Editorial — 28 January 2017
Pro-American politics in Belize – a brief history

“A meeting called by the Freedom Committee of New York, at the Fort George Hotel on Monday, September 15, ended in fisticuffs, after Rae Lightburn, Manager of The Belize Times, refused to abide by the ruling of the Chairman, Mr. Compton Fairweather.”

“The meeting was called by the Freedom Committee of New York’s representatives, Compton Fairweather, Thomas Waite, and Geoffrey Casasola to assess the people’s views on ‘independence, the country’s instability, and casinos.’”

“Present were some NIP, PUP, UBAD, PAC factions and other citizens, representatives of the press, members of the Security Branch and the Principal Secretary for Foreign Affairs.”

(Ed. NOTE: The above are three paragraphs of a six-paragraph article entitled FREEDOM COM. MEETING ENDS IN FIGHT. The article was originally published in the Sunday, September 28, 1969 issue of The Sunday Billboard.)

Why is it that the United States wants Belize to be a satellite state to Guatemala? It is because Uncle Sam wants to ensure that Belize is not used by any whom in any way to undermine or destabilize the racist oligarchy in Guatemala. In Central America, Guatemala is to Washington as Israel is to Washington in the Middle East – the United States’ most important ally in every respect.

When the anti-colonial movement began in British Honduras after World War II, leading to the establishment of the People’s United Party (PUP) in 1950, anti-colonial Belizeans were anti-British. That is a given.

But in addition, there was a significant pro-American sentiment in the ranks of the PUP, so much so that the PUP used to march with American flags in their parades in the early years. The pro-American sentiment within the PUP derived in large part from the experiences and perspectives of Belizean workers who had worked in U.S.-controlled Panama before, during, and after World War II; from the fact that Belize’s wealthiest promoter of anti-colonial feeling, Robert Sydney Turton, wanted to remove the British tariff regime in the colony so that he could trade more freely and more profitably with American companies; and because the Roman Catholic priests and nuns who were leaders in the Catholic primary and secondary schools in British Honduras were all American citizens, many of Irish and German extraction, the Irish and German peoples having been hostile to the British for many, many decades.

The years after World War II represented a period when the Roman Catholics were becoming the leaders in education in Belize. But, more than that, the Jesuit priests here were prominent in social initiatives such as Golden Gloves boxing, basketball tournaments, and the formation of credit unions and cooperatives.

So, the original PUP was pro-American. The early opposition to the PUP came from the National Party (NP) and the National Independence Party (NIP), which were pro-British. In 1958, the NIP succeeded the NP, which had been formed in 1951. The story of the British Honduras Freedom Committee, which had its headquarters in New York City and began to raise funds for the support of NIP political activities in the mid-1960s, is a very interesting one where the present discussion is concerned, because the influence of the Freedom Committee would have contributed to an increasing pro-American consciousness in the ranks of the Opposition NIP.

The Freedom Committee was a shadowy operation in some respects. Belizeans residing in the colony did not know much about it. The Freedom Committee did not hold public meetings in Belize, and neither did they give any public account of their fund-raising activities. Perhaps the biggest historical question of all is how much did the Freedom Committee support the attorney Dean Lindo, who had done his undergraduate studies in New York City in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and who famously challenged Philip Goldson for leadership of the NIP in mid-1969. (In October of 1969, Mr. Lindo formed the People’s Development Movement {PDM}, which contested the December 1969 general election in a hasty coalition with the NIP. The so-called NIPDM coalition collapsed immediately after the PUP’s 17-1 victory in the 1969 general election.)

During the post-election period between 1970 and 1972, the youthful UBAD Party, many of whose supporters could not vote because the voting age was 21 at the time, surged to the forefront of Belize’s street consciousness. In retrospect, it may be considered a somewhat desperate political move when Mr. Goldson asked the UBAD Party to join the NIP in a coalition against the ruling PUP for the December 1971 Belize City Council election. Of note is the fact that Mr. Lindo’s PDM boycotted that election, and also the fact that Mr. Goldson departed Belize for London almost immediately after the election to begin the study of law.

In early 1973, Rev. Gerald Fairweather, an Anglican priest residing in Brooklyn, New York, and the father of Compton Fairweather, the chairman of the British Honduras Freedom Committee, came to Belize and invited the NIP, the PDM, the UBAD Party, and a new Liberal Party to his home for a so-called Unity Congress. The NIP was represented at the Unity Congress by its two Senators – Simeon Hassock and Ulric “Buntin” Fuller, Mr. Goldson still being absent in London. It was this Unity Congress which divided the 10-member UBAD Party executive down the middle and led to the party’s dissolution in November of 1974. It was out of the Unity Congress that the United Democratic Party was established in September of 1973, with representation from the PDM, the NIP, and the Liberal Party, and the apparent support of half of the UBAD Party leadership.

The new UDP did not name a leader. It was understood by keen political observers that the UDP represented a mechanism by which to replace Mr. Goldson with Mr. Lindo without going to the people. It was considered too controversial a move to have this change made publicly. Mr. Goldson returned from London in mid-1974. (As area representative for the Albert constituency, he was still Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives, having won the only NIPDM seat in the 1969 general election.) In the October 1974 general election, the new UDP won six of the eighteen House seats, the best performance by an Opposition party ever. It was following this 1974 general election that Mr. Lindo was officially named UDP Leader. Mr. Goldson, who again won his Albert seat, was appointed UDP Party Whip.

In 1991, Mr. Goldson broke with the UDP over the Maritime Areas Act, an initiative of the then ruling PUP which was being supported by the UDP, and formed the National Alliance for Belizean Rights (NABR).

Premier George Price had become frustrated with the delay in Belize’s independence following the Belizean people’s violent rejection of the Seventeen Proposals in 1968. The Seventeen Proposals represented a prescription for Belize’s accession to political independence, but called for the satellite state status to which we referred in the first paragraph of this editorial.

In frustration, Mr. Price appointed the young, left-wing attorney, Assad Shoman, to begin the “internationalization” of Belize’s campaign for sovereign status with territorial integrity. Communist Cuba was Belize’s most militant regional ally, and the Non-Aligned Group of Nations, a group of countries which were anti-Israel and anti-apartheid South Africa, hence not pro-American, represented Belize’s largest group of supporters. In the 1974 general election, Mr. Price’s PUP presented Mr. Shoman (Cayo North) and Mr. Shoman’s ally, Said Musa (Fort George), as PUP candidates.

All the foregoing developments, in addition to socialist aspects of Mr. Price’s “mixed-economy” economic policies, were not sitting well with the American State Department, so the UDP’s pro-American policies fell on fertile ground in Washington. The UDP was flying high in the mid-1970s and was expected to win the general election of 1979.

Instead, the PUP won in 1979 and went on to lead Belize to independence in 1981. The UDP won its first general election in 1984, and has won four more general elections since. Our sense at this newspaper is that the UDP’s positions on Israel, the Sarstoon controversy, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) proposition, and the Guatemalan claim to Belize overall, are as the United States foreign policy experts would wish them to be. From its beginning in 1973, the UDP was pro-American, and we have no reason to believe that anything much has changed. With regard to this discussion, one thing Belizeans should note and remember is that it was not the United States which dismantled apartheid in South Africa: it was Cuba. Apartheid South Africa, Israel, and Guatemala were the very closest of friends. Let it be known.

Power to the people.

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Eden Cruz

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