One of the most extraordinary and intriguing aspects of Belize’s situation with respect to the increasingly aggressive Guatemalan claim is the Mexican position. The Mexicans, who signed the British Honduras northern border treaty with Great Britain in 1893, 34 years after the Guatemalans signed the 1859 southern and western border treaty with Britain, have been essentially saying the same thing during the entire course of my lifetime. Mexico has said that Mexico accepts the territorial status quo in British Honduras (which became “Belize” in 1973, and a politically independent nation–state in 1981), but that if the Belize borders are ever adjusted to accommodate Guatemalan demands, then Mexico will activate a claim to Belize.
As a historical note, there was a single moment in time, I would say sometime between 1958 and 1959, when Hon. George C. Price, in answer to a question, made the following comment: “If independence fails, I will give the northern half of the country to Mexico and the southern half to Guatemala.” Strictly speaking, I should not be using quotation marks around Mr. Price’s statement, because I cannot swear for it word for word. But I am positive he said words to this effect, and I believe it would have been in response to a foreign journalist in some kind of press conference setting, perhaps abroad.
The press conference, incidentally, was an animal unknown to British Honduras in the 1950s, because the colony did not have a media as such. The colonial government owned the monopoly radio station (British Honduras Broadcasting Service – BHBS). The ruling People’s United Party (PUP) had a newspaper (The Belize Times) after 1956; The Belize Billboard, which had been the PUP newspaper up until 1956, became the newspaper of the National Independence Party (NIP) from 1958 onwards.
1958 was a heated year in the politics of British Honduras, as indeed 1957 had been. Mr. Price had been sent home “in disgrace” from 1957 talks with the British in London, and that year of 1957 had in fact been a year of national elections. The PUP, in coalition with the General Workers Union (GWU), resoundingly defeated the National Party (NP) and the Honduran Independence Party (HIP) in the 1957 national elections. (PUP-GWU won all nine seats in the Legislative Assembly, whereas in 1954 the PUP-GWU, losing Toledo, had won eight of nine.) The NP and the HIP came together to form the NIP in 1958. And in 1958, Mr. Price was arrested and charged with sedition by the British. Defended by W. H. Courtenay, Mr. Price won the case in front of a Supreme Court jury. He was at the height of his roots popularity. The militancy of the PUP base was at fever pitch in 1958, but in 1957 and 1958, Mr. Price, for all his calm exterior, must have been under serious personal pressure.
The PUP politicians from that era who are still alive and would remember Mr. Price’s partition statement are Mr. Fred Hunter and Mr. Hector Silva. It seems to me that Mr. Price regretted that statement, because nothing to that effect was ever heard from him again. The sentiments of that statement were only referred to by Mr. Price’s opponents now and then during the 1960s, and the statement faded into history to such an extent that it is never quoted in the third millennium Belize.
So much for that. The nature of the consistently warm relationship between Mexico and Belize contrasts remarkably with the hostile flare-ups between Guatemala and Belize, especially since February of 2015. On the individual level, Belizeans over the decades have experienced all kinds of persecutions and victimizations from various petty Mexican officials during our bus and car travels from Belize to the Mexican border with the United States. In many of these cases, we are seeking to enter the United States illegally, the Mexican officials know it, and they take advantage of us. But at the government level, and especially when it comes to Quintana Roo and the Yucatan just north of us, Mexico and Belize are the best of friends.
During the course of my lifetime, I have never ever heard of any public discussion in Belize which seeks to discuss the historical reasons why Mexico and Belize are friends. No Belizean academic has ever researched the topic and written a serious essay or book on it. Yet, I would say, this is an important topic. How much more important is it not today when Belize is confronted by these demands for territory from the Guatemalans and their now chronic, sometimes military, incursions into our sovereign nation-state?
We Belizeans of 2016 are faced with some very serious decisions. We are experiencing existential threats as a nation. It is generally accepted that one should seek to be the best informed one can be before one has to make a critical decision. The Belizean people, however, are woefully uneducated about the Guatemalan claim. That is a given. When it comes to our historical relations with Mexico, should this not be an area of emphasis, at least at the tertiary levels of our education system? There are things in Belize which do not make any sense unless you believe that there is a conspiracy against us, the people of Belize.
At a certain point, a whole century after the Battle of St. George’s Caye in September of 1798, the power structure of the colony, dominated at the time by the Belize Estate and Produce Company (BEC), decided that the Battle of St. George’s Caye should be the centerpiece of the settlement of Belize’s historical narrative. In the late 1950s, the early, iconoclastic PUP made moves to challenge colonialism’s historical narrative, but the PUP, even after achieving self-government in 1964 and independence in 1981, never felt strong enough to attack colonialism’s historical narrative in the schools.
Today, Belizeans are seeing a stark contradiction between colonialism’s historical narrative, which teaches our children that slavemaster whites and slave blacks fought “shoulder to shoulder” to defend Belize from a Spanish/Mexican armada in 1798, and the present narrative of our Belizean leaders, which says that we Belizeans absolutely cannot fight for Belize. Even to think such self-defence thoughts, our elected Belizean leaders repeatedly declare, amounts to “warmongering.” I cannot understand this stark contradiction. The only way it makes sense, to repeat, is if we accept that there is presently a conspiracy against us, the people of Belize.
Power to the people. Remember Danny Conorquie. Honor Staff Sgt. Richard Lambey. Big up, Wil Maheia and the Belize Territorial Volunteers. Salute SATIIM. Stand strong, BNTU!