Although I am the publisher of the leading newspaper in Belize, my views are not that important. Belize is a constitutional democracy, and various elections are regularly held to poll the views of the Belizean electorate on issues of consequence. The views of the politicians who win these elections from time to time are obviously and substantially more important than the views which I express in this newspaper. I understand this, and I accept it.
I was fortunate to see most of the relevant portions of the Guatemalan President’s inauguration on Thursday, January 14, in Guatemala City. The inauguration was broadcast live on Channel 80 on the cable television service to which I subscribe, Channel 80 describing itself as a “Central American” station. I actually saw Belize’s Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, when he was introduced by the master of ceremonies, after which he walked to his seat. Shortly thereafter, if I remember correctly, the Vice-President of the United States, Joe Biden, was introduced and sat next to Mr. Barrow.
The ceremonies took place in a massive auditorium, majestic actually, in which hundreds and hundreds of Guatemala’s political, business, and social elite were seated, and there were guests from the rest of Central America and South America which included heads of state and other political dignitaries. I did not see any Maya Guatemalans, although the Maya are the majority of Guatemala’s population. And, there was no military presence at the inauguration ceremonies, even though it is well known to political observers in Guatemala and the region that the new President, Jimmy Morales, was the candidate favored by the Guatemalan military.
At the Thursday evening inauguration, Mr. Morales spoke reasonably kindly of Belize, referring to Belize as “our brother and neighbor.” He went so far as to express the hope that one day a Maya Guatemalan or a Garifuna Guatemalan would become the President of Guatemala.
The following day, however, President Morales held a separate, special meeting with the leaders and representatives of the Guatemalan military, and the rhetoric in that meeting appears to have been of a different nature. Kremandala was receiving reports on Saturday morning from Wil Maheia concerning the visible activities of a Guatemalan gunboat in front of Punta Gorda in what he thought were Belizean territorial waters. Up to twenty Guatemalan fishing boats were simultaneously operating inside Belize’s waters at the Sarstoon.
The Guatemalan claim to half of Belize’s territory is not going away any time soon. We Belizeans need to refresh our memory with respect to the many decades of conflict between the Baymen of Belize and the Yucatan-based military and naval forces of the King of Spain. In 1898, the Baymen settlers and the people of Belize began to celebrate the anniversary of a battle fought on September 10 of 1798, which was the last Spanish invasion of Belize. At the time of the 1798 invasion, the Baymen and the people of Belize did not realize that this would be the last such attack from the King of Spain.
The Spanish monarchy experienced various crises early in the nineteenth century, the most traumatic of which was invasion from, and conquest by, Napoleon Bonaparte’s France. The upshot of imperial Spain’s troubles was that Mexico and the Central American republics declared their independence from Spain in 1821. According to the ruling classes of Guatemala, Guatemala inherited rights to Belize from Spain, these rights having been granted to Spain by the Pope of Rome in 1494.
In line with his office and function as Belize’s political leader, his views having been established as the majority views in this nation-state, Prime Minister Barrow had to attend President Morales’ inauguration on Thursday in Guatemala. Prime Minister Barrow was properly introduced and respected at the inauguration, but personally, I would have had a major problem with sitting in the same hall with all those people who are on record as wishing to dismember our country. I’m just saying. In that auditorium were seated some of the worst racists on planet earth, people who unconditionally supported apartheid South Africa for most of the twentieth century.
But, you see, the superpower United States of America, to whom the Guatemalan rulers pay their homage, was also an absolute military and diplomatic supporter of apartheid South Africa. The following is some of what Greg Grandin wrote in his recent book, Kissinger’s Shadow, with respect to Henry Kissinger, the National Security Adviser and Secretary of State during the presidencies of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.
Focused as he was on Southeast Asia, Kissinger often treated Africa as little more than an object of ridicule. He was known to make racist jokes (“I wonder what the dining room is going to smell like?” he asked Arkansas senator William Fulbright on the way to a dinner for African ambassadors) and referred to at least one African head of state as an “ape.” Bigotry might have been yet another way to ingratiate himself with arch-racists in the White House like Haig, Nixon, and Haldeman.
As far as policy was concerned, early in Nixon’s administration, Kissinger implemented what became known as the “tar baby option” for southern Africa, which included strengthening ties with the white supremacist nations of South Africa and Rhodesia, expanding arms sales to their militaries, and establishing clandestine networks to conduct covert operations to counter liberation movements. And just as a hard line in Southeast Asia had its domestic component, carried out with an eye toward Nixon’s 1972 reelection, support for Pretoria and Salisbury was meant to advance the “southern strategy.” The “tar baby option” played well in the US South, as did Kissinger’s and Nixon’s insistence that the internal affairs of apartheid regimes were not any business of the United Nations – a clear echo of the segregationist defense of “states’ rights.”
But southern Africa was fast becoming a major battleground, convulsed by movements demanding an end to racial oppression and colonialism. Portuguese rule in Angola and Mozambique had collapsed, giving rise to civil wars between broadly popular liberation movements and “freedom fighters” backed by Washington, South Africa, and Rhodesia.
Kissinger came into open conflict with area experts, in the CIA and State Department, who actually knew something about southern Africa. For example, both Washington’s consul general to Angola and the CIA’s station chief felt that the country’s largest insurgent organization, the left-leaning Movimento Popular de Libertacao de Angola, or MPLA, composed of engineers, agronomists, teachers, doctors, and economists from the colony’s educated middle class, “was the best qualified movement to govern Angola.” Kissinger disagreed, dismissing those soft on the MPLA as “missionaries,” “anti-white,” “obsessively liberal,” and “bleeding hearts.” Kissinger, who believed these experts were underestimating Soviet influence in the region, also clashed with his assistant secretaries of state for Africa. One he fired, and the other resigned in protest over policy.
For once, though, Kissinger wasn’t the most casually cruel person in the room. “We might wish,” Ford’s secretary of defense, James Schlesinger, said during one strategy session, “to encourage the disintegration of Angola.” In July, Kissinger stepped up covert aid to a pro-American insurgency in Angola that he had already been running. He also urged South African mercenaries and the apartheid regimes’ regular forces to invade. Conducting these operations through the CIA and proxy white supremacists in Rhodesia and South Africa was useful, since it allowed Kissinger to avoid all those cumbersome restrictions placed on him by the “McGovernite Congress.” In fact, at the very moment Kissinger was apologizing to a congressional commission for having used the CIA in Laos, he was dong the exact same thing in southern Africa.
In his memoir, John Stockwell, the CIA agent in charge of operations during the early stages of Kissinger’s covert war in Angola, wrote that “coordination was effected at all CIA levels and the South Africans escalated their involvement in step with our own.” This was done, Stockwell said, “without any memos being written at CIA headquarters saying ‘Let’s coordinate with the South Africans.’” “There was close collaboration and encouragement between the CIA and the South Africans,” Stockwell testified to Congress, and Kissinger, along with the CIA director, was in charge of the operation. Similar coordination in fact took place throughout the region, in Angola as well as in Mozambique, Zaire, and Namibia.
Kissinger’s wars in southern Africa were catastrophic.