Editorial — 12 June 2019
We must take control of our country

You have to be careful about bending because if you bend too far you might hurt yourself. Everyone, everything has a breaking point. The healthiest, sturdiest trees will break in a storm. The toughest man will wise up and cry “uncle” if a policeman grabs his arm and bends it behind his back.

In the celebrated movie, Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye, the hero, breaks tradition and bends for his two eldest daughters, but when his third eldest daughter, Chava, marries out of the Jewish faith, Tevye says, if I bend that far I will break. In probably his most famous speech, at the United Kingdom’s darkest hour during World War II, Sir Winston Churchill, pressed to accept surrender by senior parliamentarians, said it was his observation that “Nations that went down fighting rose again, but those who surrendered tamely were finished.” (quote from www.goodreads.com)

Belizean leaders are bullies at home, but they have been bending like a coconut tree in a hurricane before our neighbor to the west. Leaders who invite violence are sick individuals, and leaders who bend too far or too often, flirt with marring the psyche of their nations permanently. Our leaders apparently are not aware of the damage that has been and is being done to us with this Sarstoon situation, and the constant raiding of the Chiquibul and Columbia forests.

The president of the big neighbor to the north, the USA, insists that his country needs a wall to keep out immigrants from countries to its south – Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador. We don’t want to go to the USA to raid that country’s territory: we want to go there because we don’t have jobs at home, and they have.

The plundering of our forest reserves has more than negative psychological implications for Belize. The Chiquibul in particular is an environmental prize that must be preserved. The PACT website (www.pactbelize.org) says, “The headwaters of the Belize River, which originate from within the Chiquibul, are being degraded as a result of ongoing illegal gold panning. The Chiquibul River provides water to roughly 40% of Belize’s population, making the conservation and protection of these headwaters very important.”

When a government of Belize decided to create two dams in this area, the Challilo and the Vaca, for the purpose of providing hydroelectricity for the nation, it didn’t get the go-ahead without a fight. Many environmental experts weighed in because they felt the cost was too high, that there would be too much damage to the forest, and the water would be contaminated.

The website, http://biological-diversity.info/chalillo, said, of the Chalillo, “The proposed hydro lake will flood 1459 acres or 590 ha of this habitat. The area of ‘Deciduous broadleaf riparian shrubland in hills’ along the Macal + Raspaculo that will disappear in the hydro lake is 34% of the Macal habitat surface or 21% of the national surface.”

What the government did to the forest, after a tough fight, Guatemalan citizens are doing with little resistance from Belize. Panning for gold in the creeks in the Chiquibul national forest is done under strict licenses, and cutting down valuable plants and trees, poaching endangered birds, hunting animals, cutting land to make milpas, even make pastures, are strictly prohibited.

Forest cover is critical to our local environment and by extension to the world’s climate. Protecting the trees is essential to the preservation of the watershed.  When the trees go, the watershed goes. If you give up your watershed you are not giving up your soul, but you are giving up your life.

The forest is the world’s umbrella, and it is also the world’s great conserver of water. The roots of big trees go deep and they absorb water, preventing it from escaping into the earth. When the trees go, the shade goes, the water goes, and the temperature rises. Belize is putting a lot of investment into tourism, but if the temperature gets any hotter in our country, it will turn people away.

All people are sacred; we are all citizens of the earth. Guatemala’s citizens are equal with us under God, but we live in different spaces, under different laws. We have our way of doing things, and they have their way of doing things. A border is an important tool that is put in place so that groups of people can manage their natural resources the way they deem is right, and guard their way of life.

An individual has a right to some private space, and a nation has a right to some private space. Animals are territorial too. A dog will stake out its private territory, and a bird will stake out its territory. It is the way of people and animals. If people and animals don’t have a little private space, they fight.

There are human beings who don’t appreciate borders. That’s either because sophistication has made them lose their bearings, or because they possess a nature that makes them want to be bosom friends with everybody. They are a distinct minority.

Guatemala is a big country. They can give up some of their enormous military spending, enormous by the region’s standards, and find placement for those desperate persons who are disrespecting our forest. We have to stop bending before Guatemala. They have been relentless in their pursuit of Belize’s territory and even though Belize was able to get a resounding victory at the United Nations in 1980, a declaration which said we should become an independent country with all our territory intact, they were able to force us into a 2019 decision to go to court, the International Court of Justice.

Some Belizean leaders have been selling the story that we were the ones who forced Guatemala to go to court. They argue that we were able, through skillful diplomacy and some strategic help from our friends, to get Guatemala to accept going to court based on law. Guatemala has stated that they were the ones who pushed Belize to go to court.

It is obvious that we are the ones who are spinning the truth here. The ostrich couldn’t handle it, so he hid his head in the sand. The truth is that our leaders have made many offers to this country and they spurned every one. Our leaders made offers for the sole reason that Guatemala is a bully.

Many Belizeans believe that no offers should have been made and should be made to Guatemala. They have no rights here and the world already told them that Belize is not their territory. Many Belizeans are frustrated by this decision to go to court. However, it is a fact that we decided in a referendum to go to the ICJ. We must decide where we go from here. We shouldn’t sit around waiting for the court to make its judgment.

The Belize government must tell the Guatemalan government and the world that we have bent over as far as we possibly could. We agreed to go to court with them even though we don’t know exactly what they will claim. We don’t know what the court will determine, but until then we are managing this territory as per our constitution. We have a precious forest to protect.

We must open a line in the adjacency zone immediately, and we must expand our FCD (Friends for Conservation and Development), and we must send in some of our troops, and we must invite Friends of Belize to send in some troops, so the violation of the Chiquibul Forest Reserve and the Columbia Forest Reserve comes to an end.

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Deshawn Swasey

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