Their stunning 1979 general election defeat was totally unexpected by the United Democratic Party (UDP). There was an internal collapse, because their dominant Party Leader, the attorney Dean Lindo, lost his Fort George seat in the House. This remains the only time in Belize’s political history when an Opposition Leader has lost his seat in a general election.
Dangriga’s Ted Aranda became the new UDP Leader, chosen by the three Southern Districts’ area representatives (Toledo’s Charles Wagner and Basilio Ah, and himself) over the perhaps logical choice – Albert’s Philip Goldson, supported by Mesopotamia’s Curl Thompson. (Aranda, Ah, and Thompson were first time area reps.)
When the United States government of President Jimmy Carter told the People’s United Party (PUP) government of Belize, led by Hon. George Price, in late 1980 that the U.S. would support Belize’s independence, the reaction of the Aranda UDP, from that time until actual independence ceremonies on September 21, 1981, was reactive and disorganized. The UDP, to repeat, had collapsed and was a shell of its pre-1979 self.
One reason the UDP had lost in 1979 was because Dean Lindo, who controlled most of the campaign funds, especially the foreign funds, felt threatened by an element in the party which controlled some of the local donations. With the money he controlled, Lindo took care of those candidates who were loyal to him, and discriminated against the others.
The PUP, meanwhile, with their backs seemingly against the wall after municipal defeats throughout the country, plodded along, did their fundamentals, and succeeded in unifying their right and left wings for the 1979 general election. Accordingly, the PUP triumphed by 13 seats to 5.
Mr. Price, though his personal demeanor never betrayed it, was desperate for independence after the PUP’s 1979 victory. He had entered his sixtieth year, and had been fighting for self-rule from 1950. Mr. Price’s decision to march ahead for independence even after Belize came near to civil war in late March of 1981 after the announcement of the signing of the Heads of Agreement by Mr. Price, Hon. V. H. Courtenay, and Assad Shoman, was a bold decision.
It may have been that political independence for Belize was actually adventurist. Remember, the British absolutely refused to give sovereign Belize a defence guarantee. But the fact of the matter is that the UDP, which replaced Dr. Aranda as Leader with Manuel Esquivel in January of 1983, did nothing after the Independence Day ceremonies of September 21, 1981, to indicate that they rejected what was now a fait accompli – sovereign independence. In fact, the UDP leaders behaved as politicians do: they became opportunistic, and won their first general election ever in December of 1984. The UDP took control of independent, sovereign Belize.
The rhetoric and behavior of Belize’s UDP Foreign Minister, Hon. Wilfred Elrington, consistently suggests that he is missing the most basic of points. Whether Mr. Price wanted to give the country to Guatemala or not, the fact is that he handed you and your UDP government an independent, sovereign Belize, with all our territory intact. It is up to you, the Government of Belize, to defend Belize’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity, with everything you have. Even your life, dammit.
You can’t react to Guatemalan military personnel’s entering the sovereign territory of Belize by explaining to us that the Guat soldiers did not have a gun. You don’t know that, Mr. Minister. Their guns may have been concealed. But, let us say that they were not armed, as you so readily, eagerly surmised. That is neither here or there. When foreign military cross your border, that technically constitutes invasion in the rest of the civilized world.
There are times when we wonder at this newspaper, when we wander into cynical territory, whether Mr. Price, the supposed traitor according to the likes of Sedi Elrington, did not end up playing a cruel joke on the likes of Minister Elrington. Mr. Price left us with a Jewel to protect and defend, and instead of organizing the Belizean population to protect and defend, all some people do is find explanations and excuses for Guatemalan aggression.
To be fair, we have a good sense of how delicate Belize’s situation is. The Guatemalans are 40 times greater than us in population size and military arsenal, but all of us knew that in September of 1981. The UDP, fractured as it was in 1981, did make statements to the effect that the party had a problem with the timing and circumstances of Belize’s independence. The reality was, nevertheless, that the Belizean people had essentially been voting for that independence in election after election from 1954 to 1979.
When they won the general election of 1984, the UDP obviously did not go to the United Nations and ask for Belize’s constitutional advance of 1981 to be reversed. The UDP did not seek to return to the status of “British subjects.” For all visible intents and purposes, the UDP embraced Belize’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity when they assumed national power in 1984. That’s a hell of an embrace, Mr. Wilfred. Mr. Price was man enough to take an independence without a defence guarantee. Are the UDP leaders man and woman enough to defend the prize?