Late on September 9, 1954, as midnight approached, Jacobo Arbenz, the recently deposed president of Guatemala, was escorted into the Guatemala City airport with a small entourage, including his wife, Maria Vilanova, and two of their children. Arbenz was beloved among his dirt-poor country’s peasants and workers for his land and labor reforms, but he was reviled by Guatemala’s aristocracy. As he prepared to leave his homeland, Arbenz was showered with abuse by a smartly dressed crowd of several hundred ill-wishers. “Assassin! Thief! Piece of shit!” they screamed at him as he hurried into the airport terminal with his family.
Arbenz was fortunate to make it past the venomous crowd unharmed. Shortly before he and his family were driven to the airport, a decoy car masquerading for security purposes as the vehicle actually transporting the Arbenz family was blown up by his enemies.
Howard Hunt, one of the principal CIA orchestrators of the Guatemala coup, later acknowledged that he had helped organize the hostile send-off party at the airport for the benefit of the press.
– pgs. 251, 252, THE DEVIL’S CHESSBOARD: ALLEN DULLES, THE CIA, AND THE RISE OF AMERICA’S SECRET GOVERNMENT, by David Talbot, HarperCollins, New York, 2015
What had Jacobo Arbenz done to deserve such a heartbreaking journey through life – a tale of grief and lament out of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel? Simply put, he had tried to uplift his people. In doing so, he defied the gods of his country, the almighty United Fruit Company and its powerful friends in Washington, as well as Guatemala’s medieval land barons. In June 1952, Arbenz pushed a sweeping land reform bill through his nation’s legislature aimed at redistributing the heavily rural country’s farm acreage, 70 percent of which was in the hands of 2 percent of the landowners. Among the properties expropriated under the new law and handed over to poor farmers were some of the vast estates of United Fruit.
Until Arbenz’s election in 1950, the giant company, whose operations sprawled through the Caribbean, ran Guatemala less like a banana republic than a banana colony. United Fruit not only owned huge plantations but almost every mile of railroad track in the country, the only major Atlantic port, and the telephone system. One of Arbenz’s more cold-blooded predecessors, Jorge Ubico, thought of peasants as nothing more than beasts of burden. Before the 1944 revolt that toppled his dictatorship – an uprising that Arbenz had helped lead – farm workers were roped together like animals by Ubico’s army and delivered to plantations where they were forced to work in debt slavery to the landowners.
– pg. 257, ibid.
Ubico had expressed pro-Nazi sympathies, until upbraided by the Americans. As the war began, the Federal Bureau of Investigation sent agents to Guatemala, with Ubico’s nominal permission, to oversee the confiscation of German-owned properties because American officials didn’t trust Ubico to do the job himself. The FBI men supervised the internment of German Guatemalans in detention camps, among other tasks.
– pgs. 26, 27, BITTER FRUIT: THE STORY OF THE AMERICAN COUP IN GUATEMALA, by Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer, Harvard University, Doubleday 1982, 1983, 1990
As we write this essay on Sunday afternoon, April 15, 2018, Guatemalans are still voting in a national referendum on whether to submit the Belize question to International Court of Justice (ICJ) arbitration, but from what Belizeans have been hearing on KREM Radio and seeing on KREM Television, it definitely appears that most Guatemalan voters will vote “yes” to the ICJ.
Belize Ambassador to Guatemala, Alexis Rosado, has told the Belize media that in two previous Guatemalan national referenda, in the 1990s, the turnout of voters was less than 20 percent, and he does not expect today’s turnout to be substantially more than that.
This turnout issue is a critical point of today’s exercise, because what this newspaper has been trying to explain to our readers through the years is that Guatemala is a strange country, in that it is actually two different countries. There are two distinct types of Guatemalans.
It is only one type of Guatemalans, the ruling class of neo-Europeans, who are interested in today’s vote, because they believe the possibility exists of acquiring land, cayes, and maritime resources which would represent increased wealth for the republic’s aristocracy. Guatemala’s Indigenous majority, impoverished and oppressed, have no interest in today’s poll, because they have absolutely nothing to gain. In fact, it was their Indigenous ancestors who once peopled Guatemala’s territory centuries and millennia ago, and it was from their Indigenous ancestors that Guatemala was seized by Spanish conquistadores, beginning with Pedro Alvarado, in the sixteenth century, and then taken over by German, Italian, Jewish, and other European immigrants in the nineteenth century.
The Guatemalan business and military elite, who waged a bloody civil war against Indigenous Guatemalans between 1960 and 1996, say that they have a claim to half of Belize because they inherited that claim from Spain. Well then, how did Spain get to own Belize, and Guatemala in fact? Did Almighty God give these lands to Spain? No, it was the Pope of Rome who, in a God-like fashion, divided the so-called New World between Spain and Portugal in the Treaty of Tordesillas between 1493 and 1494.
When the Europeans began entering the New World with the first voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1492, they treated Indigenous and African peoples as primitive, inferior, and pagan. The Europeans justified what they did to our ancestors in the name of the invaders’ Christian religion. So, there was European imperialism, European racism, European-imposed slavery, and European-instituted colonialism. All those centuries from 1492 onwards, our African and Indigenous ancestors kept fighting to dig ourselves out of the hole in which the Europeans had put us. In Guatemala, the Indigenous people are still in the hole, and still fighting. But in Belize, some of our African and Indigenous people managed to start getting out of the hole the British had dug for us. We began climbing out of the hole in 1950.
In Belize we were doing some pretty good climbing, actually achieving self-government in 1964, with our political independence originally scheduled for 1970. But then, the business and military elite in Guatemala brought so much pressure that the United States government, mediating between Great Britain and Guatemala in 1968, came up with the Webster Proposals to give Belize independence but at the same time appease the Guatemalans, with Belize becoming a satellite state of theirs.
There have been many ups and downs in the fifty years since the Webster Proposals, but it is now clear to this newspaper that, insofar as the Guatemalan claim to Belize is concerned, perhaps the most significant thing that has happened since 1968 is that a clear-cut ruling class has emerged in Belize, and it includes a representative sampling of natives. To a certain extent, Belize has become like Guatemala – a tale of two different countries.
Finally, we come to the title of the essay – a scapegoat, and his handler. Belize’s Foreign Minister, Sedi Elrington, is the scapegoat to whom we refer, and Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Dean O. Barrow, is Sedi’s handler. Both Elrington and Barrow are members of Belize’s ruling legal, political, and financial class. They are both many times multimillionaires. This was not the case with the Elringtons and Barrows at the time of the Webster Proposals a half century ago. So then, time has wrought miracles, so to speak.
Now then, Belize’s Foreign Minister has brought himself in for a great deal of opprobrium from Belizeans on the ground, and the basic reason is because he is always saying how friendly he is with the Guatemalans, and how friendly the Guatemalans are to Belize, when everybody roots in Belize can see that the ruling Guatemalans are as friendly to Belize as alligators are to dogs. Sedi Elrington is a decent man who has made a personal success of his life, but he apparently believes that everybody should try to be like him, and that if all Belizeans tried to be like him, then all of us would be successful and happy. Sedi Elrington’s handler, Dean Barrow, knows that Sedi is making a fool and a scapegoat of himself, but Elrington’s premise is precisely the same as Mr. Barrow’s, and indeed the premise of Mr. Barrow’s Cabinet of Ministers: we at the top have a good thing going, and we might as well do what the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Mexico, et alii are telling us to do – go to the ICJ.
Now then, there is no doubt that the Guatemalans will vote “yes” today, no matter the decidedly minority nature of the poll. In July, Belize will have a re-registration of voters to clean up the lists, and then we will proceed to our national referendum on the ICJ matter in a few months’ time. Mr. Elrington has made it plain that he is all for going to the ICJ, that he can see no other solution to the Guatemalan problem. Mr. Barrow, for his part, has been fiddling and diddling, and playing the fool. He will vote “yes,” he says, but he will leave the decision on the ICJ up to individual Belizeans.
Well, what we have to say here is this. Guatemala’s “yes” vote changes this game. Sedi Elrington is not the Maximum Leader of the Belizean people. Dean Barrow is. Mr. Barrow would be well advised to get his ship in order. It appears that the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) is divided where their area representatives are concerned, but, we repeat, it is Mr. Barrow who is the Maximum Leader of the Belizean people. Where the ICJ is concerned, he better start leading now. The people of Belize need to be able to move him if what he says on ICJ doesn’t make sense to us. Everybody knows the people of Belize do not like Sedi’s rhetoric. But, when push really comes to shove, Sedi is a relative nobody, constitutionally speaking, who is appointed by Prime Minister Barrow and is carrying out the Prime Minister’s wishes.
In conclusion, we wish to say today, for all interested to hear. We do not agree with what’s going on in The Jewel. This would never have happened under Mr. Price or Mr. Goldson. Belize has become too much like Guatemala, where the masses of our people suffer and despair, while the royal rulers live the life, rich and famous. At this point, we actually feel more connected to the Guatemalan masses than to Belize’s royal rulers. And because of that feeling, we understand these repeated expressions of affection and friendship between the multimillionaires of Guatemala and Belize. These have become birds of a feather. And this was the brilliant, visionary intent of the American experts at the State Department when they supported the formation of the United Democratic Party (UDP) in 1973. This now looks like mission accomplished.
There is cruel suffering in Guatemala, and there is cruel suffering in Belize. Meanwhile, there is obscene wealth in Guatemala, and there is ostentatious luxury in Belize. Yet, both the ruling Guatemalans and the ruling Belizeans declare themselves to be followers of Jesus Christ. The scapegoat and the handler are one and the same. What does it profit a man?
Power to the people.