Geography is an important aspect of the business of nation-states. British Honduras, for example, was the only British (English-speaking, Protestant) possession on the mainland of Central America, which was part of Spain’s Catholic empire until the nineteenth century. Belize was unique.
Early in the nineteenth century, France’s Napoleon Bonaparte was the powerhouse in Europe. Napoleon invaded and took over Spain. He suffered a horrible defeat when he invaded Russia in 1812, however, and then he was conclusively defeated at Waterloo in 1815 by a coalition which featured the British, whose empire would dominate the rest of the nineteenth century, I would say. The British used their beachhead in Belize to involve themselves in the affairs of Central America, primarily Guatemala, and in the affairs of Mexico.
In 1821, Mexico and the Central American republics (Panama did not exist at that time) gained independence from Spain, which had been humiliated by Napoleon, and Mexico and Central America were as one. But in 1823, the Central American republics, led by El Salvador and Guatemala, broke off from Iturbide’s Mexico, then after a while the Central American republics began fighting amongst themselves. The liberal, nationalistic side was led by Francisco Morazán and El Salvador, whereas the conservative, neo-European side was led by Guatemala, where Rafael Carrera emerged as the caudillo. Basically, Carrera’s side won. The British were definitely hostile to the Morazán thinking, while the United States was, all things being equal, also supportive of Carrera, who was a favorite of the Roman Catholic Church in Guatemala. The situation was somewhat confusing. I have no problem with anyone wishing to correct or enlighten me.
By the time we reach the 1840s, Morazán’s dreams of a united Central America have been crushed, and the United States is headed into wars with Mexico, wars of territorial expansion (Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, etc.) for the U.S., while the British essentially operate out of Jamaica, their headquarters in this part of the Caribbean, and continue to use Belize to interfere in Guatemala and Mexico.
When the Caste War breaks out in Yucatán in 1847, the British merchants in Belize make a lot of money selling arms, ammunition, and supplies to the rebel Santa Cruz Maya across the border from Corozal. And, in 1859 the British sign the historic treaty with Guatemala’s Rafael Carrera which defined the borders of British Honduras as we know those borders today.
The United Kingdom and the United States signed two relevant treaties in the years before the British signed the 1859 treaty with Guatemala. In 1850, the British and the Americans signed the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, which had a lot to do with Nicaragua and a proposed canal there. Then, in 1856 the British and the Americans signed the Dallas-Clarendon Treaty, which was supposed to resolve difficulties in Central America, including some arising from Clayton-Bulwer.
Remember now, in the 1850s the Americans are gorillas in this region in Central America and the Caribbean, but the British are a world empire, and dominant in the Caribbean. Bill Lindo, who studied a lot of U.S. history, has always claimed that when the American Civil War, between 1861 and 1865, threatened to split and destroy the United States, the British supported the secessionist Confederacy against President Abraham Lincoln’s Union.
One hundred years after the Civil War began in the United States, Hurricane Hattie struck Belize in late October of 1961, and changed a lot of things for us. Less than three years after Hattie, in January of 1964, British Honduras became a self-governing colony, and considered eligible for foreign aid by the American State Department in Washington. Immediately after self-government, the People’s United Party (PUP) government of British Honduras announced that Belize’s major school holidays would be changed from April and May to July and August, apparently in order to have the Belize school year coincide with the school year in the United States. And in late 1964, the United States Consulate in Belize City announced the first award of an American university scholarship to a qualified Belizean.
Until Hattie and self-government, the culture of British Honduras had, to a great extent, been a spin-off from Jamaica, the British base in this part of the Caribbean. Things had begun to change in the late 1950s, after Mr. Price took over the ruling PUP in 1956. Mr. Price opened up doors to the Mestizo and Maya populations of Belize, doors which had essentially been closed by British colonial administrations in the first part of the twentieth century.
It is impossible in such an essay as this to accomplish my objective. That objective was to look at Belize in the modern era after self-government and independence, and contrast our third millennium reality with the way things were in the British imperial days. I spent five paragraphs just trying to give you some background with respect to Central America and Mexico, which are our immediate neighbors to the south, west, and north, and some sense of how Central America and Mexico figured in the foreign policy and war games of the United Kingdom and the United States. When I reached Clayton-Bulwer and Dallas-Clarendon, I realized that I was drowning: it would take years of research and complete books in order to give justice to these two treaties. Simply put, I bit off more than I could chew.
One of the differences between the British and the Americans is that the British have a thousand years of military credibility, hence they employ a lot of diplomacy in their foreign affairs. The British do not have to prove anything to themselves or to anyone else. The Americans, who declared their independence from Great Britain in 1776, are a new kid on the block compared to the British. The Americans still feel the need to flex their military muscle at every turn; they still feel they have to prove something to their enemies and to the world on a whole.
The so-called military-industrial complex in America is very powerful, and they influence the hawkish politics of the Republican Party. If you listen to Trump, Cruz, Rubio and the rest of the Republican presidential candidates, they are competing with each other to see who can sound more like Rambo. But excessive American spending on the U.S. military has meant neglect of domestic social programs such as housing, education, health care, and infrastructure.
This is where Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders stepped into the race for the Democratic Party presidential nomination and created waves. Sanders has appealed to the struggling American base.
As I write this very early Wednesday morning, the New Hampshire results indicate that Senator Sanders has beaten Hillary Clinton badly in the state primary. Clinton is almost a Republican-type candidate insofar as her appeal to the Pentagon and Wall Street is concerned. Sanders has attacked Wall Street and inflated Pentagon budgets. The Democratic Party establishment has to be alarmed by Sanders’ performances in Iowa and New Hampshire, because conventional wisdom suggests that Hillary would be a safer, stronger candidate.
In November of 1963, less than two months before Belize gained self-government, the Americans assassinated their President John F. Kennedy. There were powerful, violent forces which had reached the point of hating Kennedy. One reason was that he had refused to use U.S. air power to assist the abortive Cuban exile invasion at the Bay of Pigs in April of 1961.
A second reason was that his administration, led by Attorney General Bobby Kennedy, JFK’s younger brother, was trying to clean up the corruption inside the American labor union movement and smash labor’s ties with the Mafia. A third reason was that Kennedy was sounding as if he wanted to de-escalate American military involvement in Vietnam. (It is noteworthy that JFK’s successor, Lyndon Baines Johnson, expanded the war in Vietnam shortly after being sworn in as President.) Perhaps to top it off, Kennedy had been too supportive of the black civil rights movement: the old segregationist, Confederate states in the South considered him a “nigger–lover.”
America’s great prosperity is maintained and increased by aggressive, warlike behavior in foreign countries. For instance, the United States economy relies on massive supplies of petroleum. Their invasion of Iraq in 2003 was billed as intended to remove a dictator and introduce democracy. But, Iraq’s oil fields were vital in Washington’s scheme of things. Democracy was merely a shibboleth.
On the television evening news Tuesday I saw where a group of Americans from a U.S. NGO had come to Belize City to examine the Yarborough area and “make plans” for Belizean residents of the area. For me, it was the strangest thing. More than thirty years ago, Dr. Leroy Taegar used to tell me certain things with respect to Belize’s situation and the plans that the “big boys” had for us. I didn’t want to believe those things, but I respected Taegar and listened to him carefully. By the time Clinton Canul Luna began telling me other things several years ago, we had reached a point in Belize where some evidence had become overwhelming. There’s we small Belizeans, we are like children, and then there’s really big people – monsters.
If we are to speak geopolitically, Belize is in the United States’ backyard. We are in a difficult, challenging situation, because the United States always wants what is good for the United States. That means, in Belize’s case, a corporate, neoliberal Belizean economy such as the one that exists in Guatemala.
The majority of us Belizeans were excited to come out of British colonialism in 1964 and 1981. We thought that this land belonged to us, we who had built what there was here over a period of centuries. But politicians have been selling us out over the past two decades. We’ve come a long way since slavery, but there are no guarantees up ahead. Now we older ones must look to our younger people, and wish them well. This is a struggle that goes on.
Power to the people. Remember Danny. Fight for Belize.