Editorial — 20 June 2018
One red

Dr. Assad presents

During the lunch break, according to the FCO record of the discussion, the British met separately with Courtenay, who said that he had become convinced, unlike Price, that land cession was essential to the Guatemalans, and that he believed that cession up to the Moho River would be acceptable with unfettered independence.

– pgs. 105, 106, GUATEMALA’S CLAIM TO BELIZE: THE DEFINITIVE TREATY, by Assad Shoman, Image Factory Art Foundation, 2018

When the CBMs were signed in 2000, 2003 and 2005, all the incursions were occurring along the western border. There were no problems along the Sarstoon, and therefore no mention was made of that area. Although Guatemalan officials often hankered after the Island or the entire River during negotiations, the River itself was quiet and no formal notes specifically claimed sovereignty over the River.

That began to change in 2007, when Belize’s military entered into an ill-advised “Gentleman’s Agreement.”

In June 2007 a meeting between BDF Commander, Brigadier General Lloyd Gillett and Chief of Staff of the GAF, General de Brigada Mario Aguilar Bran, was held “to dialogue and explore alternatives” because of recent confrontations between the two forces at the mouth of the Sarstoon.
– pg. 357, ibid.

When you ain’t got nothing, you ain’t got nothing to lose.
– Ray Lightburn, quoting Bob Dylan

In his new book, Guatemala’s claim to Belize: The Definitive History, Dr. Assad Shoman makes very strong arguments for Belize to go to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for the court to rule on the Guatemalan claim to Belize. Dr. Shoman’s credentials are scintillating. Apart from being an attorney trained in the United Kingdom, he is a world-class academic, and, perhaps most relevant, he has had decades of impressive experience in regional and international affairs and negotiations. In addition, despite the fact that he spent ten years in electoral politics in Belize, between 1974 and 1984, with all the implications electoral politics usually has for one’s honesty, Dr. Shoman has held true to the principles he began public life with in 1969, and we refer to his analyses with respect to Belize’s history, sociology, and economics, and his scientific prescriptions for the development of Belize’s people and resources.

In his new book, we note that Dr. Shoman discusses the period between the Thirteen Proposals (1966) and the Seventeen Proposals (1968). To a certain extent, he is skeptical of the actions and motives of the Hon. Philip Goldson, the Leader of the Opposition National Independence Party (NIP) during that period. Dr. Shoman, on the other hand, essentially expresses his confidence in all the actions and motives of the Right Hon. George Price during that same period.

While Dr. Shoman is highly critical of the actions and motives of Hon. Dean Lindo, as Leader of the Opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) during the critical years of Belize’s drive to independence between 1975 and 1979, unfortunately he does not address the issue of why powerful forces in the Opposition felt the need to replace Goldson as Leader with Lindo in 1973, even though Mr. Goldson’s actions between 1966 and 1968 had made him a Belizean hero all over again, with a new political party. Remember, Mr. Goldson had been jailed for nine months by the British while an official of the anti-colonial People’s United Party (PUP) in 1951. For that sacrifice, he had become a national hero, in the first instance.

The point we want to make is that a large amount of Belizeans believed that they had good reason to place unquestioning trust in Mr. Goldson’s actions and motives where the Guatemalan claim to Belize was concerned. So that, while Mr. Price succeeded in leading Belize to independence without ceding any land to Guatemala, it was the belief of many Belizeans that it was political pressure from Mr. Goldson in the 1960s which had prevented any hanky panky on the PUP’s part where land cession was concerned.  In fact, Dr. Shoman himself reveals that at one point one of the four prominent Belizean negotiators, V.H. “Harry” Courtenay, was giving off land cession signals to the British in the mid-1970s.

We found Dr. Shoman’s book exceptionally valuable where his lineal discourse on the Sarstoon River/Island situation between 2007 and the present is concerned. Dr. Shoman states categorically that the Sarstoon River was quiet and no formal notes specifically claimed Guatemalan sovereignty over the River until June of 2007, when Belize’s military entered into a”Gentleman’s Agreement” with the Guatemalan military which Dr. Shoman describes as “ill-advised.” This is a sensational revelation.

This essay is not a book review, mind you. To an extent, Dr. Assad blows his own trumpet in the book, but we know that if he does not, only his small group of colleagues and admirers will. The neoliberal and white supremacist power structure in Belize succeeded in isolating Dr. Shoman during his prime. We chose this subject on which to editorialize because there are people who are singing the ICJ song for whom we have no respect. We respect Dr. Shoman’s credentials and the time he has spent in the revolutionary trenches. The road he trod must have been lonely on many occasions. He stayed his course, and we honor him.

We await a response from our friends who are hostile to ICJ arbitration. We have said to you on this editorial page that our inclination at this newspaper is to reject the ICJ. At the same time, despite what these dibby dibby politicians may think, we take our editorial responsibility seriously. The one Alejandro Vernon has accused us of campaigning against the ICJ, but our pages are open to all opinions and discourses of quality. For example, the columnist Clinton Canul Luna is consistently anti-ICJ, but the columnist Colin B. Hyde has been writing in favor of the ICJ. (Editing of our columnists is minimal.)

If it is possible for you to read Dr. Shoman’s book before you vote on the ICJ referendum next April, then you should. We understand that at his book launch at the Image Factory on Friday evening, June 10, Dr. Shoman had called for a more militant response to the Sarstoon River aggression and disrespect by the Guatemalan military. We mention this in order to place such a position in context. Those of us who are negative to the ICJ are partly responding to the many occasions on which Belizeans have been “punked” by the Guatemalans, especially under the Foreign Affairs regime of the one Sedi Elrington. The way the ICJ option has been presented to us by Minister Elrington has been as if we better do this or our Guatemalan “daddies are gonna whip our ass.” Belizeans have reacted negatively to this appeasement line, which is evidently the line of Prime Minister Barrow and his Cabinet. Mr. Elrington is, at the end of the day, speaking for fat cats who ride in heavily tinted, air-conditioned vehicles and swipe credit cards backed by foreign bank accounts. In the streets, however, most Belizeans have “nothing to lose” from day to day, and Guatemalan insults and depredations have provoked growing resentment.

This newspaper certainly does not possess Dr. Assad’s credentials, but in the streets our credibility is large. That is because, like Mr. Goldson, we were never for sale. And the people know this. There are high flying people in the media business here who are sycophants, and the people know this. We congratulate Mr. Shoman on this magnificent contribution to Belizean history and the national discourse on the Guatemalan claim. Hasta la Victoria siempre.

Power to the people.

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Deshawn Swasey

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