“However, even though we arrived at stage three, AMANDALA insists on printing Guatemala’s human rights defects as chronicled in the foreign press many years ago like the U.S. Congressional Record of June 1961 showing Guatemala’s agents and lobbyists of 1955 and ‘Our Latin Vietnam’ of the WASHINGTON POST of February 1968.”
– Alejandro Vernon on page 26 in THE REPORTER of Sunday, March 24, 2013
“Thus it was, while visiting the northern Department of El Petén on April 16 (1958), General e Ingeniero Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes crossed over into Belize accompanied by the presidents of the Guatemalan Supreme Court and the Congress. Requesting that the sergeant on duty obtain permission from the British governor general for the party to proceed to the Belizean town of Cayo, some three miles away, he had his picture taken in front of the police barracks in Benque Viejo brandishing his ‘entry permit’ – a copy of the Guatemalan constitution. When permission to proceed further was denied, he calmly returned to the Guatemalan side of the border proclaiming, ‘Belize will be ours by right or might.’”
– pg. 136, MISUNDERSTOOD CAUDILLO: MIGUEL YDåGORAS FUENTES AND THE FAILURE OF DEMOCRACY IN GUATEMALA, Roland H. Ebel, University Press of America, 1998
My younger brother, Charles X, wrote an interesting article a couple weeks ago in which he called for some kind of process to establish what exactly it is that the Guatemalan people think about their government’s claim that half of Belize’s territory belongs to them.
When we look at the nation of Belize’s parliamentary democracy, we can see that it is a flawed democracy. Fundamentally, individuals and groups who own and control large amounts of money have more power than the “one man, one vote” thesis which is supposed to be the foundation philosophy of democracy. We are saying, to paraphrase Orwell, that some Belizeans are more equal than others. Yes, Belize’s democracy is flawed, but it is functional.
On Friday last, Guatemala’s leading newspaper, Prensa Libre, headlined the evidence of a witness, a former Guatemalan soldier who had to testify on video from a secret location, in the Rios Montt genocide trial currently taking place in Guatemala City. The witness implicated the Guatemalan president, Otto Pérez Molina, in graphic detail, in incidents of torture and massacre which took place during the Rios Montt presidency in 1982/83. At the time, Pérez Molina was a major in the Guatemalan army. He went on to become a general, and was elected president of the republic in 2011.
If you look at Pérez Molina, you will see that he is a handsome, blonde man of European descent. His victims were all indigenous Guatemalans in remote villages. The thing is, the majority of the Guatemalan people are indigenous. If Guatemala had any kind of real democracy, Pérez Molina could never have been elected president.
In 1951, a Guatemalan general named Jacobo Arbenz was elected president, and he tried to institute changes, specifically land reform, to benefit the masses of the Guatemalan people. In defence of some of their companies, most prominently United Fruit Company, the American government branded Arbenz a “communist,” and their Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) sponsored an overthrow of Arbenz in 1954 which placed another Guatemalan general, Carlos Castillo Armas, in power. Castillo Armas was killed by one of his own bodyguards in 1957, whereupon another general, Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes, was elected president in 1958. He was overthrown in 1963.
There are some scholars who say that the Guatemalan civil war, which officially ended in 1996, began in 1960 during Ydígoras’ rule. Remember now, Fidel Castro took power in Cuba in January of 1959, and declared himself a communist revolutionary. The Cuban Revolution began to influence various progressive elements in Guatemala, including military officers like Marco Antonio Yon Sosa and Luis Augusto Turcios Lima, because the conditions which Jacobo Arbenz had tried to address in 1951 had not changed: in fact, things had gotten worse.
Remember again, Ydígoras Fuentes was a president of the Guatemalan oligarchy, the great landowners, and the military. He responded to pro-Castro noises in Guatemala by allowing the American CIA to train Cuban exiles in Guatemala for the April 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba. That decision angered nationalistic Guatemalan elements. But, Ydígoras Fuentes later said that American president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, had promised to support Guatemala’s claim to Belize in return for Guatemala’s support for the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Yon Sosa and Turcios Lima led guerrilla movements which operated in Izabal, but also in the Petén, next door to Belize’s western border. As we can see, the political climate in Guatemala had become paranoid from the time of Arbenz, when his attempts to institute land reform were condemned as communist by Washington and the Guatemalan oligarchy. By the time of guerrilla activity led by Yon Sosa and Turcios Lima, even to sympathize with the Guatemalan poor was considered subversive and communist. This domestic Guatemalan paranoia was encouraged by American Cold War-era governments of the 1960s. Washington had actually begun fighting communist guerrillas in Vietnam, thousands of miles away in Southeast Asia. How much more nervous would they have been about guerrillas in the Petén, less than a thousand miles away from Florida, and threatening Guatemalan governments the Americans considered their most reliable and important allies in Central America!
Guatemala City and Washington believed that Belize represented an eastern flank which exposed the Petén to Cuban interference in the form of printed propaganda, military training for guerrillas, and even arms and ammunition. This was one of the reasons why the American lawyer Bethuel Webster’s Seventeen Proposals called for Guatemala to take over Belize’s defence and for Belize to become essentially a satellite state of Guatemala.
The one issue the American foreign policy experts in Washington don’t want to have come up in connection with Guatemala, is ethnicity. In real terms, Guatemala has been a state which is as racist as apartheid South Africa was. Guatemala’s domestic victims are indigenous people. In the 1960s, Guatemala was claiming a territory whose residents were majority black. In 2013, the majority of Belize’s citizens are indigenous and black.
The brutality of Guatemalan governments’ war against their indigenous people in the last half of the twentieth century was such that it actually divided the Catholic Church at a very high level. Juan José Gerardi, the bishop of Quiché province, became a target of the Guatemalan military and had to flee the country for some years. After the civil war ended, Gerardi was involved with a United Nations investigation into human rights abuses during the civil war. For this, he was murdered in 1998, and Pérez Molina’s name has also been called in connection with the Gerardi murder. The story is told in Francisco Goldman’s THE ART OF POLITICAL MURDER: WHO KILLED THE BISHOP?, published by Grove Press in 2007.
As photogenic as he is, Otto Pérez Molina is a throwback to a terrible era in Guatemala – the time of the civil war. He represents the oligarchy and the military, who have been enemies of Guatemala’s indigenous people. At the same time, there are brave Guatemalans who have been risking their lives seeking justice for the masses of the Guatemalan people. The masses of the Guatemalan people are not the enemies of Belizeans. It is the Guatemalan oligarchy and the military, going back to the time of Ubico, who lit the fire of Guatemalan aggression and expansionism in the late 1930s.
Washington should tell Guatemala City what Belizeans of all ethnicities are thinking, “Belize da fu we.” Big time respect, Super Furia.