Belize's tussle with USA

Rickey Singh

Wednesday, June 14th 2006

IS Belize being politically pressured by the US for its alleged failure to effectively deal with a human trafficking problem, or is it really part of Washington's covert agenda against governments in this hemisphere who support Cuba and Venezuela?

Should Prime Minister Patrick Manning go ahead with his brief visit on Friday to Belize that is located in, and with strong cultural and economic ties with, Central America, he would find his Belizean counterpart in quite an angry mood with the Bush administration.

Prime Minister Said Musa is livid with the US State Department for slapping Belize with a punitive "Tier-3" rating because, in the reckoning of Washington, that Caricom state has not been forthcoming enough to arrest the crime in human trafficking for which it has been identified as a source and transit point.

Human trafficking is a worldwide problem, often highlighted by the degradation of women and children seduced for the sex trade and/or a cheap source of labour around the world, with thousands also recruited into the US.

Often linked to unscrupulous trans-border business enterprises and criminal networks, Caribbean governments are being increasingly sensitised to policies and measures to deal with the practices. The US has assumed a lead policing role in the battle against human trafficking.

But in so doing it has been accused of arbitrarily using a one-to-three rating system in assessing a country's response to human trafficking that can have negative economic and political consequences for the particular country, but which can well satisfy a wider agenda of the US.

Previously, Guyana and Jamaica had come under heavy pressure for their allegedly unsatisfactory responses to the trafficking in persons, both within their jurisdiction and beyond their borders. They fought back with varying complaints and actions and won adjustments to their negative ratings, as revealed in the US State Department Human Trafficking Report.

However, in relation to Belize, a country too poor and incapable of effectively monitoring illegal migration across borders with Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, the US has identified it as "the source, transit and destination country" for men, women and children trafficked for the purposes of labour and sexual exploitation.

Consequently it got a harsh Tier-3 rating in accordance with America's unilateral rating system in which the affected or victim nation is simply left to work its way out of such a punitive category.

Not surprisingly, Prime Minister Musa felt it was just too much, coming from an administration whose own record in human rights abuses is simply too woeful and scandalous to be ignored.

Musa chose to state his response to the State Department's latest report on human trafficking as follows: "Those who seek to judge us should perhaps examine their own decadent societies before they come and pass judgment on us," and sharply added to reporters that it was "no coincidence that Belize had been jumped on and almost put in a box, so to speak, with Cuba and Venezuela".

The Musa government, which has been consistent in its militant support for Cuba, and now equally strong in defence of Venezuela's sovereignty and the Hugo Chavez administration, is among a number of countries in Caricom and Latin America, including Brazil and Argentina, backing Venezuela's bid for one of the non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council.

This is one of the issues expected to be discussed at next month's Caricom Summit in Basseterre, where, if not unanimity, overwhelming support is expected to be signalled for Venezuela in preference to another member of the Organisation of American States, Guatemala.

Most Caricom states are currently involved in the Venezuela-initiated PetroCaribe project with its special concessions at time of escalating costs for oil imports.

Guatemala, which maintains an historical pre-independence territorial claim to a large slice of Belizean territory, has the support of the Bush administration for the UN Security Council seat. It currently maintains an illegal settlement of Guatemalans in the Santa Rosa area of Belize.

Musa's Foreign Ministry has signalled to its Caribbean and Latin American allies that it would, in the circumstances, find it difficult to be neutral about Guatemala's candidature for the UN Security Council. In contrast, the Bush administration has already let it be known to all OAS member states, that it was not contemplating sitting with Venezuela on the UN Security Council.