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Home Editorial Justice, in the context of power

Justice, in the context of power

Although there was, of course, no immediate attempt to repeat the Grenadan operation for the infinitely more taxing case of Nicaragua, Washington’s preparedness openly to respect international law and standards of conduct was placed in considerable doubt. This was highlighted in April 1984, when the mining of Nicaraguan harbors and the damage to international vessels the previous October was demonstrated to be the work of the CIA and taken by Managua to the International Court at The Hague as an act of direct hostility. Both this affair and the revelation that the CIA was responsible for a terrorist manual distributed to Contra forces did much to tarnish the administration’s policy at home, but in 1985 the White House rejected the Court’s ruling against it without the slightest show of contrition and continued to demand congressional support for funding the Contra.
( – pgs. 318, 319, POWER IN THE ISTHMUS: A Political History of Modern Central America, by James Dunkerley, Verso, 1988)

As von Clausewitz had noted, “Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult.”
( – pg. 209, THE HEART OF EVERYTHING THAT IS, by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin, Simon & Schuster, 2013)

Justice has been presented, symbolically, historically and classically, as a blind (or blindfolded) goddess holding scales which are equally balanced. The construct is supposed to present to us, the people, a vision of a system wherein each human being, regardless of race, religion, color, class, and so on, has the opportunity and right to be judged on the evidential merits of his/her case; in other words, we are all entitled to a fair trial.

The reality on the ground, and everyone knows it, is that power/money considerations affect how justice is processed and dispensed. All of us know that individuals who appear before the courts without being represented by an attorney, are far more likely to be convicted by said courts than individuals who are professionally defended.

The operative word in the previous sentence is “professionally.” Money plays a role in justice. If you can’t afford to hire an attorney, you will go to jail. On the other hand, in Belize the statistics suggest that once you acquire high-caliber, expensive legal defence, you can beat just about any charge. The statistical evidence suggests that where the dispensation of justice is concerned, money talks.

In the days of British colonialism in this territory, any native who said anything which raised the slightest doubt about the absolute impartiality and purity of the judicial system, would be indicted on such draconian charges as the deadly “contempt of court.” As long-time readers of this newspaper know, Amandala was only six months old, a mere mimeographed fledgling, when its two publishers were charged with sedition in early 1970 because of a front page story which poked fun at a general election petition case in the Supreme Court.

The Amandala sedition case was the third of only three such animals in the modern political history of British Hondudas. In 1951, Leigh Richardson and Phillip Goldson, high ranking leaders of the anti-colonial People’s United Party (PUP), and publishers of The Belize Billboard, which was then a PUP organ, were charged for sedition because of a Billboard article which hinted at a revolutionary option for the oppressed people of the colony. In 1951, the Maximum Leader of the PUP was one Johnny Smith, who subsequently abandoned the PUP and went into exile in the United States. Without hard evidence, one has to wonder if Richardson and Goldson received all-out PUP support in their sedition case.

 In Belize’s second sedition case, in 1958 the British authorities arrested PUP Leader, George Price, and tried him in the Supreme Court on the grounds that he had defamed Queen Elizabeth II, on a PUP rostrum, by suggesting that toilet paper-like material had been thrown on her in a New York City ticket tape parade. Not only did the PUP go all-out for Mr. Price, but by 1958 the PUP had already won major national elections in 1954 and 1957, the decolonization process had gained momentum internationally, and the British essentially proved to be weaker in Belize in 1958 than they had been in 1951 when they imprisoned Richardson and Goldson for nine months each. Militant street support is believed to have contributed to Mr. Price’s acquittal in 1958.

In Belize, sedition cases deal with street political power, as opposed to money, which is the active ingredient in most criminal and civil cases. Power and money usually go together, like chicken and eggs. We don’t know which comes first, or which is more important, so to speak. Anecdotally, Joe Kennedy, Sr., the father of U.S. President John F. Kennedy, is said to have declared that there are three important things in politics. The Kennedy patriarch elaborated: “The first thing is money, the second thing is money, and the third thing is money.”

Institutional political power enables elected individuals and political parties to enrich themselves, but street political power was more important in the Price and Amandala sedition victories than money. In fact, Assad Shoman and Said Musa, this newspaper’s defence attorneys in 1970, were able to recruit four highly esteemed and influential individuals as defence witnesses for Amandala. These were a brilliant young attorney, Eddie Laing, Jr.; the then Wesley College principal, Rev. Coleridge Barnett; an impressive young Catholic nun, Sister Caritas Lawrence; and Dr. Neville Mason-Browne, Belize’s chief psychiatrist back then.

We now move to the subject of justice at the level of nation-states. The matter before the Belizean people today is for us to decide whether we should submit Guatemala’s dispute with us to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for final and binding arbitration.

Guatemala is much more wealthy than Belize, and will be able to afford more expensive, and presumably more proficient, attorneys and translators. Guatemala also enjoys the support of the most powerful nation-state on planet earth, the United States of America.

So how did Belize defeat Guatemala and achieve political independence with all our territory intact in 1981? Belize won a great victory in 1981 because we enjoyed the overwhelming support of the General Assembly of the United Nations. In other words, most of the peoples of the world said a loud yes in support of Belize’s self-determination, territorial integrity, and independence. For Belize, 1981 was like a case of street power in an international framework.

Guatemala has not fully endorsed Belize’s victory at the United Nations. Guatemala has used her superior military power to intimidate the people of Belize. Guatemala is saying to Belizeans, in effect, go to the ICJ for justice or there are unpleasant things we will cause to happen to you. The troubling thing is that this is precisely the argument being presented to the Belizean people by several of our own political and military leaders. We are being urged to seek justice, in the context of power.

The argument of Belize’s political leaders is that if Belize won in the ICJ’s halls of justice, then Guatemala would abandon her power advantage and we would all live happily ever after. But there was a crowning victory Belize won in the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1981, and Guatemala has chosen not to abide by that jurisdiction. The temptation for power is always to make right through might. What is the guarantee that the ICJ’s right would be considered superior to the United Nations General Assembly’s right by Guatemala’s might?

Power to the people.

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