Belize has some of the best cruising grounds in the world and my wife, Christina, and I have been enjoying them for nearly half a century. We often anchor in the “lee” (protected side) of a cay for the night and continue our travels the next morning. On occasion, a storm has come up and dawn finds the schooner rolling from side to side with any loose item banging around. Though we are safe enough, it is very uncomfortable and those prone to sea sickness are ready to jump ship. Under these conditions, there is a strong temptation to brave the stormy winds and waves to get to a safe harbor, even if it means risking the boat and our lives.
The ship called Belize may be in a similar situation at the moment and its crew is about to vote whether to ride out the storm in a safe but uncomfortable anchorage or to haul anchor and risk it all to reach a harbor.
As we formulate, our decision we tell ourselves that we are making our choice based on facts, but this is often self-delusion. Humans are not primarily rational beings; we are rationalizing creatures, and since we can’t absorb all the facts, we select those that best serve our emotional needs. The second problem is that we too often depend on lawyers for our “facts” and, as a general rule, their specialty is in giving opinions disguised to appear factual, not facts themselves.
If we pick sense from nonsense, the question that Belizeans will be asked at the voting poll is: Do you believe that it is worth risking the country in order to have Guatemala recognize our borders? The voter must be prepared to answer yes or no without a blank space for equivocations.
I believe that most decisions will be made not on facts but on whether one chooses to stay in this unpleasant situation, believing that the seas will calm down and we can make our passage safely or whether he/she is so sick of it that he will risk the storm in the hope of reaching harbor (favorable ruling by the ICJ).
Sailors, in general, are leery of anything “iron clad.” (Poke a small hole in it and it sinks quickly.) The 1859 Treaty seems to have mutated into something different than it was when it was written and one wonders which version a court would validate. Assad Shoman describes the details in Guatemala’s Claim to Belize, pp. 12-22. One of his primary sources is R. A. Humphreys’, The Diplomatic History of British Honduras, which can be found online at: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UF00099184/00001/30j.
Christina and I have ridden out a lot of storms in uncomfortable anchorages and we have made passages to get to our harbor (running from Hurricane Mitch) when we were taking great risk, so we have experienced the pros and cons of both types of decisions. And we see that sometimes, as in this referendum, there is no “right” choice to be made, just “best,” as judged by the individual. It is for this reason we must put the politics aside and honor each other’s decision.
Kirby G. Salisbury