Features — 05 May 2018
UN told them to get off that

I am, like almost all Belizeans, a very interested party in the ongoing to-go or not-to-go discussions re the ICJ. I do not consider my opinions “expert”, but on this one we have to sleep wid wi own eye, as they say. I read; I listen; I try to understand. My opinions on the matter are about sharing, not so much about winning souls. I believe I understand the “no” vote. I lean “yes”.

Brother Clinton Canul Luna said in his column last week that if we go to the ICJ, he wouldn’t be “surprised that probably Belize may lose a southern part of its territory.” Before I go on, I must point out that the United Nations already ruled on Belizean territory, in 1981. The United Nations ruled that the rights of the Belizean people trump any claims by Guatemala that she inherited this territory from Spain.

In the 1850’s, we see the US flexing (showing their muscles to the British) with the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty, and the Dallas Clarendon Treaty. Let’s go back a little further, to the 1820’s and the Monroe Doctrine, which stated that the United States would discipline any nation that set about invading countries in this hemisphere and taking away their land. This Monroe Doctrine apparently did not apply to the US, because in the 1840’s we see them invading and taking away land from Mexico. Let’s leave that last at that.

In 1859 we have this treaty, Convention, between Great Britain and Guatemala. Article Seven of the agreement says the two parties will conjointly build a CART ROAD “near the settlement of Belize” (in Guatemala) for the purpose of increasing business in the area. The Collins English dictionary describes a cart road as a rough track or road in a rural area.

A Captain Wray from England joins a counterpart from Guatemala, and they set about surveying/estimating the cost of this road. In British Honduras: Colonial Dead End, 1859-1900 (a US published book, by a US national (I think) Wayne M. Clegern), we see Captain Wray saying in his report, which he presented in early 1861, that the cart road would cost 145,000 pounds. When the British get this estimate, they balk.

Charles Lennox Wyke, the architect (British side) of the 1859 Treaty, later said that he and the representative from Guatemala, Pedro de Aycinena, had estimated this CART ROAD at 80,000 pounds, definitely not more than 100,000 pounds. When we have the Supplementary Convention in 1863, for the building of this dirt road, we see the British agreeing to spend 50,000 pounds, for their contribution.

The water all around is a little muddied up by a clique in Guatemala that is being egged on by some Americans, but what emerges, clear for everyone to see, is that the Guatemalans fail to ratify this Convention because they are busy fighting a war with El Salvador. So, the cart road isn’t built.

Toward the end of the 19th century there were discussions about a railway. But the cart road business remains an issue. All during this period, Guatemala insisted on the 50,000 pounds. Incidentally, the UK inflation calculator says that one pound in 1850 had the purchasing power of 126 pounds in 2017. Continuing on a straight line, 50,000 pounds in 1850 would be worth 6,300,000 pounds in 2018 money.

 Time passed, and passed the cart road by. As mentioned earlier, the idea of a railway from Belize through the Peten was on the table. But some historians say the Guatemalans didn’t have the money to put up for their share of the project. (It is argued in some quarters that the cart road was never built because Guatemala didn’t want to fork up its half, 50,000 pounds)

We Belizeans know the British well. It is not lost that the US did a lot of whispering in the ear of the Guatemalan oligarchy, to pressure the British. That new nation (US) liked to embarrass their former colonial masters. The Americans are big spenders, the British are El Cheapos.

Sparrow and his song writers knew the British well, and they skyandal them in song: That is why the girls dem love the Yanki, because he will say, Baby, the change is yours; But the Englishman hihn just faysi, all he will use is big words and diplomacy; Telling her you are so lovable, and so kissable, but it is regrettable that I cannot recompense you more adequately for the services you bestowed on me.

We shouldn’t be too hard on the British for their frugality, especially when they are compared with the Americans. The physical territory of the United Kingdom is but 1/40th that of the United States of America.

Anyway, we arrive at 1968, and to “appease” (the Guatemalan clique) for the cart road that is no longer needed or wanted, we get the Webster’s Proposals. I am the type who won’t throw dirt on a devil, so hear what I think the British are after during this period.

First, the British float the idea of Belize joining the ill-fated West Indian Federation. Remember, we are a very small country, and Guatemala has almost all of Central America hostile towards us. Belize rejects Federation.

So then, the British agree to an American mediator, Bethuel Webster, who introduces his proposals in 1968. Effectively, Guatemala will replace the British as colonial masters. The proposals are impossible. Belizeans reject Webster.

I don’t recall exactly when the British suggest that Belize cede some land in the deep south, to Guatemala, to get them to relinquish their “paper claim”. But their why is pretty obvious. The Guatemalan oligarchy has stated that it will wait for an opportune time, which would be when the British left Belize or were occupied elsewhere, to force its claim upon Belize. For the British, this is the safest passage for Belize if it wants to be an independent nation.

But Belizeans have ruled from the Hondo to the Sarstoon since the early 1800’s, and they see the Guatemalan claim for what it is: a claim on a territory they never owned, never occupied, never developed, and never administered. The Belizean Prime Minister declares the position of Belize: not one square centimeter.

The Heads of Agreement roll in, in 1981, and again the payment for the cart road is too steep. Particularly onerous is an agreement to allow Guatemala to run pipelines (for oil) to Belize City, Dangriga, and Punta Gorda. This deal is bad and Belizeans rise up against it. Indeed, many Guatemalans would have been disappointed in Belize if we had agreed to that.

The nations around the world see that we are a distinct people, culturally different from Guatemala. And we’re not short on fiber. Check 1798, 1919, 1968, 1981. The claims of Guatemala about some inheritance from Spain are spiritless ashes when put beside the rights of a people to determine their future within their borders. The United Nations almost unanimously vote for Belize to become an independent nation.

But Belize is expected to continue trying to be a good neighbor, and it is in that spirit that the Maritime Areas Act (MAA) is passed in 1992. A progressive government in Guatemala recognizes Belize and sends an ambassador to our country. The MAA will play an essential part in a deal which former PM, Said Musa, said took us the closest to resolving the unfounded claim.

In his book, With malice toward none, Musa said that we had “boxed Guatemala into a corner when we gained our independence with the overwhelming support of the United Nations for our sovereignty and territorial integrity.” He wrote that, “As far back as 1975, the first UN resolution had already circumscribed the scope of the Guatemalan claim to Belize when it declared that Belize was to become independent with all its territory and with security.”

The Ramphal/Reichler Proposals (2002) isn’t a “mere” variation of the Webster’s Proposals, as CC Luna suggested. These proposals stayed in the vein of the United Nations declaration that Belize is an independent nation, from the Rio Hondo to the Sarstoon. Ramphal/Reichler encompassed the MAA, but it made no mention of any oil pipelines running through Belize. Ramphal/Reichler said it would be good if Belize and Guatemala improved trade relations and, as good neighbors, gave each other preferential treatment.

The Guatemala oligarchy, straight out of the pages of 1492, rejected the proposals. And so we are to meet up at the ICJ.

Guatemala is still foraging in the archives in Spain to find some document which says that Belize is theirs. It would be a treat to see their presenters when they make their claim before the ICJ at The Hague. I won’t be surprised if their female presenter steps out in a Miss Havisham dress, and their male presenter enters the court in full plate armor. I bet they will both arrive at the court in a gaily decorated horse-drawn carriage.

Forty or so years ago, the United Nations told the oligarchy in Guatemala to get over it. But a few people over there, far less than the 25% that were seduced to vote in their referendum, have trouble getting the sense that the boat, Belize, sailed 200 years ago.

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Deshawn Swasey

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