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Saturday, May 8, 2021
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Team playing vs core principles

The War of 1812 was a military conflict that lasted from June 1812 to February 1815, fought between the United States and the United Kingdom, its North American colonies, and its Native American allies. Historians in the United States see it as a war in its own right, but the British often see it as a minor theatre of the Napoleonic Wars.

The United States declared war for several reasons, including trade restrictions brought about by the British war with France, the impressment of as many as 10,000 American merchant sailors into the Royal Navy, British support for Native American tribes fighting European American settlers on the frontier, outrage over insults to national honor during the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair, and interest in the United States in expanding its borders west. The primary British goal was to defend their North American colonies; they also hoped to set up a neutral Native American buffer state in the US Midwest that would impede US expansion in the Old Northwest and to minimize American trade with Napoleonic France, which Britain was blockading.

The record shows that in order to be elected to public office in Belize, one must be a team player in one of the two major political parties. What we have of parliamentary democracy here has been dominated by the People’s United Party (PUP), on the one hand, and the United Democratic Party (UDP), and its precursor before 1973, the National Independence Party (NIP), on the other.

The fact of that two-party domination, and the requirement for team playing, have had implications where core human and Belizean principles are concerned. Once the party establishes a position, one who would be successful politically must abide by the party’s decision, even if that decision violates one’s personal principles, or the aforementioned core human and Belizean principles.

We Belizeans, for example, consider it an international, yea Biblical, core principle that one should not steal. But ruling politicians in Belize routinely steal from the public treasury and misappropriate public assets, and their colleagues consent to those crimes by their silence, their conspiracy of silence. This is considered team playing.

The Hon. Philip Goldson, needless to say, was not a saint, but he is probably referenced with reverence more often than any of his political contemporaries. That is because the Hon. Goldson arguably took more principled stands than any of his political contemporaries. Between 1965 and 1980, say, the Hon. C. L. B. Rogers, PUP area representative for the Mesopotamia constituency and Deputy Premier during that period, was a much more powerful politician than Mr. Goldson, who was the area representative for the Albert constituency. But Mr. Rogers never went against his party: he was an absolute team player. Of these two Southside Belize City political powerhouses, it is Mr. Goldson for whom history has reverence.

As Belizeans are forced closer and closer to a decision on the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the ruling UDP will seek to maintain party unity on that monumental decision. There are powerful leaders in the Opposition PUP who are in favor of submitting the Guatemalan claim to an ICJ arbitration tribunal, but the PUP has been hedging on the ICJ matter. There are PUP area representatives who have expressed negativity on the ICJ. It is reasonable to say that, overall, the UDP leaders are pro-ICJ. While Prime Minister Dean Barrow has said that he personally will vote to go to the ICJ but will not pressure anyone else to do so, Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington has been all over the ICJ.

There is a territorial and constitutional status quo in place where Belize’s borders and sovereignty are concerned. That status quo was established at the United Nations on September 21, 1981, when Belize became independent politically. In moving to independence in 1981, the ruling PUP, under Premier George Price, took a major gamble. The nation was very much divided, but PUP leaders believed that the Heads of Agreement provided an opportunity for Belize to become independent without ceding territory to Guatemala, as was being advised, and often demanded, by the United States of America and Great Britain. The gamble involved the fact that the Guatemalan claim had not been settled. The PUP independence gamble worked, and the UDP accepted the sovereign status quo which was the product of that gamble when the UDP came to power for the first time in December of 1984.

In 1991, after the PUP had been returned to office in 1989, the PUP thought they saw an opportunity to settle the Guatemalan claim through the mechanism of the Maritime Areas Act. The UDP leadership, essentially Manuel Esquivel and Dean Barrow, supported the Maritime Areas Act, whereupon Mr. Goldson took a stand of principle, broke away from the UDP, and formed the National Alliance for Belizean Rights (NABR).

Mr. Goldson’s stature was such that had he not taken his NABR into a coalition with the Esquivel/Barrow UDP before the general elections of June 30, 1993, there is no doubt that the incumbent PUP would have been returned to office. Mr. Goldson, it may therefore be said, enabled Mr. Esquivel to return to power, and Mr. Goldson insisted on only one condition: the Maritime Areas Act had to be repealed. Mr. Esquivel reneged on that commitment. The Maritime Areas Act remains in place as we write – December 29, 2016.

In a sense, the leaders of Belize, both PUP and UDP, went to sleep after independence in 1981. (The exception, of course, was Mr. Goldson). The advantage Belize gained in September of 1981 had to be followed up in Washington, D.C., the political capital of the United States. At the level of the ICJ, as one foreign diplomat has said to us, decisions are based not on law, but on interests. America’s interest in the dispute with Guatemala which Belize inherited from Great Britain, has not been properly researched, examined, analyzed, and discussed by Belizean leaders and thinkers.

For decades and decades, we uninformed Belizeans have been looking at Washington and London as one. The fact of the matter is that, as late as 1941, the United States was refusing to go to war against Nazi Germany in support of Great Britain. In the late nineteenth century, there was a reason the Lakota Sioux leader, Sitting Bull, took refuge in British Canada from the American army. Earlier in that nineteenth century, the Americans had signed two treaties with the British which had to do with Central America. Those two treaties are practically ignored in Belize. These are Clayton-Bulwer in 1850 and Dallas-Clarendon in 1856. Clayton-Bulwer had to do with Mosquito lands in Nicaragua, and Dallas–Clarendon had to do with the Bay Islands and other lands in Honduras. The matter of Belize (British Honduras) was left to be settled directly between the British and Rafael Carrera’s Guatemala. Can you say 1859?

What is the point of this essay? One is that the British have become “players” in this region. It is the Americans who are calling the shots now. George Price was right. Belize has to be Central American, hence American, before we are Caribbean, which is to say, British.

The implications of the Price position were always translated into an emotional ethno/racial discourse in Belizean party politics. The almost incredible, fascinatingly paradoxical reality today is that after black Belizeans became a population minority here thirty five years ago, and have since then steadily declined in numbers, there is a UDP government in place which appears to be dominated by black Belizeans. Back when black Belizeans were a decided population majority in the 1960s, Belize was ruled by a Price PUP which was being accused of “Latinizing” the country. Listen, for sure there were many blacks who were voting for the Price PUP, even as today, many mestizo Belizeans support the UDP.

Ethnicity/race is not the issue. The issue now is geopolitics. If Belize cannot change the official thinking in Washington, then our country will be dismembered to please the Guatemalans. That is our gut feeling at this newspaper. And remember, we were never team players. You have supported us because we have stuck to the core principles. Belize uber alles.

Power to the people.

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