“In this paper, I will try to interpret the historical events of 1798 from a black man’s standpoint. I would hope that the black, brown, red and yellow people would begin to realize that white racism and exploitation constitute our common enemy and that our independence is yet to be won. It will be won by any means necessary once all of us get together on the basis of Liberty or Death.
– from the PREFACE to Knocking Our Own Ting, Evan X Hyde, 1969, The Industrial Press.
When the territorial integrity of a nation-state is violated, and the armed forces of that nation-state are instructed by their political leaders to desist from defence protocol and to stand down, then this is a damaging blow to the national dignity of that nation-state. The people of that nation-state feel humiliated, and they perceive an existential threat.
In the space of two weeks, the territorial integrity of Belize was violated by the Guatemalan Navy at Sarstoon Island, on May 28/29, and at Glovers Reef on Thursday, June 11. In both incidents, the Belize Coast Guard was instructed to refrain from standard defence protocol. In the case of Sarstoon Island, they were instructed by the Prime Minister of Belize to withdraw from that island, and in the case of Glovers Reef, the occupants of a Guatemalan gunboat stuck on Glovers Reef reportedly refused to hand up their arms and submit to Belizean authorities. Guatemalan Navy personnel were allowed to return to Guatemala.
Our reports of the Glovers Reef incident are still incomplete and imprecise. In fact, our reports are probably inaccurate. From the beginning of the incident, it was clear to the Belizean people that the authorities and spokesmen of the Government of Belize have sought to tell a story which, at every turn, casts the Guatemalan gunboats and their crews in the most favorable, least offensive light. The Belizean authorities and their spokesmen have been behaving like defence attorneys for the Guatemalans in such incidents for such a long time that few Belizeans are in any way surprised. Bitterly disappointed, yes, always bitterly disappointed. But surprised? No. We think it is reasonable to say that the masses of the Belizean people have felt repeatedly embarrassed. And every such incident is another blow to our fragile national dignity.
There was a time, you know, when Belizeans carried the designation of “British subject” in our British Honduras passports. The majority of us had gotten so used to being designated as such in our travel documents and the like, that we did not think twice about it. This was just the way it was. The struggle for self-rule in Belize which began in 1950 was a divisive one in Belize for decades, right up until the moment Belize achieved political independence on September 21 of 1981. Belize achieved independence without a solution to the ancient Guatemalan claim to our territory, and without any kind of defence guarantee. In other words, Belize’s independence represented a risky constitutional advance, in the eyes of almost half the Belizean people.
But, independence in 1981 was more than risky: it may now be seen as symbolic in nature. The conditionalities of Belize’s independence apparently involve an agreement by Belize’s elected leaders to respond to Guatemalan aggression with restrained, even submissive, procedures. Whereas in the case of Great Britain when Guatemala began behaving threateningly towards Belize in late 1975, the British flew in the Harrier jets to give the Guats the sense, Belizean authorities, when confronted by Guatemalan aggression, essentially have to appeal to their Guatemalan counterparts in positions of authority and Belizean authorities have to turn to the Organization of American States (OAS). Belizean leaders, from 1981 to now, had to have made Mephistophelian deals with the Anglo-Americans: as a result of these deals, it appears Belizean leaders cannot allow Belize’s armed forces to behave the way armed forces behave internationally.
The sad irony is that, on the ground in Belize, the Belize police and our other armed forces are routinely and exceedingly brutal to our young Belizean men. Another sad irony is that we have organized elaborate celebrations every September since 1898 to honor incidents in 1798 in which our ancestors were said to have behaved honorably in the face of a superior Spanish naval force. These celebrations are no longer very relevant, we submit: surely the time to behave honorably is now.
On Sunday morning on KREM Radio/TV’s Sunday Review, Belize Defence Force Major Lloyd Jones (Ret’d.) submitted that what the Guatemalan gunboats were doing last Thursday was actually patrolling Belizean territorial waters, and that this kind of activity has been going on for a long time. It is demeaning for our Belizean authorities to have to present explanations to the Belizean people which do not take obvious realities into account. For years now, Major Jones’ analyses and opinions have always made more sense to this newspaper than the “horse dead and cow fat” concoctions of the Belizeans who are made to apologize for Guatemalan aggressions. The way the Guatemalan gunboat is lodged hard up on the reef, this could hardly have been a case of “drifting” up on the coral last Thursday. The drifting story, one has to think, is one which Belizean authorities agreed to tell the Belizean people in order to reduce the blame on the Guatemalans who were in incursion mode.
Compare this with the February 28 incident this year when 40 Belizeans were forced at Guatemalan Navy gunpoint to travel to Livingston because they had entered the Guatemalan side of the Sarstoon River for five minutes, by mistake. How come “innocent passage” applies to the Guatemalan gunboat on Glovers Reef in June but the Guatemalans did not see it appropriate to consider “innocent passage” on February 28? What about Herbert Eiley in April of 1975?
In September of 1981, to repeat, our political independence was risky and it was symbolic. Well now, that risk is here full bloom, and it is time for us to take the symbolism out of our independence. We have to make our territorial integrity real. Now, the mettle of roots Belizeans will be tested. It will take a revolutionary government to stand up to Guatemala. The republic to the west wants our “wealth untold.” This is very serious.
Power to the people. Remember Danny Conorquie.