On Sunday morning, January 21, 1962, Luis Francisco Sagastume Ortiz, then a 25 year old agronomist, led a party of Guatemalans into the Ketchi village of Pueblo Viejo, three miles across the Guat border inside Belize.
The invaders tore down the Union Jack, burnt it, and hoisted a Guatemalan flag in its place.
From Pueblo Viejo, they went to San Antonio, calling themselves Belize Freedom Fighters, asking the villagers to join them to help “President Price” liberate Belize.
Said Sagastume: “I am willing to die for your country.”
Five invaders were initially captured by soldiers of the Royal Hampshire Regiment and British Honduras Police Force personnel.
They were Francisco Sagastume, Jose Vicente Mejia, 62, Ricardo Tuz Choc, 24, Balbino Herrera Garcia, 36, and Justo Marroquin Cardena, 54, all dressed as civilians and in possession of arms, ammunition and large sums of money in their shoes and other places.
On Friday, January 26, two more invaders – Santiago Chan, 45, and Jose Leon Ramirez, 29, were captured. They had in their possession shotguns, cartridges, and money.
On Sunday, Oliver Gustavo Rosado Palma, a 20 year old student in Guatemala who had been born in Benque Viejo, and William Juarez Mariano were captured.
One man, Martin Lopez, who had been recognized by villagers, remained at large. Lopez was the alleged killer by decapitation of famous Belizean footballer Dunny Rosado at Guacamallo in 1949. He was never caught.
– from a front page story in Amandala No. 603, of Friday, March 6, 1981.
If there had been a nuclear war between the United States and Soviet Russia in October of 1962 because of the so-called Cuban Missile Crisis, we Belizeans would have suffered horribly, and we would not have known what the hell was going on. Belize is only two hours by air from Miami, definitely one of the American cities that Russian nuclear missiles would have targeted, and we are even closer to the island of Cuba, which would have been obliterated by American nuclear missiles.
This was the closest that planet earth has come to absolute nuclear catastrophe, and in Belize we were almost totally ignorant of the crisis. I don’t know how the game is played these days, but in 1962 the scenario was as follows. Both the United States and Russia had thousands and thousands of nuclear warheads (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles – ICBMs) which they were ready to fire as soon as they believed their enemy had decided to fire his. These missiles were flying in supersonic bombers which both nations had in the skies all over the world on a 24/7 basis. Other missiles were in their nuclear submarines, which were cruising underwater on the said 24/7 basis all over planet earth. And finally, both America and Russia had thousands of nuclear missiles stored in what were called underground silos, deep enough under the earth where they would survive an enemy’s first strike and then retaliate with crazy firepower.
The so-called Cold War between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., then, featured a scenario which was sometimes described as Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD). People like us Belizeans would have been mere, incidental, unimportant, collateral damage. In 1962, we would not have known what hit us, and we would not have known from whence it came. Those of us who are religious would have believed it was the Biblically-predicted end of the world.
As we speak, this morning of September 5, 2012, I think the world is closer to nuclear holocaust than we have been since that October 1962 crisis, almost fifty years ago. Most of you know that the United States is totally committed to the support and defence of Israel, but what a lot of you do not know is that Russia and China, which are both ranking nuclear powers, are defenders of Iran (not to mention Syria). Israel has more than 200 nuclear missiles, and the ability to deliver them inside Iran. Iran has been seeking to develop a nuclear capacity which, their leaders say, is not for the manufacture of warheads, but in order to meet their energy requirements. The Iranian leader has said publicly, however, that Israel is a state which does not deserve to exist, and the hawks in the Israeli government have decided that they cannot allow Iran to become nuclear.
Why Israel and Iran have become locked in a confrontation which may become violent at a nuclear level and suck in the bigger boys, is a long story which involves a lot of religion and religious history. The fact of the matter today is that Israel wants to launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran. The Russians and the Chinese know this, so they are saying to the Americans, we will hold you responsible if Israel goes ballistic.
As we write, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are just two months away from a United States presidential election which is being bitterly fought. The incumbent – our boy Barack, and the people around him, are tempted to launch the Iran attack themselves, and neutralize some of the militaristic, right wing support which the Republican Mitt Romney presently enjoys. There are people who believe that Romney will attack Iran if he is elected, or encourage/allow the Israelis so to do. This is all a complicated scenario, but the key for us innocent Belizeans is that it is a totally dangerous scenario.
We are better off today than in 1962, in the sense that we know much more about world affairs than we did back then when everything was being censored by the British and the PUP. Personally, I think so. I always prefer to know what is hitting me rather than have to speculate under duress. But, there are people who sincerely believe that ignorance is bliss. They have a perspective different from mine.
The Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962 was, to a large extent, the result of the Bay of Pigs invasion of April 1961. The Bay of Pigs was about the Americans training Cuban exiles on Guatemalan soil for an attack on communist Cuba. The quid pro quo which the Guatemalans were promised by the American government of the late John Fitzgerald Kennedy, was support for their claim to the territory of British Honduras. We Belizeans were ignorant of the relevance of the Bay of Pigs to us in 1961, just as we would be ignorant of the grave danger the missile crisis of October 1962 presented to us eighteen months later.
Cuba’s Fidel Castro had decided to have the Russians install nuclear missiles on his island in order to prevent a repeat of the Bay of Pigs. He was, arguably, willing to endanger the planet in order to protect his island. This is how intense the nationalistic feeling is in countries all over the world. And, this is how intense the nationalistic feeling is in Israel, and how intense the nationalistic feeling is in Iran.
We are not like that in Belize. A Guatemalan named Francisco Sagastume invaded Belize in January of 1962. Belizean children today know nothing of this incident. Our leaders decided that it was best if the incident became lost in history. It’s Carnival time, you know. Ignorance is bliss, baby. Ignorance is bliss.