Features — 06 April 2019
Belizean tribes and the ICJ

There’s been a lot of talking and writing, by Belizeans sharing their opinions on the decision we must make on April 10, or whenever we vote on the Special Agreement. It’s been a tense period, very interesting, and many people are still not certain about how they will vote. I have listened to everyone I got a chance to listen to, and I’ve read every opinion, every historical document I got my hands on. Yes, I am still a yes. But I’m hearing a lot of no’s around me.

I have heard the observation that Belizeans in the upper brackets are more likely to vote yes, and Belizeans who are not in the upper brackets are very suspicious about the matter. I haven’t looked closely at who is likely to vote what, but it jumped out at me while I was taking a little taste the other evening, that some tribes here are not participating in the discussion. This led me to what I’ll be writing here in my column.

My observations are not intended to spot the light in any way, negative or positive, on any of our many beautiful tribes. Also, it says nothing about who will come out to cast their ballots come referendum day. Please, I might be on base here, and I might not. But I don’t think it’s just my beer talking.

I have to surmise that Belizeans who have some origins around the disputed Jerusalem are supporting the yes vote. Two of the leaders of the yes vote, Assad Shoman and Lisa Shoman, are prominent attorneys with roots from around the disputed Jerusalem. I haven’t heard anyone from their tribe call them out.

The Mennonites continue going about milking their cows, and preparing their land, as usual. We haven’t seen any prominent Mennonite sticking their face on any billboard.

The Chinese, recent additions to the Belizean community and those who were born and raised here but have Chinese parentage, in general haven’t spoken on the ICJ. We read about a Facebook post from Lee Mark Chan, but that only had to do with the tribe’s fortunes on the local scene.

The East Indians, those who have recently arrived and those who’ve lived here for generations, aren’t out there on the ICJ. I believe they have more of an opinion on the yes and no than the Mennonites and the Chinese, but they are not loud in public.

One Garifuna leader, the eminent Dr. Ted Aranda, a man of many caps who was once a leader of the main Opposition party (between 1979 and 1982), is a vocal NO, but the illustrious Mr. Pen Cayetano is voting YES. The Garinagu seem divided on the ICJ. If we are looking for depth on Guatemala, Dr. Ted quite likely has a lot more on-the-ground knowledge about Guatemala than Pen, but maybe knowledge of Guatemala doesn’t count for much when we’re talking about the ICJ.

The Mestizos also seem to be divided on the ICJ. They have sent forth leaders who are in both camps. Ambassador Alexis Rosado is one of many prominent Mestizos who are voting yes, but Bobby Lopez is not alone in support of a resounding NO to the ICJ.

The Kriols, as usual, are divided. They are a vocal YES, with even a long deceased hero, Philip Goldson, splashed across a billboard. But the greater number of their heroes are championing a NO position.

The Mayas of Toledo have not declared a position. Belize would have loved to hear what Greg Choc has to say, but we haven’t heard from him. There are no Mayan leaders who have allowed their face to adorn any billboard, and at a number of forums individual leaders have expressed a negative view of the ICJ train.

If we look between the words, Mayan leader Pablo Mis, in an interview with Amandala’s Rowland Parks, appeared to suggest some wariness of the ICJ. Mis told Parks, “We want to ask the Belizean population to join the Maya people in rejecting and opposing any attempts to frustrate, intimidate or to coerce the decision of Belizeans with respect to whether this matter should go to the ICJ or not.”

He also said, “…we wrote the government, the Prime Minister, in October of 2017, informing him that the Mayan people are concerned, and they would like to see that a proper space be given to the representatives of the Maya people in the entire discussion and planning of how the country would like to resolve this matter. The immediate response of the Prime Minister basically was to the effect that the education campaign will be intensifying… Our fight has not been to the expense of turning over land to Guatemala, our fight has been very firm on the pillar that as a part of the Belizean family our duty is to the development of the people of Belize and of this young nation.”

In the absence of an articulated No from the South, I vote Yes

I had said, a way back when, that I would respect a declared NO position from Stann Creek and Toledo. I have a sense of what they are thinking, but it has not been spelled out in bold. So, I will go with the green flag.

A lot of people are suspicious of the International Court of Justice. I think their mistrust is unjustified.   There have been many complaints against the court, but always it is from countries that have beef. I have read a number of their judgments and me, I’m satisfied. I think the United Nations (International) Court of Justice battery of judges have their heads screwed on right.

Look, even if Guatemala had a strong case, which it doesn’t, there’s no way under the sun that the ICJ could turn the Mayas of Belize over to the Guatemalans. If they did that they would have to close down that blank.

Drinking quarrelsome rum

Ordinarily, a little drink brings out my best side, but recently I found myself quarreling, with myself (I usually drink alone – can’t get into any kind of trouble that way), you know, picking on things that are best left alone. There is no point in drinking if it makes you sour.

It’s this preposterous Guatemalan claim. They justify it with the argument that they need an outlet for the goods they produce in the Peten. Belize won’t deny them access to our ports at very reasonable terms, but they want sovereign rights. That, on the ground, translates to a kind of ownership, so we can’t entertain that.

Guatemala isn’t landlocked. It has a huge Pacific Ocean coast, and it has two ports on the Atlantic Ocean (Caribbean Sea). In that regard, Guatemala has better access than three of the seven countries in Central America. Honduras has a huge Atlantic Ocean coast, and one port on the Pacific Ocean. El Salvador has no Atlantic Coast and Belize has no Pacific Coast.

Flores, which is in the center of the Peten, is not that far away from the Gulf of Mexico. If Guatemala wants to ship goods by road to the USA and Canada, via the Atlantic side, they don’t have to go far to connect directly with the highway links in Mexico. And Belize isn’t about blocking them from our ports. But they can’t have sovereign rights.

This claim, it is rooted in racism and it is perpetuated by racism. The white oligarchy in Guatemala needs to get over September 10. That was over two hundred years ago.

I saw this old movie, The Adventures of Don Juan, and this girl at the court invited the hero to a tryst. Don Juan is about behaving himself, but he can’t resist. Ah, trouble follows him—the girl is engaged to be married and who should turn up in the garden when he is making his play, but the betrothed.

Don Juan immediately apologizes to the betrothed, tells the guy he is bowing out. Bah, the guy won’t accept an apology, he still wants to fight. After a time the girl gets fed up with her betrothed and says, “Why do you have to be—so Spanish?” (I think I got that right.)

Hmm, here’s this Guatemalan hero, Jose Luis Mendoza, who di gyal from the movie would have told—Stop being so, Spanish. My mind ran to him when this fellow couldn’t accept Don Juan bowing out, how that fellow still wanted a sword fight to the death. Mendoza wrote: “O’Neil [Spanish governor of Yucatán] had neither the name nor the soul of a Spaniard; if he had been a Spaniard, he would have defeated the Belizeans or gloriously succumbed under the fire of the British cannon, but he never would have discontinued the magnificent and glorious traditions of the Spanish arms, consecrated during centuries by their invincible soldiers who, while they had a breath of life in their bodies, did not cease to fight against the enemy, and preferred death before retreating a single foot. The cowardly flight of O’Neil has no precedence in the history of Spain and never had any followers.”

In this 1965 Caribbean Studies paper, Donald Grunewald responded this way: “Mendoza, the Guatemalan super-nationalist, vilifies Aycinena (Pedro de Aycinena) as having a weak personality. He casts doubt upon Aycinena’s patriotism by stating that Aycinena sacrificed the interests of his country on the altar of hatred of the United States and great admiration for Britain. This seems to be a rather harsh judgment on Aycinena. It must be remembered that at this time Britain was the leading nation of the world and Guatemala was one of the weakest, being torn by internal revolts and external threats of filibustering expeditions. Guatemala had need of a powerful friend.”

(Pedro de Aycinena was the point man for Guatemala when they signed the 1859 Treaty.)

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Deshawn Swasey

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