Belize, the independent and sovereign nation on the Central American mainland “in the heart of the Caribbean basin,” should let the republic of Guatemala, the region, and the world know that the new status quo at the Sarstoon River is not acceptable. Over the last year there has been a pattern of Guatemalan military aggression at the Sarstoon River, punctuated by two critical, disrespectful statements by the Guatemalan Foreign Minister, which has resulted in a de facto Guatemalan control of the Sarstoon River which constitutes a violation of Belize’s southern border.
A lot of media and public attention has been focused on the sometimes quixotic remarks and behavior of the Belizean Foreign Minister, but, to a certain extent, Hon. Sedi Elrington has been a distraction. It is the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister of Belize to whom the attention should have been paid. Mr. Elrington speaks and acts for and on behalf of the Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, and for and on behalf of the Cabinet which Mr. Barrow leads and dominates.
The way the political system in Belize works, the power of the Prime Minister is very, very great. We all know this by now. Belizean Prime Ministers can push around anyone in Belize, and this must give our Prime Ministers awesome personal pride, confidence, and satisfaction. When Belizean Prime Ministers have to deal with the hostile republic of Guatemala, however, there is a noticeable change in their attitude and behavior. The same domestic power which is so enjoyable, flattering even, becomes a source of crushing responsibility for the single, mortal individual who is the Prime Minister of Belize. The same man who is almost monarchical in Belize, becomes hesitant and unsure of himself when confronted by Guatemalan aggression.
In May of last year an accident occurred at the Sarstoon Island in the Sarstoon River involving personnel of the Belize Coast Guard and the Guatemalan armed forces. The details of the incident remain murky. And they should not be. The Loyal Opposition in Belize should have demanded a commission of inquiry. The Belize Coast Guard, which has appeared on various occasions to be the most cocksure and aggressive of Belize’s security forces, had taken up a position on the Sarstoon Island, which belongs to Belize, doing reconnaissance preparatory to building a forward operating base there. They were challenged by the Guatemalan armed forces in the area, Guatemalan military elements which had gotten away a couple months before with public bullying of unarmed Belizean civilians visiting the Sarstoon and the Gracias a Dios border marker. The reports are that it was the Prime Minister of Belize who instructed the Belize Coast Guard to “stand down.” In retrospect, this was a decision by the Belize Prime Minister which was a mistake. He was, no doubt, erring on the side of caution, and his political party, the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP), accepted his decision without hesitation or question.
On the other side of the political landscape, the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) was unable to galvanize itself and mobilize the Belizean people around the Sarstoon Island “stand down.” Such issue inertia had become characteristic of the PUP over a period of years. That PUP state of affairs is a long story, and what it involved was the party having been taken over, we submit, by special interests, an internal cartel. In Belize City especially, the population center and traditional source of spontaneous protest on emotional political issues, the evidence shows that the Francis Fonseca PUP never enjoyed enough credibility to march in the streets of the old capital.
The smaller political groups, led by COLA and the PNP, raised a fuss, if we remember correctly, but the UDP had already won two elections earlier last year, a bye-election in Cayo North in January and national municipal elections in March, the Petro Caribe money was continuing to roll, and so nothing really came of the PM’s “stand down” call. In session after session with the media, Mr. Barrow absolutely refused to discuss the matter. And the body politic of Belize allowed him to so refuse. The Guatemalans seized the opportunity and commandeered the Sarstoon. It is time for Belize to stand up. In fact, it is past time.
The Government of Belize allowed the Guatemalans to mix up their Sarstoon aggression with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) proposal. Mr. Barrow’s administration may have been of the opinion that a little Guatemalan fire under Belizeans’ rear would push us in the direction of an ICJ resolution (the desired resolution of the Americans and the British.) We don’t know if this has been the case: it is possible that the opposite may have taken place, that Belizeans may have become angry instead of being intimidated.
In 2016, the Guatemalan claim to Belize is more serious than it has ever been because the interests of huge transnational corporations are increasingly involved. The leaderships of both the ruling UDP and the Opposition PUP are basically neoliberal in their economic development philosophies. What this means from day to day is that both the UDP and the PUP accept the various prescriptions and suggestions which come from the financial and political centers of power in Washington. Guatemala represents a neoliberal ideal, and has been the United States of America’s most consistent and important ally in Central America. Belize is in a tricky spot, because the vast majority of our citizens, both at home and abroad, are pro-American in their outlook.
There is a feeling in a few quarters that Belize should be willing to share its natural resources with the oppressed masses in Guatemala. Belize has always been a compassionate neighbor. But if we gave the land and sea of Belize to Guatemala today or tomorrow, it is not the oppressed Guatemalan masses who would benefit. Belize would only enter the insatiably voracious maw of the cruel Guatemalan oligarchy/military.
We must remember that we also have impoverished masses in Belize. The first concern of our political leaders should be, how do we go about making a better life for the Belizean people. As the lady Therese Belisle Nweke pointed out Sunday morning on Ya Ya Marin’s show, the first concern of Belizean politicians has been to fill their pockets. This must change. Stand up, Belize.
Power to the people. Remember Danny Conorquie. Honor Staff Sgt. Richard Lambey. Big up, Wil Maheia.