle East, abuses the Palestinians, and endangers world peace. Many Christians in Belize support anything Israel does, because they believe that Jews are Almighty God’s “chosen people” and that Israel is their “Promised Land.” What the “chosen people” business makes the Palestinians and the Arabs, I’m not clear or sure, but fanatic Christian Belizeans do not care. In Belize, the more important question is what this makes Belizeans, and it is fairly clear to me that it makes us non grata in Guatemala City and Tel Aviv.
The only way you could have supported apartheid South Africa so openly and so faithfully is if you believed, in your heart of hearts, that black people were inferior to white ones. This was the core religion of apartheid, and black Belizean Christians who support anything and everything Israel does because they believe Israel is working for God, have a big, big problem.
Israel and Guatemala are so tight that when U.S. President Jimmy Carter cut off arms shipments to Guatemala in 1977 because of human rights abuses, Israel was one of the countries which quickly filled the void for the Guats. The Israelis are special consultants to the Guatemalans in all things military, which should make the Israelis, people whom we Belizeans view with some suspicion. This is not the case. The official government policy in Belize is to embrace Israel. This makes no sense. The friend of my enemy cannot possibly be my friend.
It would be good for Belize to live in peace and friendship with Guatemala. We are neighbors. One tries one’s best to have good relations with one’s neighbors, for various reasons, the main one being that neighbors are so close to you physically that they can affect you for good and for bad. And, of course, better good than bad.
In early May of 2012, I visited Guatemala City for a medical diagnosis. I travelled about nine hours on the road from Melchor to Guatemala City, and then another nine hours on the road from the city back to Melchor and Belize. I spent three days plus in Guatemala City, along with my wife and one of my daughters. We stayed in a Guatemala City hotel, but other than that we were the guests of a Guatemalan family with whom my wife and daughters had become friendly some years before.
There is a very wealthy class in Guatemala which includes many families of European descent, originally German, Italian, French, Spanish, and Jewish. There is a ton of American investment in Guatemala. At the base of the socio-economic pyramid, however, there is a majority class of indigenous Guatemalans who live in desperately poor conditions. Indigenous Guatemalans have been trampled on for five centuries. A fundamental problem is that the majority Guatemalans remain Maya in their culture, while the wealthy elite belong to a classic European civilization. Guatemala is a tragically divided country, and Guatemala is a violent country. There was a bloody civil war in Guatemala from 1966 to 1996, and the combatants were the European state, supported by the Americans and the Israelis, fighting against the indigenous masses, who received support, I believe, first from communist Cuba and later from Sandinista Nicaragua.
In Belize we used to have exceptional rapport between the rich and the poor. Our country is small, and we had a Leader, Rt. Hon. George Price, who believed in what he called “social engineering.” One example of this is how he insisted that poor people should own house lots next to rich landowners, most notably in the King’s Park area of Belize City.
Things have changed since Belize’s independence in 1981, and a gulf has grown between Belize’s rich and Belize’s poor. But, things are not nearly as bad as they are in Guatemala. Still, there is a neoliberal affinity between Guatemala’s rich and Belize’s rich, and one sometimes suspects that, if Guatemala’s poor and Belize’s poor did not exist, the rich of the two countries could reach a settlement.
What is it that rich Guatemalans want? In the first instance, they want to save face after all the years of feeling inferior to the British. Their wealthy classes would like to vacation in the cayes on Belize’s famous Barrier Reef. Their business and industrial classes, in partnership with American companies, want access to Belize’s mineral resources, which include petroleum and natural gas. Belizean land is also a prize coveted by the ruling classes in the republic.
Poor Guatemalans know little about their country’s claim to Belize, and it is not as if the ruling classes of rich Guatemalans care anything about them. This is the basis of the historical tension in Guatemala: the rich occupied lands once owned by indigenous Guatemalans. Israel occupies lands once owned by Palestinians. Apartheid white South Africans occupied lands once owned by black Africans. The rulers of Guatemala, Israel, and apartheid South Africa were in the same boat.
There is a big difference between Guatemala and Belize. In Belize, the poor have rights, and the poor have a say. That is not the case in Guatemala. From any human rights perspective whatsoever, Guatemala needs to become more like Belize than vice versa. We have the moral high ground in Belize, and what we should be doing is pressing our case with black and Hispanic Americans. Belize needs a stronger lobby in Washington itself. Israel is totally committed to Guatemala. What Belize needs to do is weaken Washington’s commitment to Guatemala City. The opportunity is there for us to do that. Belize is the new Jerusalem. To hell with Netanyahu.
Power to the people.