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“(Galileo) wanted to go back to Florence, partly, it seems, because he wanted to persuade the smart, well-educated Jesuits who clustered there to accept his world picture. Sell the powerful Jesuits on the New Science, he thought, and you wouldn’t have to worry about the Inquisition or the Pope.”

– pg. 106, THE NEW YORKER, February 11 & 18, 2013

For the past five and a half centuries, the Jesuits have been the political arm of the Roman Catholic Church, which is the most powerful religious institution on planet earth. World class thinkers, scholars, and educators, the Jesuits also have a record for activist courage: they are not a cloistered order of tonsured monks. The Jesuits are out here in the fray.

One of the great mysteries of Belizean politics is why the Jesuits chose, sometime in 1972 as far as anyone can figure, to hedge the Church’s political bets in Belize. Prior to the formation of the Liberal Party in 1972, the Church and the George Price-led ruling People’s United Party (PUP) had enjoyed a very warm relationship which benefited both parties.

Five men suddenly established the Liberal Party, which, as far as we know, never held a public meeting. Of these, four were prominent Roman Catholics – Paul Rodriguez, Harry Lawrence, Manuel Esquivel and Nestor Vasquez. Only one of the five was a non-Catholic – the late Curl Thompson. In 1973, the Liberal Party became one of the three political parties which formed a coalition to establish the United Democratic Party (UDP).

Perhaps the most feasible explanation for the Church’s change of political course was the rise of Assad Shoman in PUP circles and the growing influence he appeared to have on Mr. Price, the PUP’s Maximum Leader. In Belize in 1972, Shoman was considered a communist in Catholic and business circles, and he was a known, fervent admirer of Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution, which had taken power in 1959.

It is important to understand the nature of regional politics in the 1950s, a time of international so-called Cold War between the capitalist United States and the communist Soviet Russia. The United States was supporting various military dictatorships in this region, and it was because these dictators had proven that they were rigidly, violently anti-communist. Such military dictators included Bautista in Cuba, Duvalier in Haiti, Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, Somoza in Nicaragua, Castillo Armas in Guatemala, and various generals in Salvador and Honduras.

Generally speaking, the Roman Catholic bishops and cardinals in these countries were allied with the military dictatorships. Corruption, murder and human rights abuse by the dictators were overlooked by the mainstream Church because the dictators were anti-communist. Communism was the bogeyman in these parts in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

Traditional Church leaders fell out of favor in Cuba when Castro overthrew Bautista, and then things became worse for the Church when Castro declared himself a Marxist-Leninist.

In 1972, then, the Church in Belize considered Shoman a dangerous individual. The relationship between Shoman and the UBAD organization had deteriorated considerably from 1969/1970, when Shoman’s People’s Action Committee (PAC) and UBAD had been in a coalition, and when Shoman, along with Said Musa, successfully defended in Supreme Court two UBAD officials charged with sedition. But, it is unlikely that the Church would have known about the extent of that deterioration.

Something very serious had occurred in Belize City between May and September of 1972: UBAD had defeated the vaunted PUP in the streets of the old capital. This sensational development made the PUP more vulnerable than it had ever been since its formation in 1950, and the UBAD street power made, at the very least, for political instability. In a worst case scenario, the UBAD muscle could be considered allies of the dreaded Shoman. Something had to be done.

Defenders of the faith will argue that it was actually two wealthy Catholic businessmen, Santiago Castillo, Sr., and Ismael Gomez, who were the sponsors of the Liberal Party, and that would be a fair enough argument. But, it is an argument for those who are politically naïve. Wherever the Jesuits are, they are always participants in the political games.

The Church is a transnational institution. This is to say that its power crosses the borders which define and separate nations. In Belize today, the burning question has to do with the borders of Belize. Ideally, such borders are of no real concern to the Church, because the faith is the faith is the faith … Guatemala is a Roman Catholic country. Belize is a Roman Catholic country. On that basis, the two nations should be the best of friends. But, they are not. The larger nation claims half the territory of the smaller one.

Such a claim is what theologians would refer to as a temporal issue, not a supernatural one. The claim has nothing to do with salvation. It has to do, however, with survival. The claim is real. The Church in Belize will be careful not to offend the Church in Guatemala. The Church is a transnational institution. Belize is not. So, there’s the rub.

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