Thirty six years ago the British government granted our nation Belize its independence on Sept. 21, 1981 with the Guatemalan claim to our country unresolved. Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was determine to rid her people and government from all its colonial territories. She saw them as a burden to the people and government of Great Britain. Ignoring the exploitation their country was engaged for centuries in all these colonies including ours prior to their independence.
Our premier at the time, the late George Price and his People’s United Party members, wanted independence from them desperately despite the Guatemalan claim. Our Belizean nationalist the late Philip Goldson’s position was to seek independence from Great Britain with a long term defense guarantee. He warned us that if we make the mistake and accept independence from Great Britain without a long term defense guarantee, Guatemala will become a thorn on our side for a long time. The members of the People’s United Party use to laugh at him and said he was crazy and was against independence. He is now dead and gone but his words, vision and prophecy is now a living truth.
On March 11, 1981, the British government with their political expediency during the independence negotiations, submitted two important documents to our Premier George Price. One was called a “White Paper” a draft constitution for our country of Belize and the other was “The Heads of Agreement” a document to appease Guatemala into accepting our country as an independent nation.
The government of Belize was to conduct hearings with the people on the contents of the “White Paper” to draft our constitution. When the Belizean people saw the proposals that were in the Heads of Agreement, they started to riot all over the country and the Belizeans in the United States began demonstrating against it as well. I read all the proposals that were contained in it and I saw no difference between that document and the Webster Proposals of 1968. Those two documents were to make Belize a part of Guatemala. Belizeans were protesting, demonstrating and rioting for their rights to reject the injustices of the British to hand them and their country over to a very hostile and human rights abusing nation of Guatemala.
The “White Paper” consultation process throughout our country was severely disrupted and then stopped. Which means that we the people of Belize were not given the opportunity up to today, to share our views on what end up becoming our constitution now. This document was forced upon us by the British and we accepted it in its entire form with all its flaws. The government of Belize was suppose to have a Constitutional Convention after we became independent but that never did take place. The Heads of Agreement was also rejected by the Guatemalan Congress because they felt that the British government did not give enough of Belize. Well, If the Guatemalans thought that they did not get enough then, what about the Belizean people who thought they were getting too much of their country. Belize and Guatemala have been going back and forth with this claim, since we obtained our independence with no end in sight. Our government is of the opinion that the only solution is to take this dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for a final solution.
The Belizean people in Belize are divided over the issue of referendum and we cannot predict what will happen if they were to vote on it. They are all against Guatemala getting any part of their country. The Guatemalan people’s view on the Belize Guatemalan dispute is not clear because the Guatemalan government does not involve their people in most of their activities. The Guatemalans teach their people that Belize belongs to them but some of them do not believe what their government is telling them. Why? Because their troops have been committing human rights violations against them for centuries taking away their lands and forcing them to flee into Belize and Mexico.
In the end both countries are preparing to have a referendum vote to take the Belize-Guatemala dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). If any of these countries vote no in the referendum, then the process ends. However, both nations still have the right to take the dispute to the ICJ on their own if they choose to utilize that option. I am not certain if our government of Belize have ever considered this option but I think it is a good one for us to consider based on Guatemala’s aggression towards our country over the years. Independence for Belize does not mean that our nation and people are independent. The challenge for our government is to improve the living standards of our people to make them independent and to solve the Guatemalan dispute so that we can be fully independent. Improving our people’s standard of living is much easier than the latter challenge we face as a people and nation.