I enjoyed reading Mervin Robateau’s article (Where will you be?) in last weekend’s issue of Amandala. It had been sent to us more as a letter than an article, and our editor asked me to choose a heading for Mr. Robateau’s material. In retrospect, in fact even at the time, I realized my choice of a head was weak. We are therefore publishing Mervin’s article again in this issue with a more attractive head – How we can defend Belize.
In all the escalation of tension between Guatemala and Belize which has been taking place since the murder of Danny Conorquie in September of 2014 and the abduction of the Northern Territorial Volunteers (NTV) by the Guatemalan military at the end of February in 2015, our United Democratic Party (UDP) government has based all its reasoning and policies on the presumption that it is impossible and suicidal for us Belizeans to defend ourselves from Guatemalan military aggression. It appears to me that the reasoning and policies of the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) are based on a similar presumption, but I cannot speak categorically for the PUP. The UDP Cabinet Ministers, however, have been unhesitant and they have been repetitive: Belizeans cannot even think of fighting.
Well, of course, there are different ways of fighting. And, just a half century ago we saw black Americans begin their fight for civil rights with non-violent techniques their leaders had learned from India’s independence struggle under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi. In the case of black America’s civil rights struggle, it was, of course, only black people who were non-violent: their white supremacist, segregationist oppressors used all kinds of violence, including murder, against black and white demonstrators, and after a while a section of the black struggle began to call for black people to defend themselves with violence.
When I landed in the United States in the autumn of 1965, it was just before Stokely Carmichael’s militant black power element began to call for self-defence in Mississippi in the spring of 1966. A massively heroic black leader, Robert Monroe, had already armed himself in North Carolina, around 1962, 1963, but he soon had to flee to Cuba. Very few people know anything about Robert Monroe. There has apparently been an attempt to expunge his name and story from the records. But this was a special brother. He was perhaps, as they say, “before his time.”
As a young black man in America, I gravitated to the militant, self-defence aspect of the black struggle. It was decades later, after I had returned to Belize and did some serious reading about the Martin Luther King, Jr. era of the struggle, that I appreciated how absolutely courageous and heroic the practitioners of non-violence, both black and white, had been in the segregated Southern states of America.
What we have been seeing in the techniques employed by Wil Maheia and the Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV) and the de la Fuente brothers and the NTV are non-violent tactics. These tactics have been successful in that they have exposed the armed, aggressive behavior of the Guatemalan military inside territory which belongs to the nation-state of Belize.
The intention expressed by PUP leaders to visit the Sarstoon River on Saturday falls in that same category of non-violence. I have heard government spokesmen on the UDP radio station repeatedly express the wish that the Guatemalan military would grab and hold any such PUP Belizeans who challenge the Statutory Instrument and visit the Sarstoon. The spokesmen of the ruling UDP are clearly taking party politics too far, because our primary consideration at this point should be for all Belizeans to stand together against any Guatemalan military aggression inside the sovereign territory of Belize.
But, this has often been the unfortunate nature of party politics in our Jewel. We came out of a colonial past wherein one of the two major parties, the National Party, was essentially supporting British colonial rule, while the PUP was calling for self-rule in the form of self-government and independence. When the PUP, impatient with the long delay in the granting of independence, gambled and went for it in September of 1981, Belize would have entered a state of civil war had the British Governor not previously declared a state of emergency.
Today, the UDP government, re-elected to a third consecutive term just six and a half months ago, continues to pursue a policy of discussion, diplomacy, and retreat in the face of Guatemalan aggression. The Opposition PUP has now called for what would constitute non-violent resistance to Guatemalan aggression. The small Belize Progressive Party (BPP), for its part, had already called for Belize to enlarge its military capability and establish violent self-defence as an option. This is the line which Mr. Mervin Robateau is taking.
When it began in 1955, the civil rights struggle was totally non-violent in black America. By the early 1960s, however, Malcolm X was calling for violent self-defence. In the spring of 1966, Stokely Carmichael began calling for black power, and by 1967, 1968 the Black Panther Party was marching with shotguns in Oakland, California.
Non-violent resistance can still work for Belize, I suggest, and the vast majority of us are hoping for that. Non-violent resistance, would, however, have to be massive. At this point, it is not. Belizeans remain divided, fundamentally along political party lines. If this continues, the national frustration with Guatemalan aggression will eventually be expressed in Belizean-against-Belizean domestic violence. The energy is too high while the tension is stifling. Something will have to give.
Power to the people.
From The Publisher postscript
All the years I’ve been around, I’ve seen a lot of strange things. Most of you will forgive me for being somewhat suspicious. I don’t think I’m paranoid, but I am definitely suspicious.
Anyway, I wanted to check some biographical information on a great warrior in the civil rights struggle who is obscure, so much so that I got his name wrong when I was writing the publisher’s column on Tuesday afternoon. I remembered the brother’s name as “Robert Monroe,” but I was mistaken. So when I kept typing in the said mistaken name, and I couldn’t get a response, I just figured maybe “they” had obliterated his story.
On Thursday morning I went into my library looking for Stokely Carmichael’s autobiography, hoping I might find something on “Robert Monroe.” It turns out that the man Robert Williams waged his battle for black liberation in a town called Monroe, North Carolina, so that’s how I was getting his name wrong. Robert Williams’ battles began around 1957, 1958. I guess if I now type in his correct name, I will get the information I sought. But I got enough from Stokely’s autobiography to correct the mistakes in my column in this issue of the newspaper.
Robert Williams was a great warrior. So was Stokely. I give respect. Maximum respect.