“For what it considered its own national interest, Mexico was against Belize giving up any land or sovereignty to Guatemala, and provided Belize ‘with maximum diplomatic support, viewing such support as a necessary counter-balance to what it considers to be U.S. support for Guatemala.’”
- pg. 150, Belize’s Independence and Decolonization in Latin America, by Assad Shoman, Palgrave MacMillan, 2010
Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s excuse for his military aggressions eastwards was that his German people needed lebensraum, which is German for “living space.” As we Belizeans can see, Guatemalan civilians have been encroaching into our territory; establishing illegal residential settlements; fishing illegally in our waters; logging illegally in our forests, and illegally extracting xate leaves and rare birds and animals. When Belizean uniformed authorities try to enforce the laws of Belize and any of these illegal Guatemalan aliens are injured or killed, the Guatemalan government and military rush to make aggrieved, and even threatening, statements.
The new Guatemalan president, Otto Perez Molina, is a former army general, and Adele Ramos-Trapp notes in the weekend issue of Amandala that where the recent shooting death of Guatemalan civilian Juan Choc Chub is concerned, Perez Molina “has taken a marked deviation from the custom of the former president, Alvaro Colom, to leave such pronouncements to the Guatemalan Ministry of Foreign Affairs.” Ramos-Trapp also points out that “Perez Molina’s statement went on to get very specific about the extent of the territorial claim. He cited ’12,700 square kilometers (4,900 square miles) of the 22,965 square kilometers (8,867 square miles) occupied by Belize’ – just over half of Belizean territory.”
Diplomatic exchanges between the Guatemalan and Belizean Foreign Ministers on the Chub matter were uncomfortable for most Belizeans, because it appeared that the Guatemalan side was aggressive while the Belize side sounded meekly apologetic. This is because of the imbalance between the two countries where military realities are concerned. All of us in Belize are absolutely positive that these incidents are taking place on the Belize side of the border. But then, there is no longer a border: there is only an “adjacency zone.” This represents obfuscation. We Belizeans are hedging our bets in the face of superior military forces. This is a decidedly uncomfortable feeling.
As Belize advanced towards political independence in the 1970s, there were basically two schools of thought. Mr. Price’s ruling People’s United Party (PUP) wanted independence as soon as possible, while the “Baymen” school of thought placed priority on a secure defence guarantee prior to the constitutional change.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Guatemalan military governments were very concerned about the possibility of an independent Belize serving as a conduit for Cuban and other communist military and propaganda matérielpenetrating the Petén and other border areas where insurgents were waging guerrilla war.
Philip Goldson, the Belizean political leader who was most focused on the Guatemalan claim to Belize, was neither a communist or a socialist. He was a total Belizean nationalist. When he was replaced as the Leader of the anti-PUP section of Belize with the founding of the United Democratic Party (UDP) in September of 1973, the new UDP pointedly played down the Guatemalan claim, and strongly emphasized “economic development.” The new UDP was very much free market capitalism in ideology, and in that respect they were in line with mainstream Guatemala City, not to mention Washington, thought.
For Belize, Mexico is a very important nation-state where the status quo is concerned. Whereas the Guatemalans frequently make diplomatic noise, the Mexicans never say anything. They are on record from way back, however, as declaring that any change in the territorial status quo of Belize would cause them to review their options.
It is somewhat remarkable that Belize achieved her independence with all our territory intact. 1981, nevertheless, may have to be considered paper independence in view of our inability, in the first instance, to declare our border, and, in the second instance, to defend it. There are all kinds of Guatemalan aggression, albeit un-uniformed, taking place day and night seven days a week, and Belize cannot respond adequately because of a lack of resources. Under the circumstances, the UDP government’s decision recently to naturalize thousands of Guatemalans for domestic political purposes raised cries of protest from Belizeans. This has been going on, of course, under both PUP and UDP governments.
For Belizeans to understand what is going on where this Guatemalan lebensraum is concerned, we have to be told of how much land was grabbed from Guatemalan peasants by post-Arbenz military governments and given to the Guatemalan generals, of which Perez Molina was one. Guatemala is a country of severe land inequities, indeed injustices. There are two solutions: the Arbenz one, which involved land distribution, and was rejected, and the military one, which encourages landless Guatemalans to go east to underpopulated Belize. It is the military option which has been in place since Arbenz was run out of Guatemala City in 1954.
We are being”punked” in Belize, and it is not a nice feeling. On the ground, the Belizean people are angry. Around the diplomatic tables, however, our political leaders talk softly and carry no stick at all. This was precisely what Mr. Goldson did not want to happen – independence with a shadow over us. That shadow has a debilitating and depressing effect on us. The state of Israel is a part of that shadow, and yet, some Belizeans believe that it is Israel where God lives. But, that is another story… Amandala