Finally, there are a great many people inside and outside Congo who profit immensely from a large, barely governed territory full of minerals and opportunities for extortion, trafficking, and smuggling. They have a profound interest in ensuring that Congo doesn’t become anything more than the pseudo-country it is today.
– pg. 79, FP FOREIGN POLICY, July/August 2013, Jeffrey Herbst and Greg Mills
“Well, I may have taken the opportunity to discuss where things are with the various court cases and the various bits of legislation,” said the Prime Minister with what sounded almost like a British accent.”
– Pg. 7, THE BELIZE TIMES, July 7, 2013
The brother Wawat Napata accused me on Monday afternoon, in the presence of Clinton Uh Luna, of doing the Belizean people a disservice by allowing them to believe that Belize is an independent nation. I suppose Uh Luna agreed with him.
I think I understood what Wawat was saying, but I did not pursue the thought until the following afternoon, when I came into possession of the July/August 2013 issue of a magazine which is called FP or Foreign Policy. The editors describe this particular issue as their 9th Annual Failed States Issue. I read an article in the magazine, by Jeffrey Herbst and Greg Mills, in which they say that it is time to admit that the Democratic Republic of Congo does not exist. Herbst and Mills argue, “And in today’s Congo, let’s be clear: There is no sovereign power at all outside the urban areas, leaving two-thirds of the country’s estimated 75 million people beyond the purview of a central government.”
With reference to Belize’s “independence,” the nature of Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s recent visit to the United Kingdom had to raise a few eyebrows. Belize is firmly in the British Commonwealth, an organization comprised of present and former British territories which still acknowledge Queen Elizabeth II as their head of state. Unlike the vast majority of Commonwealth states, however, Belize is troubled by a claim to its territory, a claim which Belize inherited from the colonial power – Mother England.
The largest industrial investment in Belize appears to be controlled by the British company, Tate & Lyle. Mr. Barrow visited Tate & Lyle headquarters. A portrait of the Queen is prominent on Belize’s currency. Belize’s legislators swear allegiance to “the Queen, her heirs and successors …” In London recently, Prime Minister Barrow went to see the Queen and Prince Charles in Buckingham Palace, and held talks with various British government officials. He even held talks with Lord Michael Ashcroft, who is presumably locked in the most bitter of business disputes, involving hundreds of millions of dollars, with the Barrow government.
In the immediate aftermath of the visit, we heard that Britain was again raising her military profile in Belize. Since then, the Guatemalan government has gone absolutely silent on matters Belizean.
There was a period between 1957 and 1959 when PUP Leader George Price declared that Belize would become independent “within or without” the Commonwealth. But then, in 1959 he began to say that our independence would be “within” the Commonwealth. In 1960, the British gave us the MCC Grounds as a goodwill gesture, as well as a new Ministerial constitution. In 1963, the British gave us the historic Tate & Lyle sugar investment, and the following year Belize gained full internal self-government.
As we try to figure out how independent Belize really is, the fact that the Government of Belize does not appear able to establish a presence along our contested borders or to monitor the Chiquibul and prevent incursions therein, that fact must give us pause. An additional question arises: is Belize really sovereign?
For me, perhaps the most troubling reality is this: Belize is unable to discipline its own citizens. Belize has been effectively forbidden from utilizing the death penalty by the European Union, which warns that they will withhold specific benefits and aid packages if we execute anyone. I am not sure the death penalty is as effective as some people argue, but I certainly believe that human beings are more afraid of being hanged than they are of going to jail for indefinite periods of time. Today, law-abiding Belizeans are being terrified by young people who appear able to murder with impunity. Who’s in control here?
I am not a constitutional expert, but my understanding is that when we became self-governing, Belizeans took over all the areas of administration except for defence and foreign affairs, which remained in the hands of the British. Once we became formally independent in September of 1981, we Belizeans took control of defence and foreign affairs.
Apart from the British, the Americans have a lot of involvement in Belize’s army, “air wing,” police, and coast guard. The big excuse for this is America’s “war on drugs.” When the Belize security council sits, in the presence of American and British personnel, can we Belizeans speak absolutely authoritatively, or do we have to bow to the realities of power?
I did not get into a detailed discussion with Mr. Napata. I can’t speak for him, and I can’t say exactly what he is thinking. I am in this column merely discussing some of my personal thoughts which his statement/accusation provoked.
As we enter the patriotic September month, there should be, ideally, a lot of open, public discussion about the serious issues facing our nation. I think the electronic media are doing the best they can where facilitating public discussion is concerned, but it is not enough. Two years ago Kremandala individually organized a conference of writers, artists, musicians and intellectuals in Belize City. I think it went well, but I can see where an initiative like that requires some kind of joint effort involving the media houses.
We have a lively democracy in Belize. But, is it serious enough? In this third millennium, we can see more and more where boundaries of thought and discussion exist which surround our political parties. Certain subjects are taboo. The national political parties of Belize are institutions of maximum importance in several respects. But the political parties are confined by electoral realities. The political parties are intimidated by the churches, for instance. Since the churches essentially control the schools, freedom of thought and discussion has become the responsibility of the media, almost by default.
The national university should be Belize’s leader in thought and discussion. It is not, and the reason is that its purse strings are controlled by the same electoral politicians who are intimidated by the churches.
The nature and extent of Belize’s independence require study and discourse. As it is, Belize’s cornucopia of natural resources threatens to become a curse for the masses of our people. This is what happened in the Congo. Where Wall Street and international investors see opportunity, there is where native populations are trampled. We Belizeans must prepare to defend ourselves as best we can.
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.