The power structure of Guatemala is a militarized one. By that I mean that military personnel have been prominent in their decision making for almost the entire life of the republic. In the late 1980s, a stream of civilians began to be elected, but most political observers believed that the generals were never too far in the background. Today, Guatemala has returned to a military presidency, in the person of the former general Otto Pérez Molina, and his military career was very controversial, to put it mildly.
Guatemala’s aggressive claim to Belize had the effect of introducing militarization in Belize, and the claim will inevitably increase Belize’s militarization. Belize will not be able to enjoy a situation like that of Costa Rica, which does not have an army and can therefore use all its resources for education, health, housing, infrastructure, and so on.
It was the late Hon. Philip Goldson who first introduced the concept of a Belizean army in the House of Representatives. He was the only Opposition National Independence Party (NIP) representative in the House between 1961 and 1965, and one of just two between 1965 and 1969. I am not sure if Mr. Goldson called for a Belizean army before 1965, or afterwards.
What I do know is that he was ignored by the ruling People’s United Party (PUP) until the Belize City uprisings provoked by Bethuel Webster’s Seventeen Proposals in 1968. The police proved unable to cope with the mobility and ingenuity of the protestors in the old capital, and that was when the Belize government decided to establish the so-called paramilitary force, which was designed to be part police, part army. Original members of that paramilitary included the late Charles Good, Ornel Brooks, James Sanders, and Michael “Pro” Myvett. The officer in charge of their training was the late Fred Gill.
I remember that in the latter part of 1968 the paramilitary were deployed to hunt down a high profile escaped prisoner, Edward Rodney. Rodney’s story requires a book all by itself. In 1958, 1959, thereabouts he and another prisoner, Alrick Clother, were charged with the almost fatal beating of a prison warder. This was at the old Her Majesty’s “back-a-Baptist.” The colonial authorities decided to send Rodney and Clother to Jamaica to spend some time in prison there. It was as if the authorities were saying, okay, you two think you are bad? Try Jamaica. When they were returned to Belize, Clother was a broken man, but Rodney, who was a native of Guinea Grass, had reportedly become worse.
Anyway, as fate would have it, the paramilitary was formed just in time to confront the UBAD “insurgents” in the streets. That confrontation peaked on the night of May 29, 1972, when the armed paramilitary were rushed in from their Airport Camp garrison in their underclothes after a UBAD riot in downtown Belize City. They were late.
In 1978, the PUP government decided to combine the paramilitary and the Belize Volunteer Guard to form the Belize Defence Force (BDF). This was the Belize army. The commanding officer was a British expatriate. Controversy arose behind the scenes when the time came to name the first Belizean commandant after independence in 1981. The logical choice was Charlie Good, who had actually experienced combat in the Dominican Republic in 1965 and was considered Belize’s roughest soldier, but it appears that the ruling politicians were afraid of Good. They sent Thomas Greenwood, a member of the Volunteer element, to Sandhurst for special training and named him the first Belizean army commandant. Charlie Good was very disappointed. He felt betrayed, and his military career began to take a downward turn.
Anyway, you will note that our BDF commanding officers only command for a period of three years. The civilian political structure limits their command time in order to prevent any general’s becoming too entrenched and powerful. For sure in Belize, the generals have always been obedient to the politicians. If Guatemala persists with her aggressive position, however, the generals will become more important and more powerful in Belizean society.
I agree with one media comment that the new commanding general, David Jones, who is an impressive soldier, should not have commented publicly on the matter of the Belizean Territorial Volunteers and their border clearing. This comment should have been made by the relevant politician, which is to say, the Minister of National Security.
At Kremandala, we are careful when we comment on any internal matter involving our army. In the early/middle 1980’s, we learned that army matters and morale are very serious issues. These are men and women armed with shooting guns and live ammunition. One should not play any kind of games or party politics with military matters.
Guatemala is forcing Belizeans to become more military minded. This is not a choice we would have wanted to make. It is a choice which is being forced upon us.
Power to the people.