“Ultimately, President Ydigoras Fuentes became convinced that his ace in the hole would be the results of his meeting with President John F. Kennedy. According to his son, Ydigoras Laparra, his father thought that he had obtained an ‘understanding’ with the White House that, in exchange for U.S. support for the annexation of Belize, Guatemala would grant American enterprises long-term concessions for the exploitation of minerals, petroleum, lumber and fishing resources in that country. Ydigoras obviously believed that if he could come back with U.S. support for the annexation of Belize, it would be a great nationalistic triumph that would neutralize the Army and most of his detractors.”
– pg. 285, MISUNDERSTOOD CAUDILLO, by Roland H. Ebel, University Press of America, 1998
My sense is that the working people of Belize began to fall in love seriously with the United States when they travelled to Panama to work under American supervision in the Canal Zone, especially during World War II. As a result of the Belizeans’ favorable opinion of the expansive Americans, in comparison with the “cheapness” of the colonial British they had experienced in Belize (British Honduras), when Belizean workers returned home from Panama (some went directly to America) and the vast majority of them became supporters of the anti-colonial People’s United Party (PUP) in the early 1950s, U.S. flags often appeared in PUP parades.
The post-World War II generation to which I belong (we grew up in the 1950s and early/middle 1960s) was very much fascinated with America. After all, everything we ate from cans, wore, and used was marked “Made in the U.S.A.” In addition, those were the days of AM radio, and the AM signals from giant American radio stations travelled all the way to Belize from cities like St. Louis, Houston, and Shreveport, especially in the night. In addition, the radio signal from the United States Armed Forces Radio was strong, and so we tuned in for American sports – baseball, basketball, boxing, etc.
The movement of British Honduras to self-rule (internal self-government in January of 1964) created a dilemma for Belizeans which we have never really confronted as a people. Belize was being transferred from British hegemony to American influence and control. Some scholars say the British were glad to get rid of us Belizeans, but I don’t know about that. In any case, the British had always defended us from Guatemalan threats and aggression. The United States and Guatemala had been close friends from the time the reformist Jacobo Arbenz was overthrown in 1954 in Guatemala. The Guatemalan business and military classes, which ruled Guatemala absolutely and violently after Arbenz was removed, were totally pro-American.
We have said to you recently that when General Manuel Ydigoras Fuentes became President of Guatemala between 1957 and 1958, he increased the intensity of Guatemalan rhetoric where the claim to Belize was concerned. In return for allowing a Cuban exile force to be trained in Guatemala by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for the invasion of Fidel Castro’s Cuba in 1961, Fuentes claimed the John Kennedy administration in Washington promised him U.S. support for the Guat claim to Belize.
The Americans then hosted a conference in Puerto Rico in 1962 wherein the British and the Guatemalans discussed the claim. My understanding of the conference is that there were several Belizean observers, but only from the ruling PUP, which had won all 18 seats in the House in the 1961 general election. Mr. Philip Goldson’s ”Loyal Opposition,” the National Independence Party (NIP), was not invited to Puerto Rico.
I know almost nothing about the Puerto Rico conference, but I know that Col Enrique Peralta Azurdia overthrew Ydigoras in late March 1963. Then John Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, in Dallas, Texas.
Belize achieved internal self-government in early 1964 and the Belize school year was almost immediately changed to coincide with the American school year.
THE BELIZE BILLBOARD, owned by Mr. Goldson, continued an anti-Guatemalan claim campaign which it had begun from the time Ydigoras had taken power in 1958. Mr. Goldson’s NIP won two seats in the House in the 1965 general election, and Mr. Goldson was invited to talks in 1966 wherein an American mediator, Bethuel Webster, would present proposals for a solution to the Anglo-Guatemalan dispute over Belize which would enable Belize to move on to an early independence.
Sworn to secrecy, Mr. Goldson was so alarmed by the Webster proposals that he revealed what he remembered of them to the Belizean people. Mr. Goldson risked jail to do so. Violence broke out in Belize City, the population center and still the capital of Belize at the time.
In 1967, the business element in Belize introduced a newspaper, THE CHAMBER REPORTER, the first newspaper to use modern offset printing technology in Belize, which essentially challenged the dominance of THE BILLBOARD.
In 1968, recently declassified FBI documents indicted Mr. Goldson for alleged contacts with Fidel Castro’s Cuba, Guatemala’s bitter enemy.
In 1969, Mr. Goldson’s leadership of the NIP was challenged by the right wing attorney, Dean Lindo. Lindo’s challenge failed, but in 1973 when the new United Democratic Party (UDP) was formed, Lindo became de facto Leader of the Opposition. (THE BILLBOARD shut down and with his wife and children living in New York, Mr. Goldson was in London studying law in 1973.)
The new UDP immediately declared that the Opposition would now de-emphasize the Guatemalan claim and focus on economic development.
But what kind of economic development, pray? Precisely the kind of neoliberal capitalist approach which was featured in Guatemala.
The problem for the racist Guatemalans had always been the majority black population of Belize, descendants of the slaves imported here by the British to cut logwood and mahogany. The majority black population of Belize is now a marginalized minority. They migrated to the United States in search of greener pastures. The black youth who remained in Belize began slaughtering each other three decades ago.
Through all the decades from the time of Ydigoras, we had remained in love with America. Belize has been taken over on the ground by migrant workers from Central America. I guess the conclusion would have to be that we Belizeans love America more than we love Belize.
Power to the people.