CONNECTING TERRITORIAL SOVEREIGNTY WITH NATIONALISM AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR US AS BELIZEANS
Kindly allow me to begin, by first stating that it is an honour to be here, in your midst. I take particular pride in (1) being afforded the opportunity to liaise with the youth of Belize and (2) it just happens that the subject of this year’s Social Justice Forum, that being “Territorial Sovereignty: Its Role in Nationalism” incorporates two, matters which are near and dear to my heart.
Bearing this in mind, in opening this presentation, I shall utter something and ask that you take a brief moment to reflect what it means to you. That which I request you reflect upon is the number “8867”. Think about it, because we shall come back to, in due course.
Given that you have already heard from one of my esteemed colleagues, I shall endeavor to bring together some of the elements he covered, by demonstrating the essential connections between territorial sovereignty, with nationalism, and what it means for us as Belizeans.
Insofar as I am concerned, “Territorial Sovereignty” and “Nationalism” go hand-in-hand. Better yet, I shall say that the two are inseparable. Let us take a look at the word, “Territorial Sovereignty”. Fundamentally, it gives credence to the “Exclusive right of a state to exercise its powers within the boundaries of its territories.” Another definition extols that it is, “the full right and power of a governing body to govern itself without any interference from outside sources or bodies.” Of course, given the current climate in and around Belize, in particular, involving our neighbour to the west’s persistence in pushing its unfounded claim to our sovereign territory, I trust you agree this is a rather salient topic.
As for the word, “Nationalism”, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it is defined as, “loyalty and devotion to a nation, especially: a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups”. Now I dare say, that is quite a mouthful and honestly, it is, for several reasons. Of course, the explanation is rather lengthy, but more important is the essence of that which it describes. In effect nationalism, is quite simply, LOVE OF COUNTRY, ABOVE ALL THINGS, SAVE FOR GOD.
As I alluded to earlier, the significance of both Territorial Sovereignty and Nationalism within the Belizean context, given Guatemala’s obstinate continuance of its claim, coupled with the most unfortunate foreign policy (or lack thereof) that has been adopted by successive administrations, which span the political gamut, takes on added importance for the well-being of our nation-state. I say this because in my humble opinion, the actions as demonstrated by the aforementioned have manifest into what I refer to as the Government of Belize’s “4A Policy” which is indicative of: APPEASEMENT, ACQUIESENCE, ACCOMMODATION and ADHERENCE to the Guatemalans, under the aegis of the Organisation of the American States (OAS).
One might ask, why I have come to such conclusion. To that I say, the answer lies within the realities associated with Belize’s Territorial Sovereignty and my sense of nationalism. Concerning the former issue, for anyone who asks, I simply refer them to a document which I believe represents that which defines our nation – The Belize Constitution. Specifically, I give reference to Chapter 4 of the Laws of Belize Part 1 –The State and The Constitution – Section 1. There you shall find precisely, that which defines our borders, which I might add, are real and exist. I know, because I am part of the Belize Territorial Volunteers and have visited each of the border markers, including: Gracias A Dios, Aguas Turbias and Garbutt Falls. To add to my conviction is the fact that on 21st September 1981, Belize was recognized by the United Nations as a sovereign nation, with its territory in-tact. For me, a Belizean and a self-avowed nationalist, that is the crowing element regarding international recognition of the nation-state of Belize – full stop.
For Belizeans, irrespective of where you reside, I believe it is essential that we understand that acknowledgement of our territorial integrity, without question, is imperative and that such a mindset is indicative of nationalistic pride. I cannot stress how important this is because once you give credence to the notion that our border is in question or that we must entertain the possibility of going to a foreign court, the ICJ, in order to have them adjudicate that which we have already obtained on 21st September 1981, I dare say that, not only is there a dearth of nationalism, but also it inevitably places in jeopardy, the territorial integrity of this nation. Whenever someone asks me why I am so adamantly opposed to going to the ICJ, my response is simple. I do not deem it prudent to place Belize’s territorial integrity at the jurisprudence of an international court, (1) because I recognise The Belize Constitution as the Supreme Law of the Land and (2) which hearkens back to an age-old adage, which states, “A bird in the hand is better than two in the bush”.
There have been numerous, documented cases of deliberate incursions by Guatemalans into Belizean territory, both terrestrial and maritime. This has continued, unabated, for many years. Hopefully you are aware of some of the major instances such as: the most unfortunate murder of Belize Tourism Police Constable Danny Conorque on 25th September 2014, the kidnapping of 40 members of the Northern Territorial Volunteers, while in Belizean territory, by Guatemalan Naval forces on 28th February of this year and the list goes on. Those are the ones that made the headlines. Yet, the reality is that our sovereign territory is being encroached on, daily, by way of the illegal activities of Guatemalan xateros and poachers who enter the Chiquibul National Forest and rape our natural resources, with impunity. This occurs, in various fashions, throughout the length of this country, by external elements that illegally enter the country and do as they please. Undoubtedly, this holds grave implications for our flora, fauna and our natural resources, across the board.
As with all things, every action bears impacts and that which occurs in even the remotest parts of Belize has an impact on our nation’s economy and well-being. Therein is the importance of the inter-related nature of territorial sovereignty and nationalism and what it means for us as Belizeans. We are all inter-connected and the reality is that if not for this expanse of terrestrial and maritime splendor that the Almighty has bestowed upon us, we would not have a place to call home.
I could go on virtually, indefinitely, but at this point, I shall bring my presentation to a close, in the hope that we can flesh-out additional points during the Q & A session. Yet, before I close, I wish to refer back to the term I mentioned earlier and asked that you reflect upon. Hopefully, you recognised, if not initially, if not by now, that “8867” is the square mileage of Belize’s sovereign territory.
Now that I have said my piece, I want you to think of what significance “8867”, holds for you as a Belizean and whether precisely how your consciousness, awareness and sense of nationalism (or lack thereof) holds implications for the territorial sovereignty and integrity of our nation, for future generations of Belizeans.
On that note, I leave you with something that I trust shall resonate, not only today, but for years to come. From one Belizean to another, including true friends of Belize, I implore you to search within yourselves in the hope of obtaining a level consciousness that will evoke: actions, thoughts and efforts to ensure that the notion of, “8867 Today, 8867 Tomorrow and 8867 Forever”, remains a reality.