“With ratification of the 1893 treaty came, at last, seventy-six years after the departure of the Spaniards, both Mexican recognition of British sovereignty and final settlement of the northern and northwestern borders of what is now Belize. There has since been no serious suggestion by the Mexicans to the British or independent Belizean governments of reopening those questions, although they have in the past indicated to the Guatemalans that they might do so if the latter acquired rights in the territory.”
– pg. 96, BELIZE: A CONCISE HISTORY, by Peter Thomson, Macmillan Caribbean, 2004
At a historic press conference sometime between 1958 and 1959, in answer to a question from a foreign journalist, PUP Leader, Hon. George C. Price, said that if independence failed, he would give the northern part of the country to Mexico and the southern part to Guatemala.
A lot of people who were prominent in public affairs back then are dead. On the PUP side, to the best of my knowledge, only don Hector Silva and Mr. Fred Hunter remain. On the NIP/UDP side, the only person I can think of is Compton Fairweather, and he was already living in Brooklyn, New York, though he was very much in contact with political developments in British Honduras.
I mention the fact that very few of the political principals from that time are still alive because the comment by Mr. Price, sensational when it was made, is almost never recalled in the modern era for any kind of analysis. It is, of course, quite understandable why PUP officials and supporters would not wish to remember the statement, whereas the NIP/UDP side may feel that the achievement of Belize’s political independence in 1981 made that strange Price statement irrelevant.
The Mexicans have been on the record for a very long time to the effect that they support Belize’s territorial integrity and right to self-determination, but that they would revisit such a position if any changes were made in Belize’s borders to the benefit of the Guatemalans. The Mexican position is seldom discussed publicly in Belize, but I personally consider it quite intriguing and of major importance in the overall scheme of things.
When Mr. Price became the PUP Leader in 1956 and committed himself and the party to building a nation, perhaps the greatest challenge he faced was that of achieving ethnic equality while maintaining ethnic harmony. What ethnic harmony existed in British Honduras in 1956 was based on a skewed order of things. The Maya, the Mestizo, and the Garifuna elements of the colony’s population were being discriminated against where jobs in the public service, the largest employer, were concerned. The Districts in which they were prominent – Corozal, Orange Walk, Stann Creek, and Toledo were isolated from the capital, Belize City, which had a majority Creole population and where all the colony’s amenities were located.
The historical narrative of the settlement’s birth featured Creole slaves supposedly supporting their British slavemasters in a 1798 naval battle against a Spanish invasion from the Yucatán. All the varying intricacies of Belize’s history, involving the Santa Cruz Maya, the Icaiche Maya, and the incredible story of the Garinagu’s epic journey from St. Vincent to Balliceaux to Roatan to Trujillo to Dangriga, were officially ignored.
Mr. Price faced substantial opposition during the 1960s in his fight for ethnic equality, which was labeled “Latinization” by his critics. By the 1970s, however, the socio-political landscape in Belize had changed. The pro-Baymen NIP had been taken over by the neoliberal UDP in 1973. African consciousness, introduced by UBAD in 1969, created a new dynamic amongst the youth. And Mr. Price’s PUP was going socialist. To top it all off, the drive to independence visibly began to stall in the mid-1970s.
By the time Mr. Price made an alliance in 1975 with the UBAD faction led by myself (the organization had split in 1973 and was officially dissolved in1974), many thousands of Belizeans had migrated to the United States, and the ethnic stress of competition for jobs in the public service was no longer much of an issue. Remember now, that while the general impression was that the emigrants were all black, there were many, many Belizean Mestizos who sought economic opportunity in the United States. In America, Latin Belizeans met white supremacy in its naked reality, and this increased their understanding of the UBAD/PAC regional and world analysis of 1969. By the mid-1970s, with the PUP having absorbed some of UBAD, the UDP, for its part, had taken the Opposition to a truly national and multi-ethnic level.
With all this, you and I know that Belize, in 2014, is not yet a real nation-state. We will see this next month when we will supposedly be at our most patriotic. Belize City will celebrate the Tenth hard core, but the North will be skeptical. Independence Day and October 12 are more the North’s holidays. In the South, they will wait for November to “go off.”
Belize was a divided country when we became independent in 1981. Today, the violence is at civil war levels on the Southside of Belize City. In the West and the South, the incursions of Guatemalan civilians are, for their part, at invasion levels. I have said to you before that the Americans have never given up on the 1968 template they created for Belize, the template called the Seventeen Proposals. That is why Belizeans are behaving like a people headed in different directions. The fight for nationhood is still ahead of us. September 21, 1981 was only symbolic. 2014 is real.
The political parties are nationalistic institutions, but there are still some constituency politicians who play ethnic games. They cater to ignorance. The failure of 1981 derived from the fear of opening up the Belizean consciousness to our writers, artists, musicians, and intellectuals. September 21, 1981 was only a lowering of the colonial flag. The road to the liberation of the Belizean consciousness and spirit is up ahead.
Power to the people.