Where Belize is concerned, the most important document to be published in the last half century, except perhaps for the Constitution of Belize in 1981, was the Webster Proposals of April 29, 1968. The United Kingdom and Guatemala had agreed to have the United States of America mediate their territorial dispute over British Honduras, and the Americans had named a New York City attorney, the one Bethuel Webster, to prepare proposals which would enable British Honduras, which had become a self-governing colony in January of 1964, to move forward to political independence.
Those documents which followed the Webster Proposals with the similar intent of settling the spurious Guatemalan claim to Belize, such as the Heads of Agreement in 1981 and Ramphal/Reichler in 2002, were mere variations on a theme which the Webster Proposals had introduced: the United States of America, the dominant Western Hemisphere, and indeed world, power, wanted an independent Belize to be subservient to, and guided by the wishes of, the Republic of Guatemala.
Last week, representatives of the tertiary institutions and Belize’s academic community were making the media rounds to promote a conference this week in Belmopan featuring papers on various subjects. As far as we can see, no scholar focused on the fiftieth anniversary of arguably the most important document in Belize’s modern history – the Seventeen Webster Proposals.
It would have been very interesting, for instance, to compare Belizeans’ rate of migration between October of 1961, when Hurricane Hattie opened up significant migration opportunities to the U.S. for Belizeans, and April 1968, the time of the Webster Proposals, on the one hand, and our rate of migration to the U.S. between 1968 and 1975, say.
Why we consider such a comparison interesting is because we think, in retrospect, that Belizeans had not committed themselves emotionally to America between 1961 and 1968, as has apparently been the case since 1968. You should know that between 1961 and 1968, the United States was in domestic turmoil because of the Black American struggle for civil rights and because of the rejection by White American youth of the escalating Vietnam War. It seems to us that in 1968 Belizeans were still firmly embedded in The Jewel. Certainly, the migration into Belize of refugee Central Americans had not yet become noticeable.
It is our considered opinion at this newspaper that when the United Democratic Party (UDP) was formed in September of 1973 as a coalition of the People’s Development Movement (PDM), the National Independence Party (NIP), and the Liberal Party, it was the firm belief of the State Department in Washington that the new UDP would be less hostile to the broad framework of the Seventeen Proposals than the NIP had been under the recalcitrant, unwaveringly nationalistic leadership of the Hon. Philip Goldson, Belizean national hero.
Remember now, for the benefit of you younger readers, Mr. Goldson had exposed the meat of the Webster Proposals in 1966. Risking jail for violating a vow of secrecy, Mr. Goldson had informed the Belizean people of what became known as the Thirteen Proposals. Looking back, we can see clearly that two major attacks were subsequently launched on Mr. Goldson, in 1967 and 1969. Mr. Goldson’s newspaper, The Belize Billboard, then the leading newspaper in British Honduras, was the source of his financial independence. The Belize Chamber of Commerce began printing a commercial newspaper in 1967, introducing modern offset technology to Belize. (By the end of 1971, Mr. Goldson felt constrained to close his newspaper and travel to London to study law.) Then in May of 1969, a little over a year after the Webster Proposals, there was an attempt to replace Mr. Goldson as NIP Leader, the NIP holding two seats in the House of Representatives at the time and being Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.
The Belizean people were very much pro-American, especially the then majority, English-speaking, Black element of the population. In the early 1970s, the UDP’s heavily pro-American vibes quickly appealed to Belizeans. You should note that the Liberal Party, the least of the parties in the UDP coalition, came directly out of the leadership of the Belize Chamber of Commerce, the same group which had begun publishing the Chamber Reporter in 1967.
The UDP was the political instrument which was used to replace Mr. Goldson as Leader of the Opposition, without that leadership option being decided by the people. When the UDP was formed in September 1973, it was the same month and year when Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger launched their first bloody neoliberal experiment – in Chile. Mr. Goldson was not a neoliberal; he had come out of the trade union movement in British Honduras, and he had been a supporter of Jacobo Arbenz’s reformist experiment in Guatemala (1951-1954). In addition, Mr. Goldson had shown that he was unalterably opposed to the Webster Proposals.
A small problem for the pro-American, neoliberal UDP power brokers was the fact that the youthful UBAD Party had become an ally of Mr. Goldson’s in December of 1971. That problem was solved by dividing the leadership of the UBAD in early 1973, and having a faction support Dean Lindo’s UDP leadership. (Mr. Goldson was still studying law in London at the time.)
We have not mentioned the Goldson FBI papers of 1968 in this editorial. We do not have to do so. No one in the UDP or in Belize’s academic community wants to comment on these recently declassified files. The one constant reality which makes all our previous arguments coherent is this: everything which has happened since the Webster Proposals in 1968 is taking Belize in one direction – subservience. And that is why when they tried to fool Mr. Goldson with the Maritime Areas Act in 1991, he bolted from the UDP.
If you examine the Webster Proposals carefully, then a lot of things which have happened in Belize since 1968 will begin to make sense to you. That is because there was a plan, or plot if you will, in Washington which was based on the Seventeen Proposals. The fact that Belizeans expressed violent disapproval of the Thirteen Proposals in 1966 and the Seventeen Proposals in 1968, meant little to American foreign policy experts. When you are the superpower on planet earth, you don’t have to change your mind or reverse gear. You may have to take a little longer to do what you intend to do. After all, Belize is a little different from Diego Garcia, but there are different ways to skin a cat. Our thesis is that the civil war on Belize City’s Southside suits the plotters in Washington splendidly.
To our mind, the joke is on Belizeans in the diaspora who would like to think they still have a home called Belize. And while it may seem disrespectful to say that there is a joke on someone, there is nothing funny about the blood flowing copiously in the streets of Belize City. A requiem is being played for The Jewel as we knew it in 1968.
Power to the people.