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Pow-wow in Belmopan

Red Cloud was the first to address the gathering. “The Great Spirit raised both the white man and the Indian,” he told his fellow fighters. “I think he raised the Indian first. He raised me in this land and it belongs to me. The white man was raised over the great waters, and his land is over there. Since they crossed the sea, I have given them room. There are now white people all about me. I have but a small spot of land left. The Great Spirit told me to keep it.”

( – pg. 197, THE HEART OF EVERYTHING THAT IS: The Untold Story of Red Cloud, An American Legend, by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin, Simon & Schuster, 2013)

When these prodigies
Do so conjointly meet, let not men say
“These are their reasons, they are natural.”
For I believe they are portentous things
Unto the climate that they point upon.

( – JULIUS CAESAR, by William Shakespeare, Act I, scene iii, lines 28-32)

A momentous, historic meeting took place in Belmopan on Tuesday morning which brought together the most prominent of Belize’s personalities who have been saying that Belize should not go to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for final and binding arbitration on the Guatemalan claim to Belize.

With just six months to go before Belizeans vote in the ICJ referendum, it is reasonable to assume, we submit, that there will be more such gatherings. But this conference in Belmopan was momentous and historic, unprecedented, because there was discernible movement across party political and organizational lines. Represented in Belmopan, as far as we could see, were the Southern and Western Caucuses of the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP), the Belize Progressive Party (BPP), Vision Inspired by the People (VIP), the Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV), the Northern Territorial Volunteers (NTV), the Belize Peace Movement (BPM), and Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA). On television video, we also saw individual citizens, such as Hector Silva, a PUP Cabinet Minister between 1961 and 1974; Carlos Santos, a retired agriculture professional; and Dickie Bradley, a well-known Belize City attorney, a former PUP Queen’s Square standard bearer, and a PUP Cabinet Minister between 1998 and 2003.

Interestingly enough, we did not see Derek Aikman, a former United Democratic Party (UDP) Cabinet Minister, who had unsuccessfully attempted to get this kind of ball rolling two or three months ago, and we did not see Richard Harrison, a well-known businessman and unsuccessful PUP Cayo North by-election candidate in January of 2015, who had tried, unsuccessfully, to organize a demonstration against the ICJ option for Independence Day three weeks ago.

We know that there were people invited to this Tuesday morning pow-wow who had chosen not to come, people who were unable to attend, and people who decided to send representatives.

This essay is not a news story. Elsewhere in this issue of our newspaper there will be such a story which will flesh out the details. There was a senior Amandala reporter present at the gathering.

One source has told us that Wil Maheia, the founder/leader of the BTV and also the deputy leader of the BPP, may have been the driving force behind the meeting, but that is really neither here nor there.

An important aspect of the conference is that it actually occurred, because we think, off the top, that the last time something vaguely similar to this happened in Belize was in late 1968, when the young attorneys Assad Shoman and Said Musa organized the “Ad Hoc Committee For The Truth About Vietnam.” Tuesday’s meeting in Belmopan was another ad hoc committee — for a no vote to the ICJ.

We did not see anyone in Tuesday morning’s meeting who could have been considered as representing the ruling UDP. (Our experience leads us to assume that the Special Branch was present.) The fact of no UDP representation is significant, and it will become more significant as we move closer to ICJ Referendum Day. It is to be assumed that some UDP personality or the other will eventually step out and express a negative opinion on the ICJ, but so far that has not happened, and it did not happen on Tuesday in Belmopan. The UDP has gotten away with treating the ICJ referendum vote, in effect, as an issue which should receive the support of loyal party people and patriotic Belizeans overall, because the ruling party has been able to argue that their position is a national rather than party political position, given the support for the yes vote which has come from some leading PUP personalities.

There are political observers whose opinion is that the United States and the United Kingdom have essentially read the riot act to the most powerful leaders of both the UDP and the PUP. The speculation, then, is that those PUP area representatives and standard bearers who have come out publicly against ICJ arbitration are reacting to pressing concerns being expressed by their constituents. In other words, there may be a groundswell of anti-ICJ feeling amongst the Belizean masses, especially in the south and the west. Such an anti-ICJ feeling may be interpreted as amounting to a rebellion against the U.S. and the U.K., not to mention the ruling UDP.

Previous attempts of a determined nature by the Americans and the British to “solve” the Guatemalan claim, such as the Webster Proposals in 1968 and the Heads of Agreement in 1981, have introduced a manifest volatility into Belize’s socio-politics. There was a famous, oft-repeated quote attributed to an American military commander during the Vietnam War, to the effect that his forces had to “destroy the village in order to save it.” What are we saying? Belize has been dangerously destabilized whenever the Americans and the British have decided to save us from the Guatemalans. In 1968, and even in 1981, Belizeans were not knowledgeable about the brutal realities of Guatemalan military/oligarchy rule, and Belizeans were naïve about regional and international politics. Yet, Belizeans instinctively rejected Webster and the Heads. What is to be expected in 2018, when Belizeans are so much more informed, because of television, the Internet, and an expanded local media?

It is probably accurate to say that there has been no student or youth activism in Belize since our political independence in 1981. If it is indeed the case that Belize’s students and youth have been neutered where their political awareness is concerned, then the architects of the Special Agreement, flush with cash as they are, have reason to remain confident of a yes vote on April 10, 2019.

But no one can be sure where Belize’s students and youth will go in the months ahead. Partly because our students and youth are such wild cards, so to speak, it could be that Tuesday’s pow-wow in Belmopan will end up having major political implications. There have been attempts orchestrated by Belize’s power structure to ridicule Belize’s “no ICJ” issues, and to intimidate the general citizenry. Tuesday’s session in Belmopan could end up becoming the first serious challenge to Belize’s PUDP politics.

Perhaps as important as, if not more so than, the students and youth in the eventual ICJ denouement, will be diaspora Belizeans. They did not appear to be represented at Tuesday’s get together in Belmopan. As it is, diaspora Belizeans have yet to organize themselves in the continental United States and elect an executive leadership which would appoint representatives to conferences like Tuesday’s. As we said earlier in this essay, it is to be expected that there will be more such gatherings in the months ahead.

Modern politics began in British Honduras with the formation of the People’s Committee, and later the PUP, following the devaluation of the Belize dollar on December 31, 1949, by our British colonial masters. If our PUDP political leaders are not careful, a post-modern politics here will be a result of the Special Agreement of 2008. There are things which are “conjointly meeting,” to borrow the words of the one Casca …

Power to the people.

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