“In that sense, Bishop Gerardi’s murder seemed like Guatemala’s last great nineteenth-century crime. It was redolent of Masonic and Jesuit intrigue, and it had propelled the country’s two most influential institutions – the Army and the Church – into their bitterest confrontation since the 1870s, when General Justo Rufino Barrios, ‘the Reformer,’ expelled Jesuits from the country; turned nuns out of their cloisters; converted churches and convents into prisons, post offices, a Masonic temple, a customs warehouse for liquor and tobacco; and invited Protestants from Europe and North America to Guatemala as part of a program for racial improvement and modernization. General Barrios’s government seized traditional Maya lands and gave them to immigrants and Liberal Party cronies to convert into coffee plantations, the basis of an economy whose trappings exist to this day.”
- pg. 141, The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed The Bishop, by Francisco Goldman, Grove Press, New York, 2007
Belize is a nation state which has half of its territory claimed by a neighbour to the immediate west, Guatemala, which is forty times larger than Belize in population and therefore has the power to intimidate Belize. There are some Belizeans who insist that the Guatemalan claim to Belize is “unfounded,” but we at this newspaper believe that there is a foundation of sorts to the claim in the world of real politik. That foundation of sorts, in terms of its effect on Belizeans, would derive from the fact that Guatemala is much larger and more powerful than Belize, and therefore has serious credibility when she, as she has done several times before, threatens to invade Belize.
In history, there is always some right to might, and this is why some wars are fought. Groups of people have believed, from time to time, that they have the might to make right some positions which they hold on some particularly pressing matter. These groups of people sometimes make war to prove their point: they use might to make right.
A mere 600 miles from the southeastern tip of the United States, Belize lies within the world superpower’s sphere of influence, so to speak. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the United States began to be considered as the world’s only superpower, this after a period before that, beginning with the end of World War II and during the subsequent so-called Cold War, when it appeared that the U.S. and the Soviet Union were the two most powerful nations on planet earth, and that they were fighting for world hegemony.
In the first half of the twentieth century, two world wars had been fought. In both of the world wars, the first between 1914 and 1918 and the second between 1939 and 1945, it seemed that the principal antagonists were Great Britain and Germany. Britain and her allies won both wars, but after World War II, two of Britain’s allies in that war, America and Russia, emerged as more powerful militarily than the United Kingdom.
Today, following the financial collapse of 2007 and 2008, the power of the United States has been reduced, whereas China has been going from strength to strength where industrial productivity and favorable balance of trade/payments are concerned. Even though Russia remains a formidable world presence, it is the Chinese who are now considered the no. 1 threat to the American empire which has policed the world over the last two decades.
In our region of the world, Mexico is not a challenge to America, but Mexico is of real concern to Washington because of Mexico’s traditionally independent nationalism. The present Calderon government in Mexico is viewed by many Mexicans as submissive to the United States. The Mexican drug cartels are as strong as they are in Mexico because they make money for Mexico by selling narcotics to the American consumer market. Many Mexicans consider the American government more hostile to their interests than the domestic cartels are. On Washington’s side, they cannot count on Mexicans to support the U.S. blindly when it comes to such issues as Castro’s Cuba, Chavez’s Venezuela, and, of course, the so-called war on drugs.
Guatemala is different. Guatemala has always been the United States’ no. 1 ally in this region of the world. Guatemala has sometimes behaved in an even more anti-communist manner than the Americans do. The main reason for the violence of official Guatemala behaviour is the extent to which the power structure in Guatemala is militarized. When the Guatemalan government is not headed by a real Guatemalan general, the generals are still so powerful that they can intimidate and destabilize supposedly civilian governments. Where the power of their oligarchy, in cahoots with the military and the Church, to dominate the society is concerned, Guatemala is a country which sometimes appears to be in the nineteenth century still.
Guatemala, South Africa and Israel were very close friends during the Cold War, following the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948. The racist apartheid policy of South Africa was exposed internationally, to the extent that world opinion forced white South Africa to abandon apartheid in the 1990s. The racist and genocidal policies of the Guatemalan oligarchy/military were not so exposed, hidden as they were under a post-1954 posture of anti-communism which was supported by successive United States governments.
The first United States president to stop supporting Guatemala militarily was Jimmy Carter in 1977, but American allies, Israel and Taiwan, immediately filled the arms vacuum in Guatemala. And the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 returned carte blanche to the neo-European Guatemalan ruling classes to wage their scorched earth civil war against the majority indigenous people of Guatemala. When that civil war ended officially in 1996, after more than thirty years and almost a quarter million deaths, it was because American public opinion, regional opinion and world opinion had turned against the Guatemalan oligarchy/military, even as world opinion had previously forced the end of apartheid.
But the people of the United States, by and large, are not interested in the people of Guatemala. All Americans want is to enjoy an ever higher standard of living. They want their politicians to support their military, which protects their businessmen and their money when they invest in countries like Guatemala. American businesses have had huge investments in Guatemala for decades and decades. Their ties with the Guatemalan ruling classes are longstanding and solid. Guatemalan governments and businesses have lawyers and lobbyists in Washington who are permanently on payroll to advance their interests in the American Congress and Senate.
The challenge for Belize begins with the fact that, for many different reasons, our people are very much American and pro-American in their thinking. But Belize was a British colony until 1981, and the interests of Guatemala were always far more important to the United States than matters in Belize. This has changed a bit, but the Americans will not consciously alienate the Guatemalans. And the Guatemalans do not want real development to take place in Belize. That is the purpose of Guatemala’s paid lobby in Belize – to frustrate real development and nationalism in Belize at every turn. Where the Guatemalan oligarchy/military are concerned, Belize is Guatemala’s 23rd Department. We Belizeans, to put it mildly, do not see things that way. For Belize, right is good, but might is necessary. Life is real, Belizeans. Get real.
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.