Although the right, and particularly the army, possessed an ample reservoir of chauvinist ambition with respect to Belize and enjoyed some success in purveying this to the populace at large (since Guatemala’s historic claim was reasonably founded on Britain’s non-compliance with the 1850 (sic) treaty), the British colony was largely inhabited by people of Afro-Caribbean and Carib stock, and its “reintegration” into Guatemala possessed little direct interest for the mass of citizens except as a pretext for venting a more generally determined exasperation. Furthermore, while the Belize issue gave a certain frisson to sabre-rattling, the escalation of stentorian claims and intermittent incursions over the border into a full-scale invasion and combat with British troops was not a compelling proposition for any but the wilder elements of the officer corps who believed that they should act as boldly as they talked. (The idea became, of course, markedly less enticing after the British military victory in the 1982 Falklands/Malvinas War against Argentine forces vastly superior to those of Guatemala. By that stage Belize had obtained independence (1981), a fact which fortified the Guatemalan left in its traditional recognition of Belizean self-determination and also enabled the Cerezo government to investigate the possibilities of reaching a diplomatic solution and resumption of full relations with London.)
(- pg. 440, POWER IN THE ISTHMUS: A political history of modern Central America, by James Dunkerley, Verso, 1988)
It was not surprising that Dr. Rene Villanueva, the multimillionaire owner of several radio stations, including the LOVE FM national radio monopoly, and other business ventures, and recently the Rotary District Governor of the Guatemala/Honduras/ Belize region, emerged last week as the poster guy on the Philip Goldson Highway for the “ICJ Yes” campaign.
But it is somewhat surprising that Dr. Assad Shoman, with all his socialist credentials and background, plus his residence in Havana, Cuba, the Western Hemisphere’s revolutionary capital, has assumed such a prominent role in the said “ICJ Yes” campaign.
The reason why one doctor’s role was not surprising, and the other’s is, has to do with something called ideology, which has to do with how nation-states approach national development. Dr. Villanueva is a neoliberal capitalist, and was the primary beneficiary of the divestment/privatization of Radio Belize in 1999 by the then People’s United Party (PUP) government. Although Dr. Shoman’s closest friend, the Rt. Hon. Said Musa, gave up socialist thinking sometime after 1984 and ran a free market economy during his two terms as Prime Minister, from 1998 to 2008, it has been generally felt that Dr. Shoman remained a true believer in socialist thinking, which is to say, he continued to believe that governments have to intervene in the workings of the economic system in order to protect the masses from capitalist predators and assure a better life for one and all.
If you read the quotation from Professor Dunkerley’s book above this essay, you will begin to understand why only a little more than a quarter of Guatemala’s voters, a decided minority, turned out last year to support an International Court of Justice (ICJ) referendum which was being touted in the republic as an opportunity to acquire some of Belize’s pristine land and sea. Guatemala’s referendum voters essentially came from its ruling class of oligarch and military families, which are astonishingly wealthy, even while Guatemala suffers from the highest rate of chronic child malnutrition in Central America. Scholars have described Guatemala as a case of two different societies: one, neo-European in nature, is First World in standard of living, while the oppressed Indigenous masses of Guatemala suffer the poverty, ignorance, disease, and despair one associates with Third World societies.
Dr. Dunkerley speaks of a “Guatemalan left” which has traditionally supported self-determination for Belizeans. Between 1944 and 1954, when Guatemala experienced what was considered a democratic revolution, that left would have included teachers, organized labor, rural workers, peasant farmers, and so on. When the reformist government of President Jacobo Arbenz was overthrown in 1954, ending the democratic revolution, and military/oligarchy rule was restored in Guatemala, the tensions and contradictions between the military/oligarchy and the “left” led to a civil war which may have begun with a nationalist rebellion of junior army officers in November of 1960, and did not end until 1996.
During the Guatemalan civil war, there were guerrilla elements operating in the Peten, right across Belize’s western border. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States accused Cabinet Ministers of Rt. Hon. George Price’s PUP administration in the early 1980s of being part of a support network in Belize for these guerrilla elements. It is felt that the CIA was referring to the Hon. Assad Shoman, then the Cayo North area representative for the ruling PUP, and Said Musa, the PUP’s Fort George area representative.
In pursuing the ICJ arbitration option for the Guatemalan differendum with Belize. Dr. Shoman is seeking the same option which the ruling classes in Guatemala have endorsed. Clearly, Dr. Shoman can argue that he is pushing the ICJ option on strictly legal and academic grounds, that in his case his position has absolutely nothing to do with ideology or political philosophy.
One of the outstanding aspects of the ICJ arbitration option is that the ICJ option is absolutely being pushed by the United States of America. The United States was responsible for overthrowing Guatemala’s reformist Arbenz government in 1954, and has supported Guatemala’s military/oligarchy ruling class since then on the foreign policy grounds of fighting communism.
When the Belizean people rejected the American mediator’s Seventeen Proposals for solving the Anglo-Guatemalan dispute over Belize in 1968, it was felt that Hon. Philip Goldson, the Leader of the Opposition National Independence Party (NIP), had led the Belizean charge against the Webster Proposals. When the NIP was absorbed into the new United Democratic Party (UDP) in 1973, and Mr. Goldson was basically replaced as Opposition Leader, it appeared to us at this newspaper that the shift in Opposition focus which came with the UDP, a shift from the NIP’s “No Guatemala” emphasis to a UDP commitment to so-called “economic development,” was a creative way of bringing the Opposition in Belize in line with the prevailing ideology amongst Guatemala’s ruling military/oligarchy.
Dr. Shoman, then an emerging leftist luminary in Mr. Price’s PUP, was a militant opponent of UDP “anti-communist” thinking, and the Dean Lindo UDP’s approach to the Guatemalan claim and Belize’s push for independence and territorial integrity. The Lindo UDP wanted to delay Belize’s independence. In his recent book, Dr. Shoman speaks harshly of the UDP’s approach, going so far as to declare that such an approach suited, in fact coincided with, the anti-Belizean independence strategy of the Guatemalan military/oligarchy.
This editorial may be seen as constituting an attack on the good Dr. Shoman. If it is an attack, we hope that it is clinical rather than personal. A much larger issue is how the pro-American, pro-neoliberal capitalist majority of Belizeans, at home and in the diaspora, decide to resolve the ICJ referendum issue within the context of the tensions and contradictions in Guatemalan society. The bottom line here is that the indications are that the majority of the Guatemalan people support Belize’s political independence/territorial integrity as is. It is a majority of ICJ referendum voters in Belize who will decide whether we go ICJ or not. In Guatemala’s case, it was a minority of their voters who made the ICJ decision. What is this saying, and what does it all mean?
Power to the people.