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Early Wednesday morning, I telephoned Clinton Canul Luna in Corozal because I could not remember the name of the second of the treaties that the United States and the United Kingdom (Great Britain) signed in the 1850s, a few years before the U.S. “godfathered” the critical and historic 1859 treaty between Guatemala and Great Britain with respect to the territorial boundaries of British Honduras.

I remembered the Clayton-Bulwer treaty, but could not remember the name of the second treaty.

Luna said to me, “Do you know where I am? I’m in the hospital. I was attacked yesterday by bees in Finca Solana, and some neighbors saved me by lighting fires.”

Luna is about 78 years old. If I were liquid the way I used to be, I would try to bring him to Belize City so that he could educate our younger generations on KREM Radio and Television. Young people nowadays don’t like to read: they want to write, put things, on social media. 

Anyway, old codger that I am, I know enough about the computer to search for information, such as the name of the second treaty, which is Dallas-Clarendon, signed in 1856, subsequent to Clayton-Bulwer, signed in 1850.

As a result of the January 6, 2021 attack by Donald Trump supporters on the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, we learned that the last time that this happened was in 1812, when the British did it. 

The history of the relationship between the U.S. and the U.K. has always intrigued me. Since the U.S., then a British colony (thirteen of them, in fact), declared independence from Great Britain in 1776, and, with the aid of the French, fought off the monarchy and established a constitutional, democratic republic, there have been periods when the Americans and the British, whom we have known as the best of friends for many decades, have had occasional disagreements. 

In 1823, the U.S. flexed its muscle by declaring the so-called Monroe Doctrine, essentially declaring their hegemony in this Western Hemisphere. Spain had controlled most of the Western Hemisphere after Columbus entered the Caribbean in 1492, but the Spanish were forced to concede independence to Mexico and the Central American republics in 1821. The Central American republics soon broke away from Mexico, and then they began fighting amongst themselves.

In the 1830s, there was a Central American war between the liberal element, led by Francisco Morazan, representing Honduras and Salvador, and a conservative force, led by Guatemala and their Rafael Carrera (supported by the Church), who was president of Guatemala when the aforementioned 1859 treaty was signed. 

By 1839,1840, Guatemala and Carrera had defeated Morazan. The British were, of course, all the while ensconced in Belize, but they also controlled the Bay Islands, now the property of Honduras, and the Bluefields territory, which is now Nicaragua’s. The treaties of the 1850’s constituted pressure on the British by the Americans to cede these territories, while permitting continued British possession of Belize, hence the 1859 treaty, which Carrera signed on behalf of Guatemala. (He died in 1865.)

This week controversy erupted in Belize because of a claim to Belize’s Sapodilla Islands by Honduras, who placed that claim a few decades ago in their constitution. This controversy took us Belizean elders back to the 1981 Heads of Agreement, when a clause in that agreement allowed Guatemalans to “use and enjoy” Belize’s Ranguana and Sapodilla Cayes. And it took us back to 1991, when Hon. Philip Goldson broke away from the United Democratic Party (UDP), because the then Opposition UDP’s leaders, the late Dr. Manuel Esquivel and Hon. Dean Barrow, were supporting the Maritime Areas Act (MAA) initiative being pushed by the ruling People’s United Party (PUP).

There are complications surrounding these breathtakingly beautiful islands which are in the Caribbean Sea about equidistant from the southern land mass of Belize and the northern land masses of Honduras and Guatemala. The complications involve the very strong suspicion that there are massively valuable hydrocarbons in this area of the sea, which includes the point where the maritime rights of Belize, Honduras, and Guatemala intersect.

When you introduce “valuable hydrocarbons” into this discussion, then the monster American oil companies will become very much interested, and the foreign policy of the government of the United States, the most powerful nation in the world, will have to defend the interests of their oil companies.

So then, the Sapodilla issue underlines the fact that we Belizeans feature some articulate attorneys, but a military which is not competitive with those of the two republics which are relevant to the controversy.

In international relations, my understanding from the great Vincent Starzinger at Dartmouth was, I think, that might makes right. Washington, in other words, holds the relevant cards here. Or, this is how it appears to this Starzinger student.                 

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