Features — 12 January 2019
Resetting national rhetoric and behavior: A MUST for resolving Guatemala’s unfounded claim

Amandala, Aug. 23, 2015– “Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.” – Franz Fanon

Beyond the mix of public congratulatory or disparaging remarks and argumentative nit-picking of statements made by various government and opposition leaders in the recent national discourse, all in response to the recent patriotic excursion of Belize Territorial Volunteers to Belize’s Sarstoon River border last Sunday, there still remains a harsh reality.

The reality is that despite decades of negotiations, the Guatemalan government’s unfounded claim to Belize’s entire territory is still unresolved as prospects for a negotiated settlement have remained as hopeless as ever. The Guatemalan military’s recent belligerent posturing at the mouth of the Sarstoon River in its unsuccessful attempt to intimidate BTV to abort their visit to the Sarstoon Island, demonstrated Guatemala’s position regarding their claim of the area.

What the BTV encountered at Sarstoon – the Guatemalan strategy of stirring fear among the Belizean population – was nothing new or unexpected. As recently as February 2015, about 40 Belizeans were detained in Guatemala after returning from their visit to the Gracias a Dios border marker up the Sarstoon River. Way back in 2007, an aggressive and armed Guatemalan military engaged in hostile manoeuvres against the park rangers of SATIIM on the Belizean side of the Sarstoon. In June that same year, there was also a similar although not equally aggressive encounter between the Guatemalan military and a BDF patrol.

While each of these encounters with the Guatemalan military serves to highlight the urgent need to resolve this border dispute, there is a deeper problem that compromises any solution. That deep persistent problem lies not south of the Sarstoon but rather to its north — right within Belize’s borders. That deeper problem is the nation’s overarching political divisiveness, the emotional squabbling, destructive egotistic posturing, and lack of nationally collective and visionary approaches to persistent issues affecting the nation.

As Guatemala continues to play its games, if Belize remains a divided nation, Belizeans stand to lose immensely in all spheres of the nation’s development. The divisive rhetoric and behaviour that permeates the nation’s discourse about Guatemala will not resolve this major problem.

The increasing vacuum of leadership to clearly define ways to strategically and peacefully resolve this national issue has also increased mistrust, gross speculation and assumptions among the disgruntled masses. In terms of building consensus approaches and trust among the population, Belize’s political leaders have failed the nation miserably.

The lack of clear and consistent information sharing has resulted in widening divisions to near crisis proportions, thus obliterating any hope for changing the situation. Emerging political parties or activist movements that claim to want to make a difference in the discourse, have also offered no hope beyond endeavouring to maintain the status quo of the dispute.

Too often, the national rhetoric and behaviour are centred on the same divisive “Us versus them” political approaches that have blocked the emergence of statesmanship, true nation building and collaborative national development strategies. Because party politics have continued to remain increasingly egotistic and divisive since Independence, there has hardly, if ever, been a collectively defined multi-party national vision and strategic actions for addressing national issues – e.g. reforming and strengthening governance, eliminating conditions that breed crime and violence, etc.

Among the major issues that demand common strategies and actions, Guatemala’s claim is paramount and MUST be dealt with collectively — never an issue to descend to divisive petty and tribal political posturing and nit-picking against each other.

Neither can the nation afford to spread half-baked speculations or stubborn emotional exaggerations from any political party or political interest groups in the pursuit of a solution to this critical matter. Sober, clear, truthful, thoughtful, trustworthy and reasoned dialogue is much needed. Dialogue involves deep listening and an openness to learn and to carefully weigh all options. It involves wise differentiation between facts and fiction, including a deep responsibility and commitment not to spread falsehoods.

What is needed now is a re-set of approaches to resolving this national issue. Now is the time for the government to convene the best minds and trusted leaders from all parties and organizations to studiously and intelligently review all angles of historical facts, expert legal advice, and strategies for charting the best way forward.

This re-set ought to also include all former Foreign Ministers and those who were intricately involved in trying to resolve this issue since independence. The team must also include union leaders, representatives from the media, NGOs and civil society organizations. Clear and objective public education presentations to the masses, are also critical for gaining the trust and confidence necessary to empower the pursuit of collective actions.

Critical thinking and insightful analysis are important to this process. Fanatic emotional attachments, despite clear evidence, will always lead a few to remain fixed in speculations, become cognitively dissonant, and fear change.

The recent expedition by BTV has made its point about the people’s undeniable and passionate expression of Belizean patriotism in the face of Guatemala’s belligerent posturing of its claim to Belize. However, the task ahead now is for us Belizeans to focus our patriotism on collectively defining a clear strategy for resolving the Guatemalan dispute as well as for resolving those very divisive mindsets and conditions that continue to weaken genuine nation-building efforts for Belize.

The best place to begin now is to build a strong multi-party team to collectively review and decide on best approaches for resolving this issue and working hand-in-hand to keep the masses genuinely informed. In the meantime it is important for all to work on shedding the raw, primitive, egotistic, divisive squabbling about this critical national issue that continues to plague Belize.

Too much energy has been placed on divisiveness, that there has hardly been any focus on genuine collaboration and reaching out to bridge the divide. With genuine resolve for collaboration among all parties, much more can be achieved. It must be done; lest divided we all fall — to the benefit of Guatemala.

We the people demand much better: – far much better strategic approaches from those who manage or aspire to manage our nation’s business.

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Deshawn Swasey

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