Features — 26 May 2018
A “YES” vote could play out okay

First of all, let’s get this absolutely clear: Guatemala’s legal case against Belize rides solely on the interpretations of certain Guatemalans and certain Americans. In his, Pocket Guide to the Referendum on the ICJ, Dr. Assad Shoman, Belize’s leading expert on the matter, wrote, on page 23, that,”No independent international lawyer has concluded that Guatemala has any rights over the territory of Belize.”

So, why is Guatemala going to court if she knows she is going to lose? There is not a short answer to that. We would not be having a good day if we believe that all Guatemalan leaders are consumed with the “Get back Belize” madness. There are leaders in Guatemala who are civilized, not greedy human beings.

I think the best answer, the most noble, was given by our late ambassador, Fred Martinez. He said that Guatemala wants to take a leadership role in the world, and to do that she must seek a civil solution to its claim.

If we go back in history, long before any of our times, there was a Captaincy of Guatemala which consisted of five or six provinces, one of which was Guatemala. Guatemala wasn’t the kingdom, it was just a state. But in the psychology of things, we can see how our neighbor to the west got to feeling like they were “numero uno”. Guatemala considered herself the leader of the Central American Republic (formed around 1821). At different times, Guatemala had issues with Mexico, and Honduras, and El Salvador.

No surprise, Guatemala had problems with Belize (which it still has).

Guatemala fell totally from grace when it massacred 200,000 of its people. The repercussions of that genocide still has Guatemala reeling. It is this terrible horror, and her inability to deal with criminals in high places, which forced Guatemala to accept the CICIG (International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala).

Don’t get confused by the Guatemalans and the Americans. Yes, the Americans are in this. Here’s one reason why. America got its independence from the British in 1776. To hear them tell it, this independence was solely about the brilliance of their war generals, George Washington and others, and the heroics of Paul Revere. But this is not true. At the time, 1776, the British were an envied world power. They were fighting wars all over the place, and they were under attack from various European nations, particularly the French.

Of course there is glory to go around.The USA has its heroes. But the real for the British is that they had to choose which colony to give up, and it chose to yield in the USA sphere, most likely because the dominant tribe there was British stock. Remember that the British are the authors of the modern economic system. They could still get their profits from their cousins in the USA, through trade.

If we consider what PM Said Musa had to say on the compromis (a few paragraphs down), we see that it does give the Guatemalans a peep, allow them a leap of faith, give them a straw to clutch on, that the ICJ might choose to find something to give them to ease their pain. Our negotiators must have considered things, and chose to sign on because “easing Guat pain” would be outside the bounds that guide the decisions of the ICJ.

It might very well be that those who are consumed with lust for their neighbor, decided that they are not getting any anyway, so what do they have to lose.

They might also have weighed the matter on the scales and realized that they could get a YES at home, and a NO in Belize, which would give them an”image edge” over Belize. In the pocket guide, Assad says if we vote NO, “We will lose international support and understanding for our cause.” Some Belizeans see this as threatening Belizeans. Absolutely not! We really can’t be about getting people (nations) to support our cause, and then have no respect for their views. Remember, it was “international support and understanding for our cause” that made the nations of the world tell Guatemala, in 1981, to stand back.

Coming back to the Americans and their behavior around here, they have won their independence, 1776, and they are about to flex. When Columbus grounded on the shores of the Caribbean islands, Spain flexed big time. Other countries jumped in for a piece of the action. The Americans saw the time as their turn. But the British weren’t about going away.The Americans sent out the filibusters, and the British did not encourage them.

What is the Guatemalan claim? They say it (1859) is a treaty of cession, and we did not compensate. In the background are two treaties between the British and the Americans, which are about deciding the way forward in these parts: the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty (1850), and the Dallas-Clarendon Treaty (1856).

Ai, I have yet to read a Guatemalan or American opinion on these treaties that considers all the facts. All the notes surrounding these treaties are ignored. In his book, A Compendium of Relevant Documents (The Guatemalan Claim to Belize), Ambassador James S. Murphy produces notes from respected historians (R. A. Humphreys, L. M. Bloomfield), and the international lawyer, Sir Elihu Lauterpacht and his research team, which clearly show where the arguments of the Guatemalans don’t hold water.

The Guatemalans need their incorrect interpretation of Clayton-Bulwer, and the failure of Dallas- Clarendon, to support their incorrect interpretation of the 1859 treaty as one of cession, not a boundary formality.

Ah, when we come to the 1859 treaty, the Guatemalans are suddenly relying on notes exchanged between the architects, Wyke and Aycinena, and their respective governments. With some careful cherry picking, they try to make a case of land cession (ceding what wasn’t theirs). Our authorities, our Assad Shoman and our David Gibson and our James Murphy, can tell us how hard these neighbors of ours worked to believe their story. But truth cannot be suppressed forever. In 1931, they back off, and the border line is finalized on the ground.

Our authorities can tell us why the Guatemalans picked up the claim again, after the exchange of notes. But we non-experts can be satisfied with the knowledge that it takes a lot, sometimes, to convince some people. An overwhelming vote at the UN did not convince them. And the Ramphal-Reichler proposals did not convince them.

Both the 1968 Webster’s Proposals and the 2002 Ramphal-Reichler Proposals featured American lawyers. One great difference is that Webster was dealing with a colony in 1968, and Reichler, in 2002, was dealing with an independent nation supported by the nations of the world. You know we have to thank Father of the Nation, and friends. But it must not be forgotten how hard Hero of the Nation, Goldson,and friends, had to work to steer them on the path to glory.

Some Belizeans argue that the compromis does not serve Belize. In his concise explanation of 1998-2008, PM Musa said, “PUP administrations had already boxed Guatemala into a corner when we gained our independence with the overwhelming support of the United Nations for our sovereignty and territorial integrity.” PM Said appears to agree with some Belizeans that the compromis gives the Guatemalans “too much room to manoeuver.” It does seem to allow the Guatemalans a leap of faith.

Again, our negotiators might have chosen to sign on because the risk of the ICJ trying to squeeze in a little appeasement, weighs far less than this constant eroding of goodwill between neighbors. And it would be a precedent, outside the bounds that guide the decisions of the ICJ.

What our negotiators did not consider, was the reaction Belizeans would have to us agreeing to have Guatemala claim our land in court. All our negotiators saw was that the claim was very weak, didn’t stand a chance.

The trouble for Belize is that there is some lose in both decisions. Assad explained about a NO vote. And if we say YES, we could look like wimps. Fortunately, our YES vote could play out okay. We are, as Ambassador Martinez suggested, helping our neighbor on the way to respectability.

A YES vote, with dignity, calls for unity. And leaders who are big enough for the moment. Unity will be difficult to get, but there is no shortage of leaders who are up to the task. When we get the right leadership in place, hopefully the rest will follow.

Lazaro is still a hero

I see where C Canul Luna produced a report which showed that the great Mexican hero, Lazaro Cardenas, supported the Guatemalan claim in 1940. Belize was a colony then, with little or no aspirations to become an independent nation.

Mexico voted for Belize to become an independent nation in 1981. In 1954, Guatemala, with a little help from United Fruit and the USA, returned to the Dark Ages.

No, I have not read all of Guatemala’s “White Book.” But every Guatemalan and American writing on the Guatemalan claim, refers to it, uses it, to forward Guatemalan ambition. You can bet that they cherry picked the best for their end.

It is perfectly understandable that Cardenas would have expressed support for the Guatemalan claim. In 1940, Belize was a colony. I think that’s all we need to know about that story.

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Deshawn Swasey

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