“Because many – though emphatically not all – foreign clergy had come to Guatemala specifically because of its obvious relevance to a theological praxis (hands-on application) that demanded liberation for the poor and called for an end to sinful oligarchic and imperialistic structures, a conflict between liberationist clergy and the military government seemed virtually inevitable, and indeed it was not long in coming. In late 1967, the government discovered that three Maryknoll missionaries from the United States – two biological brothers surnamed Melville and a nun – had made overtures to join the guerrillas in the armed conflict. As foreigners, the three had the good fortune to be able to leave the country rather than be killed, but the so-called Melville affair served as a clear milestone in the relationship between Church and state, marking the point where the military began to regard the Catholic Church no longer as an ally in the war against communism but as a ‘breeding ground for subversion.’”
“The Guatemalan government at the highest level debated whether or not to expel the entire Maryknoll order in response to the Melville affair. They decided against the measure, but from that point on, they began to conflate Catholic social activism with the armed movement. As historian Susan Fitzpatrick-Behrens has noted, “a single incident involving a small group of clergy and guerrillas became a justification to jeopardize the entire Maryknoll mission and to identify all Catholics seeking to promote social change as ‘Communists.’”
– pgs. 116, 117, TERROR IN THE LAND OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, by Virginia Garrard-Burnett, Oxford University Press, 2010
If you listen to Pupa Curly’s composition, No gi wi to no Guatemala, which is the theme music used on Ya Ya Marin Coleman’s Sunday Review show, you will be impressed by the artist’s level of knowledge where the socio-economic and politico-military realities of Guatemala are concerned. Most Belizeans who grew up in the post-World War II era, similarly to the vast majority of our ancestors, were very ignorant about Guatemala. Pupa Curly has lived in Los Angeles, California, for several decades, so he would be in a better position to access facts and information about Guatemala than the roots masses in Belize. We’re just saying.
The Guatemalan claim to British Honduras had no pressing significance for Belizeans until the Guatemalan dictator, Jorge Ubico, revived it in the late 1930s, when Great Britain was being threatened by Nazi Germany, and then the Guatemalan oligarchy inserted the claim into their constitution in the mid-1940s and began making noises around 1948 or so. The British quickly sent a warship in the latter instance, and things became quiet just as quickly on our western front.
The presidency of the former Guatemalan general, Jacobo Arbenz, marked a major change in Guatemalan government policies, especially in the area of land reform. Arbenz’s policies were so progressive and the climate in Guatemala began to seem so enlightened that the anti-colonial revolutionaries leading the People’s United Party (PUP) at the time, between 1951 and 1954, were attracted by his policies and saw Guatemala as an ally against British colonialism. These PUP revolutionaries included Leigh Richardson, Philip Goldson, and George Price, the latter two becoming full-fledged Belizean national heroes.
The United States considers Central America to be its backyard, and regards Guatemala as its most important ally in the region. The U.S. had a special relationship with Great Britain where British Honduras was concerned, the colony being an anomaly in Spanish-controlled Central America. (The Central American republics became independent from Spain in 1821.) Between 1850 and 1856, when the Americans forced the British out of Nicaragua and Honduras (the Bay Islands), they left Belize alone. It is noteworthy that just a couple weeks before Washington overthrew Arbenz in June of 1954, Winston Churchill, the British elder statesman and hero of their World War II victory over Germany, had visited Washington for talks with Richard Nixon, then the American Vice-President. Churchill no doubt supported the American coup which overthrew Arbenz.
The pro-British element in British Honduras had been alarmed by PUP contact with Guatemala during the Arbenz years. For them, Guatemala was just Guatemala, Arbenz or no Arbenz. All they were seeing was John Bull’s Union Jack. Overall, few Belizeans understood the significance of domestic policy changes in Guatemala when Arbenz ran into exile and Carlos Castillo Armas, an American stooge, became President. Castillo Armas would have been President in 1957 when the British sent Mr. Price home from London, in a sort of disgrace, because he had held talks with a Guatemalan official. The British Governor here in 1957, Colin Hardwick Thornley, told the people of Belize on monopoly radio before Mr. Price arrived from London that the PUP Leader was trying to sell out the country “lock, stock, and barrel.” It was sensational stuff, but, in retrospect, it was bogus British bs.
The Guatemalan claim/threat did not reach a sustained fever pitch in Belize until the one Ydigoras Fuentes became President of Guatemala in 1958, and around the same time Philip Goldson, the owner and editor of The Belize Billboard, British Honduras’ leading newspaper, was entering a political alliance with the pro-British National Party (NP), thus giving birth to the National Independence Party (NIP).
Fuentes became an enthusiastic ally of the Americans, who needed somewhere outside of the United States to train Cuban exiles for their 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, and Fuentes claimed publicly afterwards that the John F. Kennedy administration had promised him support for the Guatemalan claim to Belize.
During the Fuentes presidency, which lasted from 1958 to 1963, Belize was about 70 percent or more black in population composition, and Belizeans, kept in ignorance by the British-controlled education system, viewed Guatemala, simply and naively, as “Spanish.” There was, then, a decided race aspect to Belizeans’ fear of Guatemala.
At the same time, African-descent Belizeans knew absolutely nothing about the Caste War, nothing about the Santa Cruz and Icaiche Maya, and viewed the populations of the Corozal and Orange Walk Districts, San Pedro Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, with the same simple and naïve lens with which they viewed Guatemala, as “Spanish.”
Well, we’ve learned a bit about the Caste War since then, haven’t we, and we got some of the sense that there was and is a noteworthy difference between “Spanish” and Maya. With respect to Guatemala, however, many Belizeans are not aware of the fact that Guatemala is not strictly Spanish as such. There are two Guatemalas: the rich, ruling First World Guatemala is neo-European, comprised of descendants of, yes, Spanish, but more powerfully, German, Jewish, Italian, French and other European immigrants. The other Guatemala is wretchedly poor and oppressed, and is comprised of the majority Indigenous Mayan populations.
The ruling Guatemala is white supremacist in its thinking, and the evidence is a quarter million Indigenous Maya Guatemalans slaughtered by the Guatemalan army between 1960 and 1996. But the arrogance and aggression of white Guatemala towards African and Mayan Belizeans are not only derived from ethnic considerations: white Guatemala is totally neoliberal capitalist in its thinking, and is deathly afraid of any kind of social justice-based philosophy, such as that Belize Premier George Price experimented with here during the 1970s. The Guatemalans are even more afraid of Cuban-style communism, and because of that, they are even more pro-American, if that were possible, in their regional perspective.
From the time of the PUP revolutionaries’ relationship with Arbenz’s Guatemala in the early 1950s, there was an elite “Baymen’s clan” group here which panicked. They were absolutely pro-British, and these were the Belizeans who emphasized their “Creole” ancestry. These were essentially families with white paternity who became privileged after the Battle of St. George’s Caye. These were the families who hid their black grandmothers in attics. These were the Afro Saxons, Eurocentrics who have now transferred their loyalty from London to Washington. Perhaps more important at the present time, the Baymen’s clan are neoliberal capitalists who have been romancing with the white supremacist, neoliberal Guatemala. The Baymen’s clan began that romance in September of 1973, we submit, when they removed Goldson from leadership and founded the United Democratic Party (UDP).
In this essay, we hope we have given you an idea of how racism and capitalism, ethnicity and ideology, factor into this Guatemalan claim. When we were children, we believed this dispute was all about nationalism. Yes, the Guatemalan claim to Belize is about nationalism, but once you understand that there are two Guatemalas, then you will appreciate a certain complexity to the matter which requires education and analysis. If you begin to suspect that there may also be two Belizes, then your educational and analytical challenge will become even greater.
At the end of the day, as it is said, Belize will survive if we can inform and educate our people about the precise nature of the Guatemalan claim to Belize. It is for sure that where strictly military considerations are involved, Guatemala has a competitive advantage.
Still, Washington would be embarrassed if the Guatemalans invaded Belize; Washington would be blamed and excoriated, and rightly so, by the international community, if the Guats invaded. The preferred solution for Washington and the white supremacist Guatemala is for Belize’s political leaders to betray our African and Mayan population.
Belizeans, we need to inform and educate ourselves. This newspaper said it in 1969, and we say it today. Our problem began with European white supremacy, 525 years ago basically. We African and Mayan descendants continue to struggle for freedom, justice, and equality.
Power to the people.