Belizeans and true friends of Belize,
Following a series of recent, unfortunate occurrences in our beloved nation, I am compelled to put for the above-listed query. Where do I begin? As in all things, I guess it is best to lay the foundation and then build from there.
To those who have kept tabs on what appears that only a few seem to recognise as Belize’s greatest existential threat, the nation of Guatemala’s unfounded claim to our sovereign territory, the first portion of my contribution will come as no surprise. In essence, successive administrations have taken a submissive and minimalist approach to dealing with our misguided and calculating neighbour to the west.
This has been manifest in a policy (or lack thereof), which can only be characterised as being indicative of: acquiescence, accommodation, adherence and appeasement. I say this, categorically, because on 21st September 1981 Belize was recognised as a sovereign nation (by all who mattered), with its territory intact. For those who may not be abreast of what is attributed to the term, “with its territory intact” means, in layman’s terms, it connotes that our nation’s border was both identified and acknowledged.
After all, when the British military was present in Belize, there was unequivocally no question as to the coordinates of our western border. Better yet, I dare say that, contrary to what Belize’s current foreign minister believes, at that time, no-one even conceived our border as being “artificial” – Sedi Elrington Under Scrutiny for Belize-Guatemala Remark (7News Belize)
I am no apologist for colonialism, but the reality is that successive Belizean administrations, of the ‘red’ and ‘blue’ hues which comprise the PUPD non-divide, have shirked the fundamental obligation of ensuring that our border with Guatemala was secure and that illegal encroachments would be dealt with forthwith. After, roughly 33 years of independence, we now find ourselves in a self-inflicted quagmire, as it relates to our border and naturally, our national security.
It is said that, “heavy is the head that wears the crown” and because of my recognition concerning Belize’s duplicitous two-party system of governance, my criticism includes both the sitting United Democratic Party (UDP) government and Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition – the Peoples United Party (PUP). Party partisan political fanatics often become enraged when one refers to them as the PUDP which, in my view, is a quite appropriate description of the symbiotic relationship they share.
This occasion won’t allow me to go in-depth as to the myriad of examples that buttress my viewpoint, so I will save that for another time. But I will frame my argument within the context of Guatemala’s unfounded claim and the lacklustre, illogical and pathetic display of “leadership” that both the PUP and the UDP have demonstrated on this matter of paramount national significance.
Over the years, our border has slowly been eroded and disrespected both figuratively and literally by bandits from both sides of the border. The Guatemalan xateros and poachers who illegally enter our territory unabated and plunder our flora and fauna are the obvious culprits in this saga, but they are not alone.
Let us not forget that key to this dilemma are those who we, the Belizean electorate, bequeathed the privilege to represent our nation’s best interest, have failed us. I reflect on the highly questionable decisions taken by the ministry of foreign affairs, as recently as 2008, regarding this issue. Needless to say, virtually each subsequent determination, in that regard has proven (at least to those who are willing to see) an abject failure!
As a refresher, I cite the once, much vaunted signing of the Organisation of American States (OAS)-brokered Compromis, involving the so-called “Territorial Differendum” in 2008 as a critical point of departure, which has ultimately led to where we find ourselves – Belize and Guatemala ink the compromis (Channel 5). Please note, in keeping with my crucial view of the PUDP, the aforementioned signing was, in effect the ensuing culmination of deliberations undertaken by a previous PUP administration, with its Guatemalan counterparts as early as 2006
This is precisely why, despite the compromised state in which Belize finds its national security, certain elements of the opposition cling to the ill-conceived notion that going the route of the Compromis was best for Belize. After all, there is no doubt that some have banked their “legacy” on this harebrained scheme.
For certain, the signing came with much fanfare and meanwhile, the Guatemalan government knew full well the fool’s gold that their Belizean counterparts agreed to. Amid a variety of things including confidence-building measures and the like, the lynchpin of the agreement very cunningly affixed the existence of a man-made concept, referred to as the ‘adjacency zone’.
This is significant, because in effect, Belizean authorities conceded to allowing for a virtual no-man’s land measuring approximately one (1) kilometer, to be recognised well within Belize’s sovereign territory. To be thorough, the “AZ”, as it is called, presumably extends the same distance across the border into Guatemalan territory but that is a moot point, because Belizeans are not illegally entering Guatemala, to plunder their natural resources.
To provide you with an idea of the expanse of this presumed no-man’s land, which effectively eroded our border, it is estimated by some, to be comparable to the land mass of the Cayman Islands! Admittedly, I am not well versed in such calculations, but as far as I am concerned, one square centimetre is too much.
So here you have a massive expanse of land, on the Belize side of the border, in which numerous stipulations were affixed to Belizean authorities, insofar as retaining the wherewithal to conduct military operations in our own territory.
From the onset, one must wonder what the hell the supposed “learned minds” at Belize’s ministry of foreign affairs were thinking. In essence, by agreeing to such provisos, it effectively handcuffed Belize’s authority to do what is required of a sovereign nation to ensure its territorial integrity.
This, of course, is underscored by the backdrop of having a foreign minister who is quick to highlight that Belize is small compared to Guatemala, both militarily and otherwise. To the rational mind, that inexplicably sounds eerily akin to the intentional ceding of authority, to territory that is undoubtedly yours.
At the beginning of this article, I gave mention of several unfortunate and avoidable occurrences that recently transpired in Belize, which are directly related to the negligence and short-sightedness of our so-called “leaders” and, in part, due to the lack of accountability the electorate ultimately affords them. The first incident upon which I draw is the 25th September 2014 cold-blooded murder of Special Police Constable Danny Conorquie at the Maya Archeological Site of Caracol – Tourism Police Officer Killed at Caracol (Channel 5) which, although remote, is well within (3.5 kilometers) Belizean territory
Special Constable Conorquie was shot and killed by an armed assailant. Despite the longstanding, unfounded claim held by Guatemala, this is the first instance (in recent memory) in which a Belize law enforcement officer was murdered by illegal invaders from the west.
Interestingly, although not surprising, Belize’s foreign minister is among the very few (if not the only person on this side of the Belize-Guatemala border) who, amid the overwhelming information that has come to light, remains intent on not calling a spade a spade and accede that more than likely the perpetrators of this cowardly act, who subsequently escaped back to Guatemala, are Guatemalan nationals – Foreign Minister Maintains Position on Conorquie Murder (Channel 5). His obstinate stance persists, even in the face of his boss, the prime minister, publicly acknowledging this reality – PM Barrow Says No Doubt Conorquie Killer was Guatemalan (Channel 5).
Although the Special Constable was buried with full honours, one would think that given the gravity of the matter, ministers of government from key areas (e.g. national security, tourism, foreign affairs and the Office of the Prime Minister) would have had the decency to attend his funeral. Alas, in keeping with the selfish, self-centred and myopic disposition of Belize’s elected officials, none of those mentioned apparently saw fit to honour the memory of this fallen lawman, by way of such a show of solidarity.
Contributing to what, in fact, was an avoidable tragedy was the unavailability of Belize Defence Force (BDF) personnel to promptly and effectively respond to the situation. This was due to complications with their transport. Beyond this, it was reported that, as early as January of this year, a warning was sounded by the officer in charge of the Tourism Police Unit, that the staffing and resources allocated for patrolling and securing the Caracol Site, were inadequate and in need of upgrading – What Happened To The Caracol Memo? (7News Belize)
This foretelling of potential tragedy which seemingly fell on deaf ears, sheds additional light on the fact that the franchise attributed to incompetence and dereliction are not the sole domain of our elected officials.
During Belize’s Independence Day commemoration activities in 2013, the prime minister promised to increase the number of monitoring/surveillance outposts along the border. In the wake of the murder of Special Constable Danny Conorquie, over a year later, it appears as though the government’s collective memory was rekindled. As a result, construction of one such outpost is underway at Camp Valentin, which is located less than a kilometer from Belize’s border with Guatemala.
According to news reports, on 3rd October 2014 yet another disturbing incident occurred. Approximately 25 Guatemalan villagers from across the border in San Valentin ostensibly sought to ambush BDF soldiers who were guarding the construction site. It is alleged the villagers threatened to burn down the outpost.
Again, here we have an instance, clearly in Belizean territory, in which illegal Guatemalans have brazenly aggressed Belize security personnel. It is noted the killer(s) of Special Constable Conorquie are alleged to have escaped to the very same Guatemalan village, just across the border – Armed Incursion at Camp Valentin Threatens B.D.F. Soldiers (Channel 5)
As if though the past few weeks were not bad enough, the epitome of Belize’s untenable lack of governmental and governance acumen was on full display with the uncovering of something that amounted to a, diplomatic, slap in the face of nation. Reports surfaced that the contract to build the Belize Coast Guard’s forward operating base, which is currently under construction, courtesy of the United States government, at Hunting Caye in Belize’s much-sought-after southern waters, was awarded to a Guatemalan company – Guatemalans Building Belize Coast Guard Base At Hunting Caye (7News Belize)
Needless to say, given Guatemala’s unfounded claim and their hostile stance toward maintaining it, such a decision by the USA is, at the very least, insensitive and potentially damaging to Belize’s national security interests. Most are aware that Uncle Sam is far less concerned with Belize’s territorial sovereignty in light of the Guatemalan claim, versus its own strategic impetus for funding the aforementioned project. In effect, the forward operating base will serve the US’s interests by way of increasing Belize’s capacity to assist in monitoring and intercepting narcotics trafficking through our territorial waters.
Quite honestly, the response of one of Belize’s esteemed politicians, although highly disconcerting , did not come as a surprise, given what has come to be associated as being befitting of those who are adorned with the prefix “Honourable”. During a sitting of the House of Representatives earlier this month, when questioned regarding the matter, no less than the minister of national security was attributed as saying, “The question has to be whether we would look a gift horse in the mouth and give up a much needed forward operating base from which to do the very same security activities which we all know are so important to the security of our nation.”
If that is not representative of a lack of conviction, in addition to being outright ludicrous, I don’t know what conceivably is Minister Saldivar Says He Knew About BINARQ…But Kept Mum (Channel 5). Not only was this the case, but it was also uncovered that none of the workers on the project were Belizean nationals! – Minister of Immigration Clueless on Workers’ Status (Channel 5)
Thankfully, due to sustained pressure from the media, as well as the citizenry, this gross disrespect to Belize and concurrent lack of consciousness, by its benefactor from the north, was abated. On 9th October, reports surfaced that the US Army Corps of Engineers informed the Guatemalan company that it must stop construction on the nearly completed facility. This was substantiated by a press release from Belize’s ministry of national security –A Halt On Hunting Caye Construction By Guatemalan Company (7News Belize)
Although the matter has since been halted, by virtue of its occurrence, it only lends to the justified perception that Belize’s leaders must fall under one of three categories. Either they are: (1) hopelessly clueless and incompetent, (2) simply too self-absorbed to be concerned with such matters or (3) basically they just do not care!
I highlight this concern because news reports note that the very same Guatemalan company in question completed two, previous construction projects involving Belize military installations, including the Belize Coast Guard’s forward operating base on Ambergris Caye in the north, as well as the Joint Operations Centre in Ladyville, which is used by the: BDF, Coast Guard and the Police Department –Did Guatemalans Build Joint Operations Centre on Price Barracks? (Channel 5)
Please bear in mind that virtually everyone in a position of influence in the respective ministries, save for the minister of national security who eventually revealed that he was aware of the contract, are on record to say they had no knowledge of the particulars involving this situation –Hunting Caye F.O.B. Under Fire (Channel 5) To this I can simply state that no matter the circumstances, that which transpired is inexcusable and someone must be held accountable.
Although that is clear, given the culture of bi-partisan patronage, it is highly unlikely that accountability will be either sought or obtained. It is in instances such as these, that I ask the Belizean electorate whether they believe that Belize deserves better.
Bearing in mind the highlighted concerns, I turn my attention to how such negligence, as demonstrated by Belize’s elected authorities have not only compromised our national security, but also the well-being of our national patrimony. Indeed, anyone who reads this should be concerned, for what stands out is that our nation’s “leadership” (in this context, I include not only those who are in power, but also their counterparts, across the aisle, for together, they form the legislature aka the loathsome PUDP), is virtually non-existent.
For certain, the existent “leadership”, or lack thereof, is ineffective in instances where it should be, yet it has proven remarkably efficient when it comes to being used as a tool to amass personal possessions, as well as keeping political cronies afloat. It appalls me, almost to the point of physical sickness when I hear half-hearted calls coming from across the political aisle, which purport to be critical of the current administration –Senator Shoman Blasts G.O.B. for Skewed Priorities (Channel 5)
History will demonstrate that not too long ago, when the proverbial shoe was on the other foot, some who are politically linked and are now screaming from the highest mountain top, did their utmost to maintain the status quo and, in some instances, despite the outright failure of their policy of appeasement, continue to toe the line.
In fact they persist, almost unconsciously to sing the praises of their misguided and nonsensical foreign affairs folly of endorsing and embracing the Compromis. Albeit beyond the hardly bearable hypocrisy, their current stance on the matter is admittedly rational in its moorings –The Guatemalan Occupation: Dangerous Accommodationism (Flashpoint Belize)
Nonetheless, it does not escape me that the politically aligned are simply biding their time, upon which they expect the political merry-go-round shall come full-circle. At which point, both sides of the PUDP non-divide will switch places and, like clockwork, all rational thought will miraculously evade whichever of the two takes charge in Belmopan and the poppy show will continue, unabated. At least that is what they anticipate. Belizeans and true friends of Belize, everywhere, it is the: countenancing, facilitation and adherence to the status quo that has Belize in its current state of uncertainty.
Due to the apparent lack of understanding by the PUDP, in terms of how best to deal with Guatemala’s unfounded claim and the many ills such as illegal incursions, the occupation of Belizean territory, poaching of our wildlife and the systematic degradation of our natural resources, the noteworthy task of securing our national patrimony has been taken up by NGOs such as Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD), which co-manages Belize’s largest terrestrial protected area – the Chiquibul National Park. Incidentally, this is where a majority of the illegal activities perpetrated by Guatemalan usurpers occurs.
Of note, the Columbia Forest Reserve is yet another area where illegal activities are undertaken by Guatemalans, who have no regard for Belizean sovereignty.
The FCD has, as its goal, to motivate the public to protect the environment through conservation awareness while enhancing the development of the human resource – Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD). In so doing they maintain several programmes including: environmental education, biodiversity conservation, cultural protection, bi-national relations, research and their park ranger outfit. Don’t be fooled, for the persistent threat posed to Belize’s natural resources is real. When one thinks of the damage that is being inflicted to Belize’s natural habitat and wildlife, there is no question that the role embodied by the FCD Park Rangers, is essential – Scarlet Macaw Being Poached In Chiquibul (7News Belize)
Therefore, among their many tasks, the brave civilian rangers who patrol and monitor the vast expanse of the Chiquibul are in constant danger while carrying out their duties. In many respects, they take up much of the slack that exists due to the misguided and misplaced allocation of manpower and resources, as dictated by the government.
Can you believe that, despite the mandate of the BDF being to secure Belize’s borders, government has chosen, on various occasions, to redirect a large number of the already sparse force of a little over 1,500 personnel (active and reserve), to conduct civilian policing operations in Belize City? As a result, the need for additional resources is evident, as was the case in the unfortunate murder of Special Constable Conorquie.
Hence, despite being co-managers of the national park, the FCD has very little choice but to seek alternative means such as the upcoming fundraising telethon scheduled for 18th October, to ensure that adequate financial support is obtained in order to sustain and hopefully increase their vital operations – FCD Launches Telethon To Fundraise For Rangers (7News Belize)
In commencing this piece, I posited the question, “Belize: Are we in a state of insecurity or are we an insecure state?” With all that I have shared, which is but just the tip of the iceberg, kindly ponder for a moment… Does a nation that obtained independence some 33 years ago, complete with international recognition of its borders intact, by way of its “leadership” opt to whimsically enter into an agreement, brokered by a third party entity, in which it essentially cedes the authority to secure its borders, to the oversight of the aforesaid third entity? Given all that has transpired to-date, would you deem such actions as being indicative of a political system that is secure concerning the sovereign status of the nation?
I shall be frank on the matter of the OAS contrived scheme to have Belizeans slit their collective throat, by taking part in a simultaneous referendum with the nation that claims approximately half of Belize as its own.
Irrespective of what the supposedly learned individuals in the PUDP profess about going to the ICJ, Belizeans must wake up and accept that the very ones (both elected and aspiring) who seek to lead us into the abyss, have the blood of the slain special constable on their hands, due to their disregard and failure to fulfill their duty of ensuring that Belize’s border remains secure. So then why should we take their word that going to the ICJ is in the best interest of Belize?
My people, it is high time to realise that the game the PUPD is playing has consequences and by virtue of even participating in the impending referendum it gives a degree of credence to Guatemala’s unfounded claim. Therefore, it is my position, that all Belizean must boycott the referendum. After all, in 2013, by way of its intransigence Guatemala reneged on its commitment involving the Compromis, yet Belize’s foreign affairs gurus saw fit to stick to their policy of appeasement and summarily excused and absolved the Guatemalans of their breach of the agreement –Guat Foreign Minister Visits: Referendum On Pause, Renewed Effort At Confidence Building (7News Belize)
Therefore, it is up to you, Belizeans and true friends of Belize, to stop being willing pawns in the clutches of the PUDP and their external handlers. If the saga regarding the USA’s granting of a contract to a Guatemalan construction company to build our Coast Guard base isn’t proof enough of the level of (1) contempt that others have for our nation and its sovereignty and (2) just how out-of-sync our “leaders” are, when it comes to issues of national security and that which is in the best interest of Belize, then I submit you may very well be suffering from a case of self-inflicted cognitive dissonance.
If the blatant and brazen actions of Guatemalans who threatened our BDF personnel at Camp Valentine, in Belizean territory, aren’t proof enough that the government of Belize’s policy of acquiescence has failed us, maybe you simply don’t care. If the ongoing rape, pillaging and poaching of our natural resources, fauna and flora is not proof enough, coupled with our “leader’s” lack of prioritisation and adequate response, fails to unnerve you, then maybe you couldn’t be bothered.
But for heaven’s sake, I trust that unnecessary death of Special Constable Danny Conorquie and the government of Belize’s lacklustre response to this tragedy has left an indelible mark on your conscience, because one of our own was sacrificed, due to neglect and ineptitude of those elected to ensure that Belize is secure and free of external threats.
It is in that regard I ask, “Do you believe going to the ICJ shall prove beneficial for Belize?” I would hope you recognise that going to the ICJ is like played with a deck of cards that is stacked, squarely against you.
With that said, I implore every Belizean, irrespective of where you reside, to reflect on the chronology of events presented. Take a long, hard look in the mirror and, again, ask yourself the original question “Belize: Are we in a state of insecurity or are we an insecure state?” Once you are willing to set aside the traditional ‘red’ and ‘blue’ tinted lenses that many use to view the Belize situation, I think the answer will become clearer.
It is time to view these pressing issues from a nationalist perspective. If not, the nation of Belize shall remain mired in the quagmire in which we have allowed the PUDP to place us and rest assured, it is only through the resolve and determination of the Belizean people that the tide of this national catastrophe shall be turned.
In closing, I submit that, due to our complacency, as a people, we have allowed a select group of privileged Belizeans to hijack our political system. We have been hoodwinked with our eyes wide-open, so much so to the point that they are virtually gifting Belize to Guatemala, through their ineffectiveness and inaction. Despite overwhelming evidence of the wretched failure involving successive GOB administrations to adequately address the issue of Guatemala, in their arrogance they continue to sell Belizeans the dream (which is in fact a nightmare) that their ineffective policies are success stories – Elrington Applauds G.O.B. for ‘Diplomatic Strides (Channel 5)
When I look at the current state of my beloved country, I see a nation that is caught in a web of national insecurity, which was brought on by the insecurities and lack of nationalism of those whom we continuously elect to ensure that Belize’s best interests are served. In other words, the caretakers we hire are unworthy, yet we continue to facilitate their uselessness, at our own peril.
Our current state of insecurity is evident, yet a close and enduring self-introspection is required, by each of us, in order for Belizeans to prove confident in knowing that we are a sovereign nation, whose destiny hinges on our commitment to sacrifice. Our mission must be to: (1) maintain that which is rightfully ours, (2) regain that which has been lost and (3) ensure that those in positions of power and influence are held accountable for any breach of the peoples’ trust.
Only by way of this conviction shall Belize be able to effectively defend its territorial integrity and maintain our sovereignty. This, of course, begins with each individual and through a variety of ways it can be engendered. Yet, its ultimate manifestation can only be mandated when you cast your vote. In that regard, I hope that all Belizeans recognise the monumental failure of the PUDP on the paramount issue of national security; for living in an insecure state, or if you prefer, a state of national insecurity is unacceptable for a sovereign nation!
Belizeans and true friends of Belize, our nation deserves far better than that to which we have resigned ourselves. Think about it and act now, before we no longer have a nation to call our own.
Belize, Sovereign and Free – NO ICJ!