Features

Court Again? Pt.1

By: Neri Briceño

Belize appears to have joined the new global trend of litigated settlements.

In today’s modern world virtually everything is addressed in the courts. Individuals, companies, organizations and even countries now seem unable to meet, debate, discuss and ultimately settle differences without the presence of an attorney.

Decisions are now not a matter of right or wrong or what is fair and honest, but rather one of technicalities and who has the best lawyer. In other words the age old saying that good prevails over evil, holds no more and actually now appears to be the reverse.

Sins from the past inevitably cause problems in the future and the European system of colonialism is what has us saddled with this ridiculous Guatemalan territorial claim that we must now face.

The British for the most part have taken the Pontius Pilate approach and washed their hands clean of this problem. They have pretty much dropped off the dirty Guatemalan claim at our doorsteps.

To understand the behind the scene play that is happening regarding the Guatemala/Belize claim, all we have to do is follow the money, power and political influence and the picture becomes much clearer. Guatemala by virtue of its size and population has one of the largest economies in Latin America. Guatemala is both a powerhouse economically and politically. It has extremely strong ties with the U.S.., and with the U.S.’s two closest allies; the U.K. and Israel.

The U.K. which is our mother country has an embassy in Guatemala, while it has a High Commission in Belize; I believe that spells out a lot. Both economically and politically, all three have more to gain from a relationship with Guatemala than one with Belize. This does not mean that these countries do not ‘love’ us, but let’s just say that it’s in their best interest to ‘love’ Guatemala more.

Guatemala represents a strong political blocker for the U.S. and even more so during a time when a lot of Central and South American countries seem to be leaning towards the socialist left as evident by pro leftist leaders in Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Argentina to name a few. Some have been deposed as in the case of Manuel Zeyala in Honduras, but the leftist ‘spring’ continues in other countries.

Under the previous administration, Belize appeared to take a close liking for Hugo Chavez, the U.S. arch nemesis in the region. This current administration, however, appears to have adopted a more ‘controlled’ relationship with Chavez.

Guatemala and the U.S. have a relationship that dates all the way back to the 1954 coup which deposed  democratically elected President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, who was also a leader with socialist leanings. Guatemala was also a launching pad in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and used as a training camp and logistical center during the 1970’s and 1980’s during the Central American civil wars, which was basically a proxy war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

We will eternally be grateful that the forces of democracy won for the most part, since there is not a single person I could think of that would have enjoyed living under a Soviet style system. I point these out so as to emphasize the importance Guatemala has played in the past and continues to play in the Western Hemisphere. Guatemala also has strong historic, economic, political and cultural links to Europe since it was once a Spanish Colony.

The question now is where does that leave Belize? Economically, geographically and politically, we are not as significant as we would like to think. Not to downplay our importance, but sometimes as Belizeans we believe that we are so important to this region, that the rest of Latin America, the U.S. and Europe cannot do without us.

Let no ghost fool you, while we have significant importance, the U.S. and Europe do place economic embargoes on countries like Cuba, Libya, Iran and North Korea with economies which are hundreds of times larger than ours and isolating a country like Belize in this manner would not even affect their bottom line.

While we would not be abandoned and left to the wolves, we must realize that as a state we are disposable in the larger scheme of things. In the modern world, it’s about self preservation first.

For those who lived in border communities with Guatemala, there was always the perceived threat of an invasion in the past. While the atmosphere between both countries’ border communities were always cordial, the claim was always something real and present.

Belize became independent from Great Britain on September 21, 1981, and earned the right to govern itself and determine its own destiny. Great Britain at one time had the largest empire on Earth, spanning all the way from the Caribbean to the Pacific. The saying that ‘the sun never sets on the British Empire’ indeed held true, and at one time British Honduras which would later be called Belize was a tiny part of that empire. Belize, however, still had one major looming burden which, despite independence, was never resolved; the Guatemalan territorial claim.

I will not go into the details of this ludicrous claim since this is something with which all Belizeans are familiar. However, even after international recognition and shared diplomatic relationships, the claim still looms over our heads. It is safe to say that they will not give up their claim to Belize and will do everything within their power to institute this claim.

As early as 1945, Guatemala enacted in its constitution a provision which claims Belize as a part of its territory. This was and is still is systematically taught in Guatemalan schools and Belize was claimed on their maps and stamps.

The national congress even kept vacant seats in its assembly for representatives of its ‘other department’ and regularly placed her claim in speeches before the U.N. As late as the 1970’s and early 1980’s, Belizeans had spoken at the U.N. on behalf of Guatemala’s territorial claim and there were political parties which were sympathetic to this cause.

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