In 1965, the first combat troops arrived in Vietnam. Ten years later Saigon fell.
“On March 6, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson called Georgia Senator Richard Russell, fellow Southern Democrat and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Johnson was looking for advice on what to do about Vietnam. Days earlier, he had launched Operation Rolling Thunder, the aerial bombing campaign that marked a critical turning point. It was America’s first major offensive in the conflict. In two days a contingent of Marines – the first U.S. combat troops – would land on the beaches near the U.S. air base at Da Nang. America’s war in Vietnam was in its infancy, and already the president despaired of success. ‘A man can fight if he can see daylight down the road somewhere,’ Johnson told Russell. ‘But there ain’t no daylight in Vietnam. There’s not a bit.’”
– pg. 66, AARP THE MAGAZINE, April/May 2015
For you to understand how I view the matter of Maya customary land rights in Belize, you would have to know how I grew up, and how I think and feel. I don’t like skyscrapers, elevators, and planes. I don’t really like concrete and steel. I don’t like freeways. In fact, I don’t think I really like speed. I grew up in a time when life was slow in Belize. I grew up in sailboats, not speedboats. Perhaps I’m primitive.
When I was about twelve years old, I read a book about the heroic chiefs of some Native American tribes leaders like Sitting Bull of the Sioux, Geronimo and Cochise of the Apache, the great Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, and others. I felt a kinship with these people. Part of that kinship may have been derived from a legend on my mother’s side of the family that we are descended from a Sioux Indian. Whatever the case, I liked the Native American way of life, and their philosophical/religious views of life, the earth, the heavens, and so on.
At the age of eighteen in 1965, I flew to the United States to study in one of their universities. There, I met a young African from Malawi with whom I became very good friends. In many respects, he was probably a modern African, in that he wanted his country to develop in the ways we consider modern. At the same time, he was totally committed to the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. That struggle involved native black Africans against segregationist white South Africans who had built a First World economy in South Africa based to a great extent on gold and diamond mining. From my Malawi brother, the late Ph. D. economist Guy Mhone, I absorbed the vibes of black Africa, and I related to those vibes.
The same year I flew to America on an American scholarship – 1965, was the year that the Vietnam War really began for the United States. Previous to 1965, the U.S. had sent military advisers to assist the South Vietnamese government against the communist Viet Cong and their North Vietnamese allies, but in 1965 America began sending combat troops to participate in the violence.
1965 was only three years after the United States and Soviet Russia had come close to nuclear war because of the so-called Cuban Missile Crisis. And by 1968, when I finished school and returned to Belize, there were student and youth rebellions raging all over the world – in the United States, in Germany, in France, in Italy, in Mexico, in Jamaica …
The world has always been a competitive place, because human beings want the best for themselves and their children. There have always been, as the Bible specifically points out, “wars and rumors of wars.” Military technology plays an important role in deciding the outcomes of wars. So since wars decide which group of human beings lives and which group dies, and superior military technology gives a society a better chance to win, and therefore live, then the way competitive societies are organized is around the acquisition of that superior military technology. The United States and Europe possess dominant military technology, but the world has reached a point where if there is nuclear war, there will be no winners: humanity will be destroyed. Notwithstanding that reality, there are many leaders in the world who remain hawkish in their thinking. Such is life, in defiance of the nuclear realities.
At the same time, more and more of intelligent, conscious humanity is involved in a quest for answers to the world’s challenges which would not require military conflict. These are rational human beings who believe that man has reached the point in his development of military technology where, to repeat, all of humanity would lose.
Along the road to acquiring superior military technology, the present rulers of the world poisoned the air and land and water of the planet to an extent where their own thinkers have been asking serious questions. The most serious of these is: Is it worth it? This is the question the artist called Prince asked more than a quarter century ago in his classic – “Money don’t matter tonight.” What’s the point of all this “development” if your soul ain’t right?
In looking at the Maya of Toledo, what an old-fashioned fool like me sees is that the contentment of their soul comes from the land, and from the traditional vision they have of the earth as a source of life. The Maya are not seeking to develop superior military technology to conquer anyone else. Indeed, the Maya have historically been the victims of the superior military technology the Europeans brought to this part of the world five centuries ago. It is for sure that there are Maya who have abandoned the traditional, and embraced a modern, European way of life. Fine, but we have this group of Maya in our little sovereign country who see life differently.
What you have to know, and I have tried to set a stage for this reality in previous paragraphs, is that the sort of traditional life philosophy we are seeing under our Toledo Maya is a phenomenon which is now worldwide and growing in such a way as to seem unstoppable. The Indigenous people of planet earth have survived the “progress” and “development” of our European conquerors, and they say the same thing in Belize they are saying everywhere else: I was here before you came; I survived your violence; I reject your way of life; I have rights to this land; I demand my rights.
Personally, I understand the arguments of those who are opposed to the implications of Maya customary land rights. I don’t claim to be a lawyer or a politician. I have tried to explain to you that from the time I was a child I have felt kinship with the Indigenous peoples of the earth. We have always been defeated by the technological supremacy of the Europeans, but our soul remains intact. We believe that the Europeans must come around to our way of thinking. The European way has harmed the earth, and now the European way threatens the existence of humanity itself. We stand for life, and for love.
Power to the people.