by Wellington C. Ramos, Adjunct Professor of History and Political Science
HISTORY OF THE BELIZE CONSTITUTION
In the general election of November 1979, the People’s United Party (PUP) ran on a platform that included a push for independence. The PUP’s opponent, the United Democratic Party (UDP), favored delaying independence until the territorial dispute with Guatemala was resolved. Although the PUP won only 52 percent of the vote, it carried thirteen of the eighteen seats in the House of Representatives and thus received a mandate for the preparation of an independence constitution. On January 31, 1981, the government issued the White Paper on the Proposed Terms for the Independence of Belize. The National
Assembly appointed a joint select committee to consider the proposed terms and to solicit input from all organizations in the country, but that was not done.
The PUP accepted the widespread support for a monarchical form of government, based on the British parliamentary system, but also suggested a number of amendments to the proposal. The House of Representatives adopted the committee’s report on March 27, 1981. The Belize Constitutional Conference was then held at Marlborough House, London, between April 6 and April 14, 1981. Although invited to participate, the leader of the opposition, the United Democratic Party, in the House of Representatives, Dr. Theodore Aranda, and other representatives of the UDP declined to attend.
Participating in the meeting at Marlborough House were only the Belizean delegation, headed by C.L.B. Rogers, Deputy Premier of Belize, and the British delegation, headed by Nicholas Ridley, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, along with their respective experts. The report issued by the Belize Constitutional Conference set out the structure and content for the independence and constitution of Belize.
The British Parliament legislated the final steps leading to Belizean independence in the Belize Act 1981, which received royal assent on July 28, 1981. The act granted Queen Elizabeth II the power to provide Belize an independence constitution and to set a date for Belizean independence by an Order in Council.The act also recognized Belize’s self-governing status, with provisions for its right to amend the so-called Constitution Order. The Queen issued the order on July 31st 1981. In Belize, the National Assembly passed the new constitution, the governor gave his assent on September 20, 1981, and Belize became independent the following day.
When Premier George Price and his People’s United Party were negotiating the independence of Belize with Great Britain’s prime minister Margaret Thatcher and secretary of foreign affairs Nicholas Ridley, the British drafted a document entitled “HEADS OF AGREEMENT” to settle the Guatemalan claim to our country as a pretext for our independence.
The People’s United Party (PUP) accepted the document, but the leader of the opposition (United Democratic Party) (UDP), Dr. Theodore Aranda, his party and a majority of the citizens of Belize, were all against these proposals. Riots broke out throughout the entire country. In this document there were provisions to give our country to Guatemala and to deny us as citizens of Belize our rights to our territory. Attached below is a copy of those proposals in the Heads Of Agreement:
GEORGE CADLE PRICE, DR. THEODORE ARANDA — PREMIER OF BELIZE (1981), LEADER OF THE UDP OPPOSITION (1981)
THE HEADS OF AGREEMENT OF MARCH 11TH 1981
APPENDIX 8, HEADS OF AGREEMENT
The United Kingdom and Guatemala, in order to settle the controversy between them over the territory of Belize, have reached agreement on the following points.
1. The United Kingdom and Guatemala shall recognize the independent State of Belize as an integral part of Central America, and respect its sovereignty and territorial integrity in accordance with its existing and traditional frontiers subject, in the case of Guatemala, to the completion of the treaty or treaties necessary to give effect to these Heads of Agreement.
2. Guatemala shall be accorded such territorial seas as shall ensure permanent and unimpeded access to the high seas, together with rights over the seabed thereunder.
3. Guatemala shall have the use and enjoyment of the Ranguana and Sapodilla cays, and rights in those areas of the sea adjacent to the cays, as may be agreed.
4. Guatemala shall be entitled to free port facilities in Belize City and Punta Gorda.
5. The road from Belize City to the Guatemalan frontier shall be improved; a road from Punta Gorda to the Guatemalan frontier shall be completed. Guatemala shall have freedom of transit on these roads.
6. Belize shall facilitate the construction of oil pipelines between Guatemala and Belize City, Dangriga and Punta Gorda.
7. In areas to be agreed an agreement shall be concluded between Belize and Guatemala for purposes concerned with the control of pollution, navigation and fishing.
8. There shall be areas of the seabed and the continental shelf to be agreed for the joint exploration and exploitation of minerals and hydrocarbons.
9. Belize and Guatemala shall agree upon certain developmental projects of mutual benefit.
10. Belize shall be entitled to any free port facilities in Guatemala to match similar facilities provided to Guatemala in Belize.
11. Belize and Guatemala shall sign a treaty of cooperation in matters of security of mutual concern, and neither shall permit its territory to be used to support subversion against the other.
12. Except as foreseen in these Heads of Agreement, nothing in these provisions shall prejudice any rights or interests of Belize or of the Belizean people.
13. The United Kingdom and Guatemala shall enter into agreements designed to re-establish full and normal relations between them.
14. The United Kingdom and Guatemala shall take the necessary action to sponsor the membership of Belize in the United Nations, the Organization of
American States, Central American organizations and other international organizations.
15. A Joint Commission shall be established between Belize, Guatemala and the United Kingdom to work out details to give effect to the above provisions. It will prepare a treaty or treaties for signature by the Signatories to these Heads of Agreement.
16. The controversy between the United Kingdom and Guatemala over the territory of Belize shall therefore be honorably and finally terminated.
Signed at London, the 11th day of March 1981, in the English and the Spanish language, both texts being equally authentic.
In looking at these proposals, no Belizean citizen in their right mind would agree to these proposals, and the Belize government knew that. In 1968 the American government appointed an American diplomat by the name of Bethuel M. Webster to negotiate the dispute between Guatemala and Belize, and he submitted a similar document known as the “WEBSTER PROPOSALS”. There is little or no difference between these two documents, and the intention of the British was the same, which was to give Belize to Guatemala to settle the dispute. A British diplomat later said that the proposals were used only as a matter of political expediency.
THE WEBSTER PROPOSALS
Negotiations between the United Kingdom and Guatemala in search of a solution to Guatemala’s claim to Belize were bilateral negotiations until 1962. It was a significant historical moment, because in that year delegates from Belize were permitted for the first time to participate in the Anglo-Guatemalan negotiations which took place in San Juan, Puerto Rico, with the U.K. and Guatemala as principals.
To be continued