Belize – Between Guatemala and Cuba

belice
Margarito Gaspar Vega, Deputy Prime Minister of Belize, in June 2016 at the 7th Summit of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) in Havana, Cuba, tells the Cuban President that Belize is very grateful for all the support his country has received when “it has most needed it.” (Granma)

By Evan X Hyde

Belize’s education system appears to encourage Belizean students to ignore regional affairs. This newspaper has therefore struggled mightily to inform the Belizean people about some regional realities which have major and ongoing significance for Belize’s status and sovereignty. In this light, United States’ President Donald J. Trump’s speech on Friday afternoon to the Cuban exile community in Miami was almost sensational on its implications for Belize.

President Trump spoke very harshly about the Cuban government and the Cuban Revolution. In the last two years of his second term of office, President Barack Obama had made attempts to improve the climate between the U.S. and Cuba, but several of Obama’s initiatives are being reversed by Trump, and, of course, Mr. Trump will continue the crushing American embargo of Cuba.

American President John F. Kennedy had been loved in Belize, because he was a Roman Catholic, the religion to which most Belizeans belong, and because it was felt in Belize, which was black majority in population during the Kennedy presidency, that Kennedy was sympathetic to the American black civil rights struggle being led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Kennedy had been assassinated, on November 22, 1963, and mourned for decades in Belize before Belizeans began to find out about promises with respect to British Honduras (Belize) which the Kennedy administration (January 1961 to November 1963) had made to Guatemalan President Ydigoras Fuentes in return for Guatemala’s support for the April 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion by Cuban exiles.

In April of 1968, when the United States released its suggestions for the solution of the Anglo/Guatemalan dispute in the form of attorney Bethuel Webster’s Seventeen Proposals, Belizeans rejected those proposals violently. Webster’s Proposals called for Belize to become independent, but as a Guatemalan satellite state.

With his independence train in danger of being derailed because of Washington’s outright support for Guatemala in her claim matter, Premier George Price of Belize began a huge political gamble. In holding conversations with the young, London-trained attorneys, Assad Shoman and Said Musa, Mr. Price endangered his domestic political support, because Shoman and Musa were socialists, and there was an extremist anti-communist business element in Belize which was alienated by these conversations. In fact, Mr. Price was so enthusiastic about the conversations (late 1968, early 1969) that he actually invited Shoman and Musa (and their UBAD ally, Evan X Hyde) to be a part of the ruling PUP’s Belize City Council election for March 1969 BCC elections. His relationship with Shoman and Musa cost Mr. Price some of his Roman Catholic business support, which went on to form the Liberal Party in 1972, but the positive upshot of Mr. Price’s move to the left was that he received total Cuban support for Belize’s independence, in addition to the support of Panamanian President, General Omar Torrijos, Torrijos’ support for Belize breaking the monolithic Central American backing for Guatemala’s claim which had existed previously.

Two young, nationalistic Guatemalan army officers, Marco Yon Sosa and Luis Turcios Lima, had led a rebellion against the Ydigoras Fuentes’ presidency in late 1960, primarily because of Fuentes’ allowing Guatemala to be used as a training base for the invasion of Cuba. That rebellion began what became a 36-year civil war in Guatemala, from 1960 to 1996, and it was because of the military excesses of that civil war that the Guatemalan oligarchy became a pariah state in our region. U.S. President Jimmy Carter became revolted by the Guatemalan military’s massacres of civilians, to the point where he stopped American military assistance to Guatemala in 1977. Carter then went so far as to support Belize’s independence in late 1980.

The regional climate in which Belize became independent in 1981 has changed a great deal. Since beginning the election of civilian governments in 1986 and ending the civil war in 1996, Guatemala has made determined moves to clean up its act and shore up its image in the region. Belize has essentially ignored those moves, to our national peril. Trump’s ferocious attack on Cuba likely means that his administration will become even more pro-Guatemalan than Obama’s administrations were.

The ideological difference between Guatemala, which is immediately west of Belize, and Cuba, just a few hundred miles to our east, has been diametric. Guatemala has subscribed to an absolute neoliberal capitalism since Jacobo Arbenz’s overthrow in 1954, whereas Cuba became a communist state after Fidel Castro’s Cuban Revolution in 1959.

The difference between Guatemala and Cuba, however, is more than ideology: it is ethnicity. Guatemala’s power structure is dominated by a neo-European elite which despises Guatemala’s Indigenous majority. Cuba has a large African population which is loyal to the Cuban Revolution, while Miami’s Castro-hating Cuban exiles are mostly white. At the end of the day, Donald Trump is a white supremacist, and he consistently and successfully appeals to that element in the American electorate.

It does not appear that the Belizean power structure has a problem with Guatemala’s economic ideology, but there is no way Belize cannot have a problem with Guatemala’s anti-Indigenous bigotry and discrimination. In fact, the Guatemalan claim to Belize always had racist overtones, because Belize was majority black until 1980. Guatemala’s generals used to refer to Belize’s population as “Britain’s blacks.” When Belize ceased to be majority black in 1980, nevertheless, Belize became majority African/Indigenous. These are two populations which are oppressed in Guatemala, whose closest allies in the Cold War era were Israel and apartheid South Africa, icon states for white supremacists.

Derek Aikman’s announced intent to organize and mobilize Belizeans in the diaspora must be supported by nationalist Belizeans. That is because, if Belize is to survive as a sovereign, independent state, we need all our people in traction, at home and abroad. American government support for Guatemala is a given: Belizeans must find a way to reach the American people with the story of our struggle.

In conclusion, on a tangential regional note, we think that the subliminal racism inside Donald Trump’s speech on Friday afternoon may further influence Mexico’s presidential election. It is usually not advisable to bet against the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional), but Trump’s racism is driving the Mexican electorate to the left, which would endanger the candidate of the PRI.

In 2017, we Belizeans need to be informed about what is happening around us, and the three most important countries in that regard are Guatemala, Cuba, and Mexico. Learning a bit of Spanish would not hurt. We were totally ignorant in 1961. This has to change. Ignorance is death.

Power to the people.

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