Commentary: Belize’s 37 years of independence remains haunted due to the Guatemalan claim

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Born in Dangriga Town, the cultural capital of Belize, Wellington Ramos has BAs in Political Science and History from Hunter College, NY, and an MA in Urban Studies from Long Island University. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science and History

By Wellington C. Ramos

When Belize became an independent nation on September 21, 1981, there were some Belizeans who felt that the Guatemalan claim will eventually end. However, there were others who said that, even if we became independent, Guatemala will still continue to claim our country. The second group of Belizeans was right.

Looking at the facts of our history, I can safely say that even the British felt that way and this was the main reason why they wanted us to accept the heads of agreement that they proposed to us by Nicholas Ridley on March 11, 1981, prior to our independence. The Belize people at home and abroad totally rejected those proposals because they felt that it was the same as the 17 Webster Proposals that an American diplomat proposed to Britain and Belize in 1968 to end the territorial dispute.

Even though the British felt that way, they refused to grant us a defence guarantee. When they were asked on independence day how long will their troops remain in Belize, they replied by saying: for an indefinite period of time. Some Belizeans took that to mean forever but they left shortly after we obtained our independence. This left our people and nation defenseless against a country that is huge and has a large population with about 17 million people and a military force of 106,775 with a manpower availability of 6,660,000 that can be drafted in the event of a war at any time.

This is compared to Belize’s 2,000 troops and a population of about 400,000 people. Great Britain did not do any justice to our people and nation because we inherited this menace from them and it is their responsibility to settle it. Most of our members of the Belize Defence Force are being utilized to patrol the streets of Belize instead of patrolling our borders.

Because of the government neglect of our borders, many Guatemalan citizens come in and out of Belize as they please, as if Belize belongs to them. Some of them remain citizens of Belize and others just come in to trespass or steal some of our artifacts and natural resources as they please.

For Belize to acquire independence from Great Britain it was difficult but all the circumstances were in place around that period of time. Our independence was achieved in 1981 due to these factors. Some Belizeans were determined to become independent especially our Premier George Price and his People’s United Party, the United Nations had passed a decolonization resolution for all colonies to become independent by the mid 1980s, Great Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher wanted Britain to rid itself of all of its colonies due to the financial burden but the Argentine invasion of the Falkland Islands delayed it due to Belize being used in the conflict as a transit point for troops and military hardware, Russia through Cuba was supporting oppressed people and liberation movements in Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador and other parts of the world and the Americans were becoming scared.

The United States under Reagan in the 1980s was concerned about the impact these wars in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico would have on refugees flooding immigrants into the country. In fact, Britain started to complain about the cost of keeping troops in Belize during those years. The United States offered them financial assistance to keep the troops in Belize to stabilize the situation.

Upon becoming independent, we should have used these reasons to get a defence guarantee from the United States but Britain and Belize did not trust the United States because they have always been sympathetic to the Guatemalans. The United States can help Belize to get Guatemala off our backs and we need our people living in the United States to lobby for us.

This is why we have to give Belizeans living in the United States their rights in Belize, to make them believe that they have something at stake in their homeland. Americans will be reluctant to favour Guatemala over Belize because of their terrible human rights record. Plus, many Americans have left their country to go and live and become citizens of Belize. They will lobby their government to tell their elected members of Congress, that Guatemala should leave Belize alone. Belize is an English speaking country and the Americans like it that way. There are some Belizeans who tend to be anti-American but they depend on the American dollar every day to survive.

Not only are some Belizeans anti-American but they have extended their attitude, towards being anti-Belizean-American, which is even worse. I have heard some of them say when I go to Belize, Deh people we cum from foreign deh no di come ya and tell we we fu du with fu we country. They are referring here to natural born and Belizean citizens like themselves who just happen to be living in the United States and other countries. This dislike for their Belizean brothers and sisters in the United States is being shown now because the current government is denying Belizean citizens who live abroad their rights to register so that they can vote on the ICJ issue.

Yet, the Belizeans citizens at home have not confronted their representatives and political parties to give their relatives and friends their rights to vote in the upcoming June 2019 referendum. If the Belizean people go to all of their homes and make this demand, they will have to get up out of their beds, go to Belmopan and give their citizens who live abroad their rights to vote on this extremely important issue. They are being paid by our taxes to work for us. If people do not work they do not get paid and if we the employers are not satisfied with their work we can fire them.

Our Belizean citizens’ attitude towards us appears to be more jealousy than hate. There is a saying: Never bite the hands that feed you because to be ungrateful will not bring happiness into your life. Giving compliments and showing appreciation as a human being is a worthy thing to do because it brings many good things into a person’s life.

Now, not only some of our people are displaying that attitude to their sons and daughters of the soil but the UDP, PUP governments and other political parties in Belize. We cannot afford to be fragmented as a small nation because we need all of our citizens to maintain and preserve our independence.

Next year in the month of June there will be chaos in Belize, when the Belizeans vote on whether to take the Guatemalan dispute to the ICJ for a final resolution. If they vote YES, Guatemala, the Belize government, most of the UDP and PUP party bosses will all be happy. If the Belizean people vote NO, which I think will happen, they will say that the Belizean people are foolish and they do not know what a huge mistake they have made to settle this dispute with Guatemala.

They forgot that we do not have a dispute with Guatemala: it was the British with Spain and then Guatemala and the British. Spain the originator of the problem is not heard of in all these negotiations. Elections will be coming up in Belize in 2020 and the two major political parties have already started to campaign.

If the YES vote passes, they will both take credit for it and try to assure us that they will win the case at the ICJ and Guatemala will end their claim to our country. If the Belize people vote NO, PUP will say that the UDP government did not do a good job in their education campaign in educating the Belizean people.

We should not accept that excuse because as of now, both UDP and PUP are working together like Jekyll and Hyde so they both will be held accountable for the vote.

By this time they will become more unpopular and will lose more faith, trust and confidence from the Belizean people. Any group of Belizeans that is dissatisfied with the current economic, social and political conditions in Belize, should launch a new political party now. This is the opportune time for a grassroots Belizean party to gain the faith, trust and confidence of the Belizean people that the two parties have lost.

I have been following my country’s politics from the 1960s and, when you mention Guatemala, Belizeans get scared to death. This time will not be any different and may be worse because of allowing Guatemalan citizens to vote on this issue while their country is still claiming ours. While at the same time denying natural born Belizean citizens and other citizens who live abroad their fundamental rights.

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