Hitherto, Belizeans who have decided, no doubt sensibly and rationally, though sometimes under duress, to become employees, affiliates, associates, or assets of the mighty United States of America’s federal government, have not been forced to confront the possibility that, in the course and pursuance of their relationship with the American federal government, they may have to support and/or execute policies which are not in the best interests of the Belizean people and nation-state.
When the American attorney/mediator, Bethuel Webster, released the Seventeen Proposals in April of 1968 as his U.S.-sponsored set of proposals/solutions for the territorial dispute over Belize between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Guatemala, I would say that the vast majority of Belizeans, especially those Belizeans who were already in the United States, were inclined to blame Hon. George Price and his ruling People’s United Party (PUP) for the Seventeen Proposals. This was our colonial mentality at work. No one blamed the United States and very few Belizeans blamed the United Kingdom. By 1968, the PUP had begun to lose some of the overwhelming support the party had enjoyed in 1961, say, but enough Belizeans remained loyal to Mr. Price to tide him over the Seventeen Proposals hiccup. So that, when we used the term “the vast majority of Belizeans” earlier in this paragraph, perhaps we should have qualified that by saying “the vast majority of Belizeans who spontaneously rejected the Webster Proposals …”
49 years ago this week, some Belizean intellectuals, led by Assad Shoman and Said Musa, and including such as Derek Courtenay, the late Lionel Del Valle, and the late Ronald Clarke, began a series of demonstrations in front of the Eden Theater on North Front Street to protest an American Vietnam War-propaganda movie. (I participated in the New Year’s night opening session of the demonstrations.) There were unknown, undocumented numbers of Belizeans serving in the U.S. military and, in fact, fighting for the American cause in the controversial and tragic Vietnam War, and the reality was that we Belizeans sided with the United States in every issue under the sun, and most of us, especially in Belize City, longed to become Americans.
In my personal case, as many of you know, I spent the years between 1965 and 1968 in the U.S. on a State Department scholarship. During my college years in America, my thinking was dramatically affected by the black power movement, the escalating Vietnam War, and the aforementioned Seventeen Proposals. I became an opponent of the American war effort in Vietnam and a supporter of the Cuban Revolution. I did not become a communist nor did I become a Muslim, but it may well be that those at the State Department desk considered me to be one of such, or perhaps even, oxymoronically, both.
The now ruling United Democratic Party (UDP), which was founded in September of 1973, the same month and year, incidentally, when Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger supported General Pinochet’s violent overthrow of the democratically-elected Salvador Allende government in Chile, was unabashedly pro-American from its foundation, and that position served the party well with the people of Belize, especially in Belize City, which was definitely pro-American.
It should be noted that in its early, ultra-militant years, the anti-colonial PUP, as anti-British as the party was, used to march with American flags, the Stars and Stripes, in their parades. Founded in 1950, the PUP had, to a certain and significant extent, been the brainchild of a wealthy Belizean businessman, Bob Turton, who was doing a lot of business with American companies and found that the British colonial laws in Belize favored his British competition and discriminated against his transactions with U.S. businesses. In addition to Turton’s pro-American bias, the working class base of the PUP had infatuated with American power and style after many Belizeans had worked in the United States Canal Zone in Panama during the 1930s and 1940s.
The Belizean problem in 2018, however, is that there is absolutely no indication that the foreign policy of the United States, with respect to the Guatemalan claim, has changed in any shape or form since 1968 and the Seventeen Proposals. The Seventeen Proposals, and all of its cosmetic variations since then, have favored Guatemala’s interests as against the sovereign aspirations of the Belizean people.
Yes, the people of Belize achieved political independence in 1981 with all of our territory intact, but the Guatemalan claim has come back stronger than ever. Both the United States and the United Kingdom are insisting that we Belizeans submit our defined borders to international legal arbitration by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). In such a court, Guatemala has nothing to lose and a lot to gain. Belize has nothing much to gain and a lot to lose.
Over the holidays I conversed briefly with a Guatemalan politician who was visiting Belize. He recited the well-publicized need for the borders between our countries to be defined and for the dispute to be settled. I listened politely. I did not bring up the matter of race, or ethnicity, as the race issue is now more academically described.
There is no doubt in my mind that the highly trained experts at the State Department made a decision back then in the early or middle 1960s to transfer the bulk of Belize’s Black population to the inner cities of the United States. Numerically, we were a small, invisible drop in the American bucket, and easily absorbed. Unlike the population of the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean back in the same 1960s, we Belizeans were eager to be transferred from our native Belize.
One complication we can see today, as we Belizeans have gotten more access to uncensored information and non-religious history, is that the real natives of the Belizean territory are not Afro-descendants: the authentic natives are the Mayan people. Historically, regional contacts between African and Mayan descendants, over the previous three and a half centuries, and especially in the Yucatan, have been friendly, so that whereas neo-European Guatemala has been hostile to once Afro, now part Afro, Belize, Mexico has traditionally been cordial to us.
Now then, consider the larger picture. Predictions of an end to racism in the United States with the elections of President Barack Obama, a Black, in 2008 and 2012, have proven to be highly premature. The election of Donald Trump to the American presidency in November of 2016 represented a white supremacist backlash which is becoming more and more aggressive.
One of the problems the American power structure had with the Cuban Revolution was racial. Cuba has a large Black population which embraced Fidel Castro and has benefited from his Cuban Revolution. The United States has enforced a trade embargo against Cuba for more than five and a half decades because they cannot allow Cuba’s communist philosophy to become attractive in any way to the millions of American Blacks who live in their Southern, formerly slave, states. At the time of the catastrophic Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, the deplorable condition of African Americans in Louisiana was exposed for all the world to see. Still, the United States categorically rejected offers of medical assistance from Cuba.
Ethnicity is a monster issue in Guatemala. Their ruling classes in Guatemala are of European origin, while the oppressed majority of the Guatemalan population is of Indigenous ethnicity. Remember, there was a time, before 1492 and Christopher Columbus, when there were no Europeans in this part of the world, only Indigenous people. And, it is from immediately after Columbus, the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas in fact, when the European Guatemalans date their claim to Belize. Indigenous Guatemalans have no say in this matter.
In between 1492 and 2018, we Afro Descendants arrived. The European Guatemalans describe us as British imports. For me, it is more important what Indigenous Guatemalans think. But for most of the rest of you, especially those of you in high places, all you care about is what Donald Trump and Washington think.
And this brings us to the deadly case of Fareed Ahmad. It appears to conscious Belizeans that employees, affiliates, associates or assets of the United States of America may have wanted what happened to Fareed to happen to him. In fact, such Belizeans may have caused Fareed’s death. If this is so, then there are Belizeans, both at home and abroad, who need to do some very serious thinking.
Power to the people.