“He (Price) claimed that $10 million dollars had been earmarked in the Guatemalan budget of $1 billion to advance its claim on Belize internationally.”
– pg. 217, GEORGE PRICE: A Life Revealed, Godfrey Smith, Ian Randle Publishers, 2011
I am grateful to Mr. Godfrey Smith for sending me a copy of his “authorized biography” of the Rt. Hon. George C. Price. Mr. Smith’s driver personally delivered the book last Wednesday afternoon.
I do not consider myself an appropriate reviewer of the work for several reasons, the main one being that it would be difficult for me to be completely honest. I wouldn’t want to open old wounds.
For now, I will discuss with you two important aspects of the book. One is how British Honduras’ most famous attorney during the early PUP era, Woolrich Harrison Courtenay, moved from being a foundation enemy of the PUP, whose house was stoned in 1950 by PUP elements, to becoming the chairman of the 1959 United Front (PUP and NIP) negotiating constitutional advancement for British Honduras in London, after being Mr. Price’s successful defence counsel in the PUP Leader’s sedition trial of 1958. Sir W. H. Courtenay later became Belize’s first Speaker of the House in 1961 when the PUP won 18 out of 18 seats. The Courtenay family has been PUP ever since that time.
Mr. Smith writes as follows: “He (Courtenay) had also assumed the chairmanship of the commission that had produced the 1954 adult suffrage but as observed by Cedric Grant, ‘Courtenay had quietly withdrawn from the political maelstrom in 1953 and had successfully reappeared on the political scene as the defence counsel to Price in his sedition trial of 1958.’ Price and Courtenay must have developed a relationship during the sedition trial that made the former comfortable enough to have him as chairman of the Working Group.” (pgs. 159, 160, GEORGE PRICE: A Life Revealed, Godfrey Smith, Ian Randle Publishers, 2011.)
In 1950, Mr. Price had intervened in the stoning of Courtenay’s home. “His (Price’s) intervention in the stoning of Courtenay’s house was not well received by Tony Soberanis who accosted Price at the Battlefield. It was this incident that convinced Price that the Soberanis agenda and his were divergent and that Soberanis could not continue to be a part of the People’s Committee. His unbridled militancy would do the movement more harm than good.” (pg. 77, ibid.)
It was in 1959, specifically and apparently, that Mr. Price moved to an accommodation with the British. “It was time to adjust strategy. To the surprise of many, he openly declared in the legislative assembly debate of November 13, 1959, that ‘it should be very plain to all that the political objective of the People’s United Party is to achieve self-government within the British Commonwealth and ultimately, in accordance with the United Nations Charter.’ People focused on the first part of his statement.” (pg. 159, ibid.) Incidentally, just a few months after this, in early 1960, the British sent the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) to tour British Honduras in a gesture of sports diplomacy.
So that, we come to the second aspect of the Price biography I want to discuss today. Interestingly enough, the very month before that noteworthy Price speech in the legislative assembly, there had been a political challenge to Mr. Price coming out of the Cayo leadership of the PUP, which was the most Guatemala-influenced area of British Honduras at the time. (In the 1970’s, it would be Toledo which was most Guatemala-influenced.) Ydigoras Fuentes was at the height of his presidential power in Guatemala in 1959. “In October 1959, he (Price) faced a mini rebellion from the western district of Cayo. Hector Silva, who had accompanied Price on his Central American tour and was considered one of his closer men, headed a group of five men who outlined ‘suggestions’ to the party leader. The five were Santiago Perdomo, Angel Andrews, Domingo Espat, Antonio Espat and Hector Silva.” (pg. 160, ibid.)
The Cayo challenge was so important in Mr. Price’s mind that he referred to it when he was in his nineties and being interviewed for this biography. “He remembered, indeed, the letter of October 1959 from the five People’s United Party members in El Cayo, proposing a new structure for the party. ‘They wanted to push me aside and take over the party but I saw through it right away,’ he said, a glint of faded triumph in his eyes.” (pg. 3, ibid.)
Because Hector David Silva is alive and famously lucid, I am really surprised that Mr. Smith did not find the time to interview him about this incident. For me, the Cayo “mini rebellion” is almost sensational, because it has never been discussed, to the best of my knowledge, in PUP history, because it was very significant to Mr. Price, and because of something Mr. Lionel Tillett told me about a year ago.
Lionel, who was the UDP (strictly speaking, “Corozal United Front”) candidate for Corozal North in 1974 (he lost to the PUP’s Vilio Marin by just 12 votes), had mentioned to me that he was attending a church high school in Benque Viejo in the late 1950’s when he went across the border to Melchor, where the Guatemalan president, Ydigoras Fuentes, was visiting. Lionel said, almost casually, that as Fuentes addressed the Melchor crowd, he was flanked on the stage by Hector Silva and San Perdomo. It was a story extraordinary to me at the time, but it becomes even more intriguing when viewed in the light of the October 1959 Cayo challenge and the November 1959 pro-British Commonwealth move by Mr. Price.