We have a small Quaker worship group here in Belize City. On most Sundays it consists of Mike and Kay Cain, Miriam DeShield, Christopher DeShield and his wife Miriam Loh and their two children Omar and Noemi, Judy Lumb, and me. Fairly frequently we have visitors drop in during our worship hour at 8:30 am on Sunday mornings at St Andrews Presbyterian church. We have been meeting regularly since last fall.
Now that you have that introduction, let me tell you about a recent development. There is a small island in the mouth of the river that divides Belize and Guatemala on the south. The ownership of that island is in dispute with each country using it to make political points with their constituents. In Belize, in particular, the party that is out of power is making a lot of noise about Belize’s right to the island.
In addition, there is a dispute along the western border. Historically, some in Gutemala believe that Belize should be a part of Guatemala and never should have been established as a British colony. Those people do not recognize the western border as legitimate. Add to that the existence of very poor people living in the eastern regions of Guatemala and the existence of a nature preserve along the west edge of Belize and we have a situation where Guatemalans “squat” on some land in the preserve. The Belize Defense forces try to patrol the area.
A few short weeks ago the BDF forces were patrolling and were fired on. They returned fire and in the aftermath killed a 13 year old boy. This incident has ignited all sorts of rhetoric and some in the international community have been quick to take sides.
In discussing this before meeting one Sunday, Miriam DeShield asked if Quakers ever “wrote things” in situations like this. I said that certainly it was a time honored practice among Friends to write position statements as a public witness to the application of our testimonies. We began to write.
After some discussion we have arrived at a statement and we sent it to the Belize Council of Churches for their consideration. At the same time we asked the Council what steps it might take for us to become active members of the council. (Last week the council published its own statement on the border dispute, but we decided to go ahead and send ours anyway) We also asked the council if there was any reason that we should not publish our statement.
We expect to publish within the next two weeks and to continue to work toward membership on the Council.
(In related news, Judy Lumb has written to a couple of Guatemalan Friends to see if there is some way we can work with them on this issue. We await their reply.)
I know that without any more information than I have written, the following statement may not make complete sense, but I thought you might be interested in what we wrote:
Statement on the Guatemala Issue by the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Belize
The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Belize is very appreciative of the initiative of the Council of Churches as expressed in the press conference of May 20, 2016. We thank the Council of Churches for their plea for unity in the Belizean response, for calling for a day of prayer, and for seeking the help of their counterparts in Guatemalan churches.
We encourage Christians in both Guatemala and Belize to remember that Jesus instructed his friends to love both our neighbours and our enemies. We encourage the government and citizens of Belize and Guatemala to remember the value of all life on both sides of our shared border. We encourage both Guatemalans and Belizeans to respect the right to survival that all species have under God, and to remember that neither side has the right to destroy areas protected within a Nature Reserve which are vital to the survival of life on our planet.
We encourage both the Governments of Belize and Guatemala to focus attention on addressing the serious inequities within our socio-economic structures for the poor and marginalized, instead of focusing attention on a border dispute. We remind Belizeans of the long-standing, respectful relationship that has been maintained between both our militaries for many, many years. We know that military action will not be a solution and will simply set the stage for more military action.
We encourage our leaders to remember the needs of our whole community, building confidence to expand cooperation between parties and States, at the diplomatic level and on the ground.
Respectfully, Judy Lumb, Recording Clerk