In her column a couple weeks ago, the attorney Audrey Matura-Shepherd referred scathingly to this United Democratic Party (UDP) government’s soft attitude towards Guatemala, and contrasted it with the early UDP’s militant position where the Guatemalan claim was concerned. She is confusing the late stages of the National Independence Party (NIP) with the early stages of the UDP, which was established in September of 1973 out of a fusion of the NIP, the People’s Development Movement (PDM), and the Liberal Party. This is quite understandable, because Audrey would have been just a child in the late 1960s.
Amongst Belize’s young black males in the 1960s, and I was one of these, we were dissatisfied to the point of anger with People’s United Party (PUP) Premier George Price’s position where the Anglo/Guatemalan Dispute was concerned. Mr. Price, compared to Mr. Philip Goldson, the NIP Leader, appeared to be an appeaser.
Over the last few years, perhaps the most unapologetic Cabinet appeaser with respect to the Guatemalan claim has been Sedi Elrington, Belize’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. This is puzzling. Sedi comes from one of the bulwark NIP families of the Sixties; he is one of fourteen children born to Mr. and Mrs. Peter Elrington. Peter Elrington was a civil servant who was openly and firmly opposed to PUP policies, and he paid a price for that: he was transferred from District to District, in the days when travel between such was very difficult. Peter Elrington was an NIP, and the most important plank in the NIP platform was stout opposition to the Guatemalan claim to Belize.
There was a decided ethnic and linguistic aspect to the Guatemalan claim back then. Belize was a majority black, English-speaking territory, and Guatemala was seen by us Belizeans as white-Hispanic and Spanish-speaking. We black Belizeans would be swallowed up and rendered inferior and impotent under Guatemala. In fact, we were inferior and practically impotent under British colonialism, but, they say, sometimes people prefer the devil they know of to the one they are only hearing about.
The young black male generation of the 1960s was totally fascinated with the United States. We were dying to go to America, and Hurricane Hattie in October of 1961 opened a door for thousands of Belizeans to travel north. In what seemed an amazing gesture back then, the United States government of President John F. Kennedy said that any Belizean family which had a relative in the United States could take refuge there without the usual bureaucratic, document complications. My maternal uncle, Buck Belisle, sent his wife and children to New York City to live with his aunt, Gladys Lindo Ysaguirre. His eldest daughter then flew to California to live with Gladys’ younger brother, Ernest Lindo. Eventually, the family reunited in Los Angeles. I’m just giving you one example of many.
In Belize in the 1960s, none of us had any idea how close the American and Guatemalan governments were. We had experienced several fearful moments during the Guatemalan presidency of Ydigoras Fuentes, which lasted from 1958 to 1963. He was the most aggressive Guatemalan president ever where the claim was concerned. He was being encouraged in this aggression by the aforementioned Kennedy government, which promised to support the claim in return for Fuentes’ allowing Cuban exiles to be trained in Guatemala for their invasion of Cuba in April of 1961.
In Belize, we were blindly in love with America and we loved JFK. He was a young and dashing president who appeared to be supporting the great Martin Luther King, Jr., in his black civil rights struggle. We Belizeans mourned and cried as if we were Americans when Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963. We didn’t know that this same man was prepared to sell us out to Guatemala: that was the reason he had thrown America’s doors open to Belizeans in November of 1961. It was about relocating a segment of black Belize and creating a domestic population in Belize which was less hostile to the Guatemalan takeover.
The man who stood in the way of the Guatemalan takeover was Philip Goldson, and there came a time when the Americans decided he had to be replaced. When the United States officially presented their Seventeen Bethuel Webster Proposals in 1968 for Belize’s independence as a satellite state of Guatemala, and violent Belizean opposition to same took place in Goldson’s name, Goldson and his “No Guatemala” had to be moved.
There was an NIP leader who was willing to challenge Goldson. His name was Dean Lindo and he did so challenge in 1969. Defeated in convention, he then formed his own party, the aforementioned PDM, and began the systematic undermining of Goldson which led to the formation of the UDP in 1973 while Goldson was studying law in London.
The new UDP’s specific and explicit policy statement said that they would emphasize economic development in Belize and de-emphasize the Guatemalan claim. This was as the American State Department wished it. The UDP quickly became popular, and came within 17 votes of throwing the House of Representatives into a 9-9 deadlock in the 1974 general election. This was the best performance ever by Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.
Today, all the indications are that UDP Prime Minister Dean Barrow is following instructions from Washington and London. We young black Belizean males of the 1960s misjudged Mr. Price: the geopolitical realities made it impossible for him to speak and behave differently from he did. Those geopolitical realities remain in place in March of 2015. That is why Prime Minister Barrow will not provide military escort for the Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV) and that is why he cautioned the BTV against border-marking excursions within our own Belizean territory. That is why the UDP of 2015 sounds so very much like the PUP of the 1960s.
And finally, this is why the Hon. Philip became and remains iconic for Belizeans. Mr. Goldson spoke truth to the power of Washington and London. Mr. Goldson expressed the gut feelings of the Belizean people. He made personal sacrifices because of his nationalist convictions. For that, we honor him. When, indeed, comes such another?
P.S. It should be noted that when a revised version of the Seventeen Proposals, the Heads of Agreement, was presented to the Belizean people in 1981, resistance to the Heads was led by an ad hoc organization called the Belize Action Movement (BAM). Belize Technical College students, led by Socorro Bobadilla, took to the streets of Belize City. The Opposition UDP was almost invisible.