In this third millennium world of social media, it appears that a lot of people have appointed themselves experts on a lot of matters. The problem is that such self-appointed, sometimes attention-seeking, “experts” are not held accountable, do not hold themselves accountable, when their opinions prove to be flawed or inaccurate. Newspapers like ours have to be substantially more careful than those who operate in the social media. There are matters which involve Belize’s national psyche. Such matters can be delicate.
As the arrogant Guatemalan government, oligarchy and military turn up the pressure on the people of Belize, the level of stress and anxiety in The Jewel increases. At such a time, for sure, strong, mature, consistent, legitimate leadership is at a premium in Belize. In Biblical terms, one would say that the flock needs their shepherd more than ever when big, bad wolves are circling and howling.
Even if there were no Guatemalan claim to Belize to increase our national angst, there would still be an unacceptable level of stress in the daily lives of Belizeans, because of a series of financial and economic events over the past few years which have been negative to the point of being traumatic.
Party politics in Belize is an emotional, often frenzied, exercise which offers partisan solutions to some serious, longstanding, socio-economic problems in Belize, partisan solutions which emphasize excessive loyalty to the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) or, conversely, to the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP). The fact of the matter is that we Belizeans inherited a crippled, colonial economy from our British masters when we achieved self-government in 1964, and we have been struggling to feed, clothe, house, educate, and provide health care for our citizens from the time we first began to become responsible for ourselves. In a sense, our national stress is chronic, because our history as a people is a history of oppression, and our country’s wealth was exploited in order for the United Kingdom to become more wealthy and glorious. Belizeans were victims of the British for centuries.
When Belize’s anti-colonial revolution began in 1950, and party politics, as we now know it, became a feature of our national landscape the following year, the difference between the two political parties – the PUP and the National Party (NP), was fundamental, stark in fact. The PUP was anti-British: the NP was pro-British. 67, 68 years later, the differences between the UDP, which is the lineal successor to the NP, and the PUP are no longer as philosophically significant as the differences between the PUP and the NP were in 1951.
The two major parties fight tooth-and-nail in the modern era for political power because the Government of Belize is the largest employer in the nation-state of Belize, the Government of Belize enjoys monarchical power over this society, and the political party in power is much, much better able to take care of its supporters than the party in Opposition.
But, the Belizean economy has never been able to escape its oppressive, colonial past insofar as providing food, clothing, housing, education and health care for the masses of the Belizean people. We have not been able to provide same. In 2018, almost half of Belize’s population is living in poverty. In other words, when the UDP and the PUP fight with each other, it is for what little wealth there is in Belize generated by the Belizean economy. From the standpoint of socio-economics, then, we Belizeans are in a state of permanent division because of the party political scramble for the crumbs off international white supremacy’s table.
When it comes to the issue of the Guatemalan claim, however, an issue which we understand to be an existential one for Belize, there should not be a reason for Belizeans to be divided. That is because all patriotic Belizeans desire the same thing — a sovereign Belize with all our territory intact. The Guatemalan republic is questioning Belize’s sovereignty and threatening The Jewel’s territorial integrity. Who amongst us Belizeans is not opposed to such a question and such a threat?
In 1950 and 1951, the Guatemalan threat divided Belizeans because pro-British Belizeans wanted Buckingham Palace to rule and defend us, while anti-British Belizeans believed the real problem where Belize’s poverty, ignorance, and disease were concerned, was Buckingham Palace and British colonialism. That much is clear.
In 2018, both the UDP and the PUP are essentially Christian, democratic, free market political parties, at least where their rhetoric is concerned, and Belize moved past the British to achieve political independence in 1981. There’s not as much dividing the UDP and the PUP in 2018 as there was dividing the PUP and the NP in 1951.
It being the case that the leaderships of both the UDP and the PUP understand that they have to respond to pressure from the superpower United States of America when either of Belize’s two major political parties is in power, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) arbitration matter, is not a bitterly divisive one at the level of the top leaderships in the UDP and the PUP. In fact, both the UDP Leader/Prime Minister, Dean O. Barrow, and the PUP Leader, John Briceño, have expressed their personal support for ICJ arbitration. At the lower levels of leadership in both the UDP and the PUP, however, there is a lot of debate and dissension re: ICJ.
The Cabinet-level people in the UDP appear to be pushing for the ICJ. The PUP big wigs are hedging their bets. There is even a small but influential element in the PUP which is cutely saying, “No ICJ under the UDP,” which leaves some observers with the impression that the ICJ would be all right for that element if they and the PUP were in power. You see how murky the waters are re: ICJ in the two major parties?
It is on the ground in the streets and countryside of Belize where the ICJ controversy has heated up following a Guatemalan referendum vote on Sunday, April 15, in favor of taking the Guatemalan claim to the ICJ. So then, the issue of whether or not to go to the ICJ has become a critical, national issue in Belize, and it would appear the ICJ matter, scheduled to go to referendum in Belize in 2019, will become inextricably intertwined with Belize’s general election campaign of 2020.
Overall, Belizeans have been under stress because of a collapsing economy and because of monstrous financial court judgments against Belize in favor of Lord Michael Ashcroft. To compound matters, the Prime Minister, Mr. Barrow, travels out of the country repeatedly on extended visits, on the last two occasions of which he left one of his Corozal area representatives who has no national profile to act as Prime Minister in his absence.
On Wednesday he brought back Sedi Elrington, his embattled Foreign Minister, to speak on the worsening Sarstoon River situation. Elrington had been put on the shelf for two weeks while the Government of Belize tried to see if Alexis Rosado, Belize’s Ambassador to Guatemala, would do a better job of answering media questions. In fact, on Wednesday of this week, we submit, it should have been Mr. Barrow himself to answer the Belizean media’s questions.
With respect to Mr. Barrow personally, he has had at least two different back surgeries to alleviate pain over the years. This is not a situation which appears to be improving, and the spinal cord, which is the main support for a human being’s entire skeletal structure, is an area of extreme sensitivity.
On the political side, Mr. Barrow’s party is in a leadership crisis because the two leading candidates to succeed him, Faber and Saldivar, are embroiled in different controversies. But, there was a time when Mr. Barrow was supposed to be preparing to hand over UDP leadership, since he himself will definitely not lead the UDP into the 2020 general election campaign. The question now is: will he lead the UDP, and the entire nation-state of Belize, into the 2019 ICJ national referendum?
Where Belizeans’ increasing and undesirable level of anxiety is concerned, leadership of the ruling party cum the nation-state is becoming a troubling consideration. To repeat, even if ad nauseam, the Guatemalan claim to Belize is an existential matter for Belize, so that, this is what ICJ arbitration becomes by extension – existential. That means life or death, Jack. Long live Belize.
Power to the people.