“Thus the ground was laid for Dienbienphu, which would equal Waterloo, Gettysburg and Stalingrad as one of the decisive battles of history. It was also Giap’s epiphany.
“Years before, I interviewed Cao Xuan Nghia, a Vietminh veteran, whose recollection underscored Giap’s point. He had trekked with his infantry company for forty-five days from their camp in Thai Nguyen, north of Hanoi, reaching the highlands above Dienbienphu late in December 1953.
We had to cross mountains and jungles, marching at night and sleeping by day to avoid enemy bombing. We slept in foxholes, or simply alongside the trail. We each carried a rifle, ammunition and hand grenades, and our packs contained a blanket, a mosquito net and a change of clothes. We each had a week’s supply of rice, which we refilled at depots along the way. We ate greens and bamboo shoots, picked in the jungle, and occasionally villagers would give us a bit of meat. By then I had been in the Vietminh for nine years, and I was accustomed to it.
“Meanwhile, Giap had been carefully studying the terrain at Dienbienphu and concluded that it would require at least fifty thousand troops to annihilate the French garrison. He conferred again with Ho at the end of December, recommended launching the offensive on January 25, 1954, and predicted victory in about six weeks. After posing a few questions, Ho agreed and granted him ‘full power’ as field commander. ‘This engagement must be won,’ he exhorted Giap, adding, ‘But don’t begin it unless you are sure of winning.’”
– pgs. 206, 207, Vietnam: A History, by Stanley Karnow, Penguin Books, 1984
I was struck by the above paragraphs recently while reading a book about Vietnam by Stanley Karnow. The point has to do with the price the Vietnamese people have had to pay for their independence and sovereignty, compared to how we, the Belizean people, proceeded from colonialism to theoretical independence and sovereignty without having to pick up arms.
I describe our independence and sovereignty as “theoretical” because the marijuana and gun/bullet laws, for instance, suggest to me that we Belizeans, at the highest levels of our democratically-elected leadership, follow instructions and take orders from somewhere. The drug and gun laws are so draconian in Belize that no independent, sovereign leaders would voluntarily impose such laws on their people.
I know that there are independent, sovereign nations over in Asia and the Middle East, say, whose laws actually mandate the death penalty for narcotics and gun offences. There are independent, sovereign societies which will chop your hand off if you are caught stealing. But, I don’t know of such penalties anywhere in the so-called Western Hemisphere for the aforementioned drug and gun violations.
Anyway, I submit that the time has passed when we Belizeans should be tolerating laws which declare us guilty until we can prove our innocence. This is the unconstitutional basis on which our drug and gun laws have been written in Belize, and it doesn’t matter which political party wrote them or which political party amended them: both the United Democratic Party (UDP) and the People’s United Party (PUP) enforce these laws when they are in power. These are laws which actually have doddering old grandparents and babies in cribs being carted off to jail because they were in the vicinity of drugs or guns. It’s really bad.
The reality is, however, that the ruling classes of Belize tolerate such laws because the drug and gun laws are almost never enforced on the rich side of town, as we would say. These are laws intended for use in poor neighborhoods, the ones our Gucci/Armani politicians every now and then seek to have legally branded in the House of Representatives as “crime neighborhoods.”
In this column, I don’t want to get into all the class prejudice and ethnic bigotry of this society. I only want to say that it has to be that our two major political parties, the only ones which have ever formed governments in Belize since 1961, have to be taking orders from abroad, even after “independence and sovereignty” in 1981.
Let me tell you a story which I consider relevant. I was the chairman of the University College of Belize (UCB) in August of 2000 when five secondary and tertiary institutions were amalgamated to form the University of Belize (UB), of which I was the chairman from foundation until late 2004. I would say that the most volatile aspect of that amalgamation involved the inclusion of the iconic Belize Technical College in UB. The then ruling PUP made promises where Technical’s future was concerned which they did not keep.
As an admirer and supporter of Technical, the most I could do at the time was preserve the integrity of the Belize Technical College campus on Freetown Road, so that any future government administration would have the original foundation on which to re-establish Technical if any such administration felt the need to do so. It soon became clear to me, nevertheless, that there were very powerful people in the PUP who wanted the prime Technical real estate for the proposed Intelco phone company, which was the failed precursor of what we now know as the fabulously successful Smart/SpeedNet.
Soon, a high level official of the Education Ministry who represented that Ministry on the UB board, brought a message to the board one morning from his godfather. His godfather, former Prime Minister of Belize and PUP Leader Emeritus, Right Hon. George Cadle Price, wanted a piece of the Technical campus for a pre-school project. This was, to repeat, according to the representative of the Education Ministry on the UB board. (At that stage of his career, we can see now that Mr. Price was being used by PUP leaders whose names I will not presently call.) As UB chairman, I had to reject that request. This was the type of decision which was suicidal for me, because, it was support from the ruling PUP which had gotten me elected UB chairman in the first place, and all of you know the absolutely sacred status which Mr. Price held/holds in the PUP.
So now, the reality is that if the UDP, on their return to national power in 2008, had wished to re-establish Technical, the campus was there intact and in place on Freetown Road in March of 2008. My point is that the status quo which the UDP met in 2008 with respect to Technical, must have suited them for some reason or the other.
On major issues, it doesn’t matter whether the UDP or the PUP is in place. The drug and gun laws remain in place, because these draconian laws represent the wishes of the Government of the United States, I would say. And whatever independence and sovereignty Belize possesses, that independence and sovereignty is not enough to have us write and enforce our own laws in the matters of drugs and guns. Just think about this as you wave your flags and hip-hip-hurray this September.
Power to the people.