Editorial — 05 March 2016
Thin edges of wedges

One day, according to this legend, an elderly Bedouin man discovered that by eating turkey he could restore his virility. So he bought himself a turkey and he kept it around the tent, and every day he watched it grow. He stuffed it with food, thinking, Wow, I am really going to be a bull. One day, though, the turkey was stolen. So the Bedouin called his sons together and said, “Boys, we are in great danger now – terrible danger. My turkey’s been stolen.” The boys laughed and said, “Father, what do you need a turkey for?” He said, “Never mind, never mind. It is not important why I need the turkey, all that is important is that it has been stolen, and we must get it back.” But his sons ignored him and forgot about the turkey. A few weeks later, the old man’s camel was stolen. His sons came to him and said, “Father, your camel’s been stolen, what should we do?” And the old man said, “Find my turkey.” A few weeks later, the old man’s horse was stolen, and the sons came and said, “Father, your horse was stolen, what should we do?” He said, “Find my turkey.” Finally, a few weeks later, someone raped his daughter. The father went to his sons and said, “It is all because of the turkey. When they saw that they could take my turkey, we lost everything.”

– pg. 89, FROM BEIRUT TO JERUSALEM, by Thomas L. Friedman, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1989

When we were children and expressed a wish to taste the seemingly harmless “rumpopo” which the adults were sipping, the old people would say to us, no, explaining that this rumpopo would be the “thin edge of the wedge.” Since rumpopo had a small amount of alcohol in it, the feeling was that it would amount to introducing us children to alcohol, and perhaps such an introduction would be the beginning of a love affair with alcohol which would lead to no good. In those days five and six decades ago, alcohol was the drug of choice, a legal choice, amongst the people of Belize, and its deadly effects could be observed daily in the disturbed behavior of our neighbourhood alcoholics.

The old people explained that a wedge, usually made of wood, had two edges – a thin one and a fat one. If you could get the thin edge of the wedge introduced into some opening where you wished to create greater separation, then the chances were good that you could drive in the rest of the wedge, up to the fat edge, and create the desired separation.

In our mid-week editorial, we were furious about two incidents which may have seemed harmless in themselves to some people, especially strangers to Belize. One was the announcement of a parking lot for the Princess Hotel and Casino inside the MCC Grounds, and the other was the entry of the Guatemalan military into the Belizean portion of the Sarstoon River on Saturday morning and their proceeding to prevent the Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV) from travelling up the Sarstoon to the Gracias a Dios border marker. We were furious because these were, to our vigilant minds, clearly “thin edge of the wedge” incidents.

For many years, the scuttlebutt has been that the hotel/casino, from its days as Ramada, wanted the MCC for parking, while most of you know that this Guatemalan claim to Belize goes way back into the nineteenth century. The matter of the Sarstoon River is the more serious, because the Guatemalan claim to Belize involves and threatens the existence of Belize as we know it.

Sometime in the 1970s, we would say, the British and the Americans, the leaders of the so-called “Friends of Belize,” began to pressure the Premier, Hon. George Price, and the ruling People’s United Party (PUP) into giving up some portion of Belizean land (at that time it was the Toledo District) in order to settle the Guatemalan claim to Belize, so that Belize could then go on to independence. Independence for Belize was an absorbing dream of Mr. Price’s, and it was being unusually delayed, so that there were times he must have been tempted to make a deal. The Opposition National Independence Party (NIP) under the leadership of Hon. Philip Goldson had, however, been very hard line against the Guatemalan claim throughout the 1960s, and whether the PUP were tempted to make a land cession deal or not, the historical fact is that the PUP rejected all land cession proposals and led Belize to independence on September 21, 1981, with all our territory intact.

The 1960s represented a decade during which imperial responsibility for British Honduras/Belize was being transferred from Great Britain to the United States of America. The key constitutional development during the decade was self-government for the colony in January of 1964. But there were at least two other notable developments in the 1960s, the disaster of Hurricane Hattie in 1961 which sparked waves of Belizean migration to the United States, and the Seventeen Proposals of 1968, which set out the satellite status which the United States envisioned for an independent Belize, with us having to consult, refer and defer to, Guatemalan authority in matters such as foreign affairs and defence.

Now it is an amazing reality that Belizean children have never been taught about the Guatemalan claim/threat in our schools, whereas Guatemalan children have been taught in their schools for several generations that Belize belongs to Guatemala. Great Britain held British Honduras as a colony from 1862 onwards and controlled our school system. The British would have never felt any physical danger from Guatemala, hence, we suppose, no need to prepare Belizean children for same. Constitutionally speaking, responsibility to Belize’s defence did not pass to Belizean hands until independence in 1981, so that September of 1981 was definitely a time when Belizean children should have begun to learn about Belize’s existential threat from the west and from the south. Such an education did not take place. Perhaps there was too much independence euphoria in 1981. Then, there was the change of government in 1984, and the new Prime Minister was determined to follow all of Washington’s instructions.

During these years, between 1981 and 1984, Guatemala was in the bloody depths of a murderous civil war which did not end officially until 1996. Guatemala is a racist state which oppresses her majority Indigenous population. In the United Nations and elsewhere, Guatemala’s closest friends were always apartheid South Africa, another racist state, which oppressed its majority black population, and violent Israel, another racist state, which had driven millions of Palestinians out of their ancestral homelands. All these three pariah nations were close allies and proven favorites of the United States of America. Under the United Democratic Party (UDP) from 1984 to 1989, then, Belize was competing with Guatemala for the favor of Washington. But Guatemala is the United States’ most important ally in Central America, Guatemala claims Belize, and the foreign policy of the United States calls for Guatemala to be pleased and appeased.

If Belize allows Guatemala to get away with what they did on Saturday morning and swallow the comments their Foreign Minister has made, then Guatemala will have gotten in the thin edge of the wedge, and Belize is doomed as we know it. This is not an emotional statement. This is how big time international relations works. Mr. Goldson knew this, and that is why he always operated as he did where the Guatemalan claim was concerned. Mr. Price operated as he did because he knew that if he ever fed the Guatemalan alligator a piece of meat, the alligator would want more. In March 2016, this buck stops on Mr. Barrow’s table.

Power to the people. Remember Danny. Big up, Wil.

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