I’m halfway through a book Dr. Dennis Young brought for me on Sunday. The work is entitled MISUNDERSTOOD CAUDILLO: Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes and the Failure of Democracy in Guatemala. The author is Roland H. Ebel, a retired professor from the Political Science Department of Tulane University in New Orleans.
Ydígoras Fuentes was president of Guatemala from 1958 to 1963. The “recovery” of Belize was a major part of his political agenda, so that his name was a fearful one for most of us who were growing up in British Honduras at the time.
It was during Fuentes’ presidency that Francisco Sagastume Pérez, a “Christian Democratic university politician,” crossed Belize’s southern border, burned the Union Jack, and raised the Guatemalan flag. Sagustume was leading “a group of adventurers and students” early in 1961.
Three years before, Fuentes himself, while visiting the Department of El Peten, crossed over into Belize on April 16, 1958. He was accompanied by the presidents of the Guatemalan Supreme Court and the Congress. “Requesting that the sergeant on duty obtain permission from the British Governor for the party to proceed to the Belizean town of Cayo, some three miles away, he had his picture taken in front of the police barracks in Benque Viejo brandishing his ‘entry permit’ – a copy of the Guatemalan constitution. When permission to proceed further was denied, he calmly returned to the Guatemalan side of the border proclaiming, ‘Belize will be ours by right or might.’” (pg. 136, MISUNDERSTOOD CAUDILLO, Roland H. Ebel, University Press of America, 1998)
I think that if we Belizeans had known that the Americans had made an informal agreement with Fuentes, in return for his allowing Guatemala to be used to train Cuban exiles for the invasion of Castro’s Cuba, to support Guatemala’s claim to British Honduras, that we would have been much more alarmed than we already were. For some reason, Fuentes’ 1961 New Year’s speech didn’t make the headlines here, as far as I can remember. “… he dropped one of his characteristic bombshells: he stated that the Kennedy administration had agreed to use its good offices to convince Great Britain to settle the Belize question in exchange for the secret training camp he had provided for the Bay of Pigs invasion.” (pg. 261, ibid.)
When I finish the book, I will talk some more with you. For now, here’s my point. In 1961, I was a 14-year-old high school student. I was an uninformed, brown-skinned, middle class Creole. “Uninformed” means I absolutely didn’t know the difference between “Spanish” and “Maya.” I didn’t know anything about the Caste War, and I didn’t know anything about the Mexican Revolution. I didn’t know anything about the United Fruit Company, and I had never heard of Francisco Morazán or Rafael Carrera. I knew nothing about Ubico, Arévalo, or Arbenz. All I knew was that we were scared of Guatemala.
I’m talking about brown-skinned, middle class Creoles living in Belize City in 1961. The British had us where they wanted us, so they “played” us. Vaguely “Afro-Saxon” as we were, we were used by the British to fight against the nationalist, anti-colonial movement here.
The Guatemalans were not in a position to launch a real invasion of British Honduras. Firstly, British intelligence in Guatemala City would have known about it before it even became organized. Secondly, the British have warships cruising in these regional waters as a matter of course, as was demonstrated in 1948. Thirdly, the Guatemalan military is important in the maintenance of law and order in Guatemala, because this is a nation which is in a state of permanent civil war. Guatemala is really two nations. One is a very wealthy, neo-European, First World state, and the other, very much Third World, is comprised of oppressed, desperately poor, indigenous people.
The indigenous people are the Achilles heel of Guatemala’s ruling classes. The indigenous people have not been integrated into the body politic. At Kremandala, over the last few years we have nurtured the indigenous Belizean voice of Clinton Uh Luna. Most of our people who have remained “Afro-Saxon” don’t want to hear anything he has to say or have anything to do with him. This is because they are uninformed. They are uninformed about the indigenous.
In the authorized biography of the Rt. Hon. George C. Price, Godfrey Smith writes that Mr. Price considered UBAD and PAC to be “nuisances” and “distractions.” Well, the two PAC leaders became PUP Cabinet Ministers in 1979, and one of them became PUP Leader in 1996, and Prime Minister from 1998 to 2008. The UBAD leader, well, he works at Kremandala, you see. And what Kremandala does, is provide information to the Belizean people on the regional and international real. We’ve been doing that since 1969. God willing, we’ll keep on keeping on …
Power to the people.