The fifteen-year period between 1966 and Belize’s independence in 1981 is an interesting and important one in the history of The Jewel. At some point in this period, Fidel Castro’s Cuba became a factor in Belize’s struggle for independence, and (or but) the relationship between Cuba and Belize had negative implications for Premier George Price’s political coalition, a coalition which had supported him from the time he became Leader of the People’s United Party (PUP) in 1956.
To study 1966 to 1981, you would have to go back to a time when the PUP was an undefeated powerhouse in Belizean politics, and the struggling Opposition was led by the National Independence Party (NIP). It was not until 1973 that the now ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) was formed, as the result of an amalgamation of the NIP, the People’s Development Movement (PDM), and a new Liberal Party.
PUP personalities who are still available for scholars to consult on the period in question include Fred Hunter, Hector Silva, Assad Shoman, and Said Musa. Hunter was a PUP Cabinet Minister throughout the period, while Silva was a Cabinet Minister until 1974. Shoman and Musa became PUP Senators in 1974, and then PUP Cabinet Ministers in 1979.
Belizeans who would be able to give the UDP side include Dr. Manuel Esquivel, Dr. Colville Young, Net Vasquez, Harry Lawrence, Dr. Ted Aranda and Paul Rodriguez. Aranda and Rodriguez, who served two terms as Belize City Mayor between 1974 and 1980, both left the UDP in the early 1980s. Dr. Aranda led the UDP from 1979 to 1982.
After Belize became a self-governing British colony in January of 1964, with the apparent support of the United States, Belize was expected to move on to an early independence. The Guatemalan claim became a sticking point after NIP Leader Philip Goldson risked jail to expose what became known as the Thirteen Proposals to the Belizean people in 1966. The 1966 Anglo/Guatemalan talks in Washington were the first such talks to which the Opposition NIP had been invited. There was some optimism in the air, because the talks were being mediated by the New York City attorney, Bethuel Webster, representing the interests of the United States of America. The talks did not turn out well, however, because Goldson’s political instincts proved right: there was violent unrest in Belize City when he revealed what he remembered of the plans for Belize’s future.
When Bethuel Webster officially released his Seventeen Proposals in 1968, those proposals essentially confirmed what Goldson had exposed: the United States intended for independent Belize to be a sort of satellite state of Guatemala’s. Because of the domestic political opposition to the American proposals, Mr. Price had to seek a different route to independence after 1968.
Cuba was communist, an avowed enemy of the United States, and was being accused of exporting its revolutionary ideas to the region, including Guatemala, where succeeding right-wing military dictatorships were trying to crush an armed rebellion which had begun in 1960. That was when young Guatemalan army officers had condemned Guatemalan President Ydigoras Fuentes’ decision to allow the republic to be used as a training base for American-financed Cuban exiles preparing to attack Fidel Castro’s Cuba.
At some point Premier George Price cultivated friendship with Cuba through an informal relationship with the young, British-trained attorneys, Assad Shoman and Said Musa. Because of that informal relationship, which probably had begun as early as 1969, an element in Mr. Price’s political coalition began to turn away from him, accusing him of encouraging communism. This was a Roman Catholic, business element, which formed the Liberal Party in 1972 and, to repeat, became a part of the new UDP in 1973.
Cuba’s support for Belize’s independence was unconditional. Much more attention has been given to the support for our independence from Panama’s General Omar Torrijos, which marked the first instance in which a Central American nation had gone against Guatemala and its claim to Belize. Torrijos made that decision to support Belize around 1977 or so.
There is no question, however, that Cuba’s support for Belize’s independence was vital, in fact indispensable. We say this because independence eventually became a gamble for Mr. Price’s PUP, not only because of the Guatemalan claim but because the Belizean people were divided and afraid. The PUP leaders were able to take a chance on independence because they knew that Cuba “had Belize’s back,” as we would say.
It should be noted that Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger took power in the United States in January of 1969, and these were right wing ideologues in the mould of Ronald Reagan and now Donald Trump. Although Nixon resigned from the presidency under threat of impeachment in 1973, Kissinger, who disliked Fidel Castro with a passion, remained Secretary of State during the presidency of Gerald Ford, which ended in 1976.
The Jimmy Carter presidency between 1976 and 1980 changed American foreign policy in the region enough so that the United States decided in late 1980 not to oppose Belize’s independence.
When Carter was succeeded by Reagan in early 1981, however, the pressure on Belize to cede land to Guatemala resumed and increased. Belize’s 1981 independence was a risky one, and the support of Fidel Castro’s Cuba was vital.
By 1983, with Ronald Reagan riding roughshod over the region, invading Grenada and financing the contras to fight against the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, Assad Shoman and Said Musa, Fidel’s leading allies in the Price Cabinet, were defeated by the PUP right wing in a power struggle.
The people around Donald Trump have already begun to talk aggressively and threateningly against this new Cuba without Fidel. A new paradigm is about to unfold in our region, and it is safe to say that whatever weakens Cuba, weakens Belize.
The Cubans have been Belize’s best friends throughout our struggle against colonialism, imperialism, and racism. But there are several prominent neoliberal capitalists in the present Belize Cabinet, and it is there that the rub will be. The neoliberal capitalists in Guatemala are not our friends. They claim our land and sea. No matter how communist they are, the Cubans have always supported Belize’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Power to the people.