Editorial — 12 February 2009
“The Church was the first big moneylender in Guatemala – and a sizeable landowner. By 1700 the Church owned 5 of the 8 large sugar mills. It served as the ‘right arm’ of the ruling class, and provided the institutional and ideological underpinning for the pacification of the Indians.”
– Susanne Jonas, “Guatemala, Land of Eternal Struggle,” in Ronald Chilcote and Joel Edelstein (Eds.), Latin America: The Struggle with Dependency, (Cambridge: Schenkman, 1974), pg. 111
Natural resources wise, Guatemala is one of the most spectacular countries in the world. The problem in Guatemala, as it was in South Africa, is greed. A neo-European minority, using violence, and the support of the dominant Roman Catholic Church, seized an excessive amount of Guatemala’s land and resources, leaving the majority, indigenous population little on which to survive and grow.
As was the case from the time Christopher Columbus landed in the so-called New World in 1492, the Roman Church supported the Europeans and neo-Europeans because they were Christians, and the clergy considered the indigenous peoples to be heathens who needed to abandon their traditional beliefs and traditions.
The contradictions in Guatemala led to a bloody civil war between 1966 and 1996, in which more than 200,000 indigenous Guatemalans were slaughtered by various military governments representing the neo-European elite. Until the presidency of Jimmy Carter between 1976 and 1980, the government of the United States supported the military governments of Guatemala with arms, training, and grant aid, but that support, suspended by the humanitarian Carter, was resumed as soon as Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency in 1981.
The logic of the American foreign policy experts was that Guatemala was ferociously anti-communist, and a solid ally of the United States. Pragmatism therefore demanded that Washington turn a blind eye to the injustices and violence in Guatemala.
There was a time when Guatemala had more lands than she needed for her population, but the greed of the oligarchy was chronic, and it was insatiable. Across Guatemala’s eastern border, there was a British colony which had pristine lands and a small population. Ideally and theoretically, if Guatemala obtained a chunk of Belize’s territory, then her oppressed millions could get some farmlands. The chances are, however, that greed would prevail amongst the ruling Guatemalan oligarchy, because it always has. They would take from Sibun to Sarstoon for their oligarchical selves, and the neoliberal party would continue. For sure, their helicopter-owning super rich would spend Easter and summer vacations in their luxury yachts at Ranguana, and Sapodilla, and Hunting, and so on and so forth.
At this newspaper, we believe it is important that the Roman Catholic Church in Belize, the largest religion here just as it is in Guatemala, declare its position on the claim. Our Belizean lives and livelihoods are at stake in this matter. The Roman Catholic Church in Belize is in charge of educating more of our Belizean children than any other religion in our church-state educational system. This is a very serious power held by the same organization which dominates the spiritual lives of Guatemala’s neo-European elite.
Belizeans who are doing well for themselves have tried to marginalize us as raving radicals where this issue is concerned, but Amandala is the leading newspaper in Belize, and has been so for a long time. The Roman Catholic Church cannot continue to have its cake and eat it too. We Belizeans will not allow our country to be partitioned to suit Guatemala’s interests. It doesn’t matter to us that they are Christians. So were the perpetrators of apartheid in South Africa – they worshipped a version of Jesus Christ Who was supposed to bless their institutionalized racism. The contradictions were incredible. But, that’s white supremacy for you.
Guatemala, the apologists say, needs to save face where her “claim” is concerned. We say, however, that what the Guatemalan oligarchy really needs is greed counseling. Who better to counsel the Guatemalan elite than their religious shepherds?
This editorial was sparked by a letter to the editor this week from Paul Rodriguez, a letter which revealed that the Cabinet Secretary, a former Roman Catholic priest, had met with the Belize Council of Churches in order to gain their support for the ICJ agenda. We were spooked by that. Absolutely.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow has taken a strange and troubling position on this matter. He will vote yes for ICJ, he says, but he will not pressure his supporters to do so. His Foreign Minister, Sedi Elrington, is, however, out on a limb in favor of the ICJ agenda. And now comes news that the Cabinet Secretary is soliciting church leadership support so that they can sell ICJ to their flocks.
The time has come when everybody in Belize has to say where they stand. The Pope in Rome will seek to be both Guatemalan and Belizean at the same time. But the Rotary slogan, for “it” to be “beneficial for all concerned,” is simplistic. The Guatemalan claim can’t be beneficial for all. It is a confrontational issue. If you’re not with me, you’re against me.
All power to the people.