When the Belize issue first appeared on the radar of U.S. policy analysts in the 1960s, their vision of the region was heavily tinged by the effects of the Cuban Revolution and the debacle of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. The U.S. government facilitated the first tripartite talks (UK-Guatemala-Belize) in Puerto Rico in 1962, which President Ydígoras Fuentes later claimed resulted from pressure by the United States on Britain, as part of a deal in return for the use of Guatemalan territory to train members of the force for the invasion of Cuba. Whether or not this was true, it was clear that Washington fully supported the Guatemalan dictatorships as a bulwark against any communist influence. On the other hand, there was the “special relationship” between the United States and the UK, which made the former reluctant to take positions completely at variance with the latter. It had no such qualms with regard to the local Belize government, and indeed would feel more comfortable with Guatemala controlling the foreign affairs and defense of a country that, in the view of the United States, could easily come under the influence of communism.
- pg. 47, BELIZE’S INDEPENDENCE AND DECOLONIZATION IN LATIN AMERICA, Assad Shoman, Palgrave MacMillan, 2010
It is important for the masses of the Belizean people to understand that the Guatemalan claim to Belize is a serious matter, that it materially affects our lives in Belize on a daily basis in ways which we cannot really see or touch. The United States we Belizeans love so much, is pro-Guatemala. Take it or leave it.
Belize exists as a nation-state because the settlement was a satellite or protectorate of the mighty British empire. The British controlled and sheltered Belize through Jamaica, the strategic Caribbean island which they took from Spain in 1655.
The relationship between Great Britain and the United States is a unique and subtle one. Even though the U.S. fought a war of independence against the British in the eighteenth century, a war in which the French were American allies, the British and the Americans have subsequently always been on the same side in major issues. By comparison, the Americans and the French sometimes differ on big issues.
At the time of the Falkland Islands violence between Britain and Argentina in 1982, a high-ranking Reagan administration official in the U.S., Al Haig, leaned towards Argentina’s side. But, he was quickly put in check.
In the matter of Belize, the United States considers Guatemala a regional ally of the greatest importance, and the Americans are therefore always trying to ensure that Belize does not become a thorn in Guatemala’s side. The Americans were extremely reluctant to support Belize’s right to self-determination, territorial integrity and political independence, because they felt Belize could become a conduit for communist Cuban weapons and propaganda in the Petén area, where Guatemalan guerrillas sympathetic to the Cuban Revolution began fighting in 1960. Bethuel Webster’s Seventeen Proposals of 1968 are precisely what the United States wanted for Belize, in order to ensure that the Guatemalans could restrict Fidel Castro’s influence in their eastern and southern border regions.
The politico-economic system in Guatemala is a totally capitalist one, so much so that it may be considered oligarchical. In the 1970’s, Belize produced a political party, the United Democratic Party (UDP), established in 1973, which was totally capitalist and appeared destined to take power in the 1979 general elections. But, with trade union support, the incumbent People’s United Party (PUP) held on to power in the 1979 general elections, and led Belize to independence in 1981.
When Guatemala’s President Jorge Ubico revived Guatemala’s claim to British Honduras in 1939, he was not thinking about ideology. The claim to Belize was simply an issue of national pride and territorial aggrandizement. After Fidel Castro took power in Cuba and declared himself communist in 1959, then the Guatemalan claim to Belize took on an ideological nature.
Fast foward to 2012. At this newspaper, we are looking at a UDP government whose ideological outlook is more in line with the mixed-economy nationalism of the PUP in the 1970s, than with the total free market capitalism of the original UDP itself. On the other hand, we are looking at an Opposition PUP whose relationships with Belize Holdings’ Lord Michael Ashcroft, Fortis’ Stan Marshall, and the so-called Friends of Belize appear to be warm relationships.
As we study Belizean society, we are struck by the similarity of our economic structure to that of Guatemala’s. We are referring to the small group of excessively wealthy individuals and families which controls the economics of Belize, and the desperate nature of the poverty amongst the broad masses of the Belizean people. There has been a polarization which contributes to increased fear amongst the rich where the violent criminal tendencies of the poor are concerned. Today all the Belizean rich have automatic handguns, expensive guard dogs, and all-night security personnel. In Guatemala, security has gone a couple steps further – the rich have to ride in bullet-proof vehicles, with armed motorcycle security in front and behind. This is where Belize, mini-Guatemala, is heading.
In considering how we got where we are today, we have to believe that the neoliberal capitalism policies of the 1998-2008 PUP were part of the problem. The policies of the 1984-1989 UDP administration were free market capitalism. The policies of the 1993-1998 UDP were confused and confusing. Those UDP administrations were also part of our problem. UDP Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s moves to protect Belizean consumers from Ashcroft and Marshall cannot, in principle, be opposed by this newspaper. In execution, the BTL and BEL takeovers can certainly be criticized, but Amandala does not think the Belizean economy should be going the way of Guatemala’s. This is the burden of proof on the shoulders of the Francis Fonseca PUP, where we are concerned. Do you wish for Ashcroft, Marshall, and Friends of Belize to call the shots?