BELIZE CITY, Tues. August 25, (1981)
News was received here this morning of the kidnapping and shooting death of Belizean-born Gerald Cattouse in Guatemala. City.
Gerald Cattouse, eldest son of the late Hon. Albert Cattouse and Mrs. Cattouse, had lived in Guatemala for the last thirty years and owned a very lucrative tourist business – Jerry’s Tours – which catered mostly to Americans. His business reportedly had branches in many towns and Cattouse was a wealthy man.
He disappeared on Friday night after work, and it was on Saturday that one of his former secretaries picked out and identified his face from among 70 bodies at the Guatemala City morgue awaiting burial. There were 9 bullets in his body. (Of the 70, 6 were beheaded. Political killings in Guatemala now average 50 a day.)
Speculation here is that the Belize native was kidnapped by guerrillas. The motive was either ransom or as part of a widespread guerrilla offensive against the tourist industry and all related businesses in Guatemala, including airlines.
The guerrillas say that income from tourism helps to prop up the repressive Romeo Lucas government, and they have vowed to destroy the tourism industry.
– from AMANDALA No. 630, Tuesday, August 25, 1981.
As I’m writing, this is pre-dawn Sunday morning, and the topic should be, of course, the abuse of 37 Belizeans by the Guatemalan military/navy yesterday evening after 4. When I went to bed last night, the Belizeans had been illegally taken by boat to Livingston, Guatemala, were later informed that they were “free” early last night, and would supposedly spend the night in Livingston before returning to The Jewel this morning. This matter, however, will be dealt with in other areas of this issue, besides which, there are things I would like to say about yesterday which are not fit to print.
Instead of examining yesterday evening’s abduction of the Northern branch (mostly Orange Walkeños) of the Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV), then, in this column I will discuss some of Toledo’s political history. Those patriotic Belizeans who were abducted had made a trip to Toledo’s (and Belize’s) southernmost point in the Sarstoon River in order to plant a marker at the Gracias a Dios border.
A couple weeks ago, the founder of the Belize Territorial Volunteers and Leader of Toledo’s People’s National Party (PNP), Wil Maheia, had told the Belizean media of an encounter in the Sarstoon with the Guatemalan military/navy in which the Guatemalans had behaved in a hostile manner towards him and his group. Maheia’s report was not given the attention it should have received, because he and the PNP were known to be contesting municipal elections in Toledo’s Punta Gorda, the District’s only town, this coming Wednesday, March 4. Yesterday evening’s incident will now increase Wil’s credibility and add to the PNP’s vote total on Wednesday. So, some of Toledo’s political history.
Toledo was so remote in colonial days as to be labeled as “forgotten.” My impression is that the residents of Punta Gorda and the District did substantially more trade and business with their Guatemalan neighbors than they did with the rest of British Honduras. Passengers, mail, and cargo from Belize City, the capital during colonial days, mostly traveled by boat, and that trip took all day.
My father was the Postmaster General and had to travel to travel to Punta Gorda on administrative matters one time when he took me along with him in a Government Land Rover. (He had a driver.) This would be early 1960s. The trip by road was bone rattling. I can remember that we left early one morning and got back very late the night.
In the summer of 1964, a group of us St. John’s College Sixth Form students (second year) traveled by Heron H to spend a weekend in Punta Gorda with our Sixth Form classmates from P.G. – Vance and Lennox Vernon, and Marion Paulino. (We played a basketball game against some P.G. youth, and some years ago Justice Adolph Lucas, Sr., informed me that he was one of those young men. For sure, he gave us a lot of problems on the court. He was the best they had. Respect.)
The Vernon family was very powerful, in fact dominant, in Toledo. I believe the family patriarch, Sam Vernon, was still alive past the 1960s. The 1954 national elections were the first held in British Honduras under universal adult suffrage, and it was, to the best of my knowledge, the first all-out electoral confrontation between the anti-colonial People’s United Party (PUP) with their General Workers Union (GWU) allies against the pro-British National Party (NP). At the time there were nine political constituencies in British Honduras – one for each of the five “out” Districts and four in Belize City. The PUP-GWU swept eight of the nine seats, polling 65% of the votes to just 22% for the NP, but the NP won Toledo! In the southernmost District, the PUP-GWU’s George “Bolo” Gardiner, was defeated by the NP’s Charles Westby. A few years ago, Alejandro Vernon, the son of Sam Vernon, explained in The Reporter that the reason for Gardiner’s stunning defeat was the fact that the mighty Sam Vernon had gone against the PUP-GWU and taken Toledo with him.
(Incidentally, Bolo Gardiner at some point after that went to live in Guatemala City. One of his sons later played for the Guatemalan national football selection. I met another of his sons, Winston, a few weeks ago.)
The historic 1954 national elections in British Honduras took place just a couple months before the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), with the consent of the United Kingdom, organized a coup d’etat which ran the reformist Guatemalan president, Jacobo Arbenz, out of office. In British Honduras, the British had been accusing high-ranking PUP leaders of receiving assistance from Arbenz’s Guatemala.
Sam Vernon later made his peace with Hon. George Price’s PUP, and won the Toledo South seat for the PUP in the March 1961 general election which introduced the Ministerial constitution to the colony. In 1961, the rural areas of Toledo (then Toledo North) were represented in the House of Representatives by the great Faustino Zuniga, whose political career was tragically cut short.
The PUP having won all 18 seats in the 1961 House, Toledo in 1965 became the very first District to send a non-PUP representative to the House when the National Independence Party’s (NIP) Edwin Morey defeated Sam Vernon’s son, Alejandro, in Toledo North and joined his NIP Leader, the Albert constituency’s Philip Goldson, in the House.
In 1969, the PUP won 17 of 18 seats in the House (losing only Albert to Goldson), but in the 1974 general election the new Opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) won six of the eighteen seats, and two of these were the Toledo seats – Charles Wagner in Toledo South, and Vicente Choco in the rural Toledo North. (Early in his 1974-1979 term, Choco defected to the PUP, and has not been heard from since.)
In 1979, Toledo again sent two representatives to the House – Charles Wagner once more from Toledo South, and this time Basilio Ah from Toledo North. By this time, the biggest political story in Toledo was the position being taken by Alejandro Vernon, who had formed his own political party – the Toledo Progressive Party (TPP), and appeared to be adopting a pro-Guatemalan posture. (Alejandro ran as the TPP’s Toledo North candidate in the 1979 general election. He received 46 votes, 4 percent of the total votes cast.)
Alejandro Vernon, who years later returned to the PUP but is now a declared UDP who now regularly writes in The Reporter, has argued that all he wanted was for the Guatemalan claim to Belize to be settled before independence. Alejandro has said that in the mid-1950s he worked at a big-time hotel in Guatemala City. Gerald Cattouse, the eldest son of Albert Cattouse, Sr., who was a PUP Cabinet Minister from 1961 to 1969, was doing business in Guatemala City at this time. There were other Belizeans in Guatemala City. So, Alejandro’s situation, as a Belizean working in Guatemala City, was not unique. His subsequent statements and behavior suggest that Alejandro was impressed by Guatemala’s business sophistication and industrial development. His home District of Toledo had been ignored by the British, and had remained isolated under the nationalist PUP. Toledo politics is separate and unique. Alejandro remains a political factor. History will be his judge.
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.