As the discussions and debates pick up more momentum towards the referendum date of April 10, 2019, it has been remarked by some vocal advocates of the “No” position that they are not being given equal status in the publicly sponsored presentations, so that the “Yes” advocates are having more prominence and opportunity to address the citizenry. It has been mentioned that on one occasion the “No” person was sandwiched between two individuals promoting the “Yes” argument.
In court, both sides are given equal opportunity to present their case – the prosecution and the defence. In the House of Representatives, both the government and the “Queen’s Loyal Opposition” are given their say; although the majority side always gets its way. But the people can listen and make up their own minds; and eventually they get their chance to have THEIR WAY on the next election date.
Sometimes, and especially so for the younger generation of Belizeans who were not around before Independence, we tend to forget that in 1981 there was only one radio station, Radio Belize, spanning the whole country, except for the British Army private radio that came out of their Ladyville-based transmitters especially for their soldiers and service men.
There is no doubt that the majority of Belizeans wanted our independence; despite all the concerns raised by those opposing, and despite the momentum in favor of the then young United Democratic Party, a majority of Belizeans still supported the 1979 election platform of the People’s United Party, which was to carry through the long struggle to completion in securing Belize’s independence, as mandated by the U.N. General Assembly after a decade of international lobbying by Belizean leaders and diplomats. Indeed, as the Guatemala claim continued to enter the debate about our “security guarantee” after independence, Belizeans were still impatient to see the birth of our new nation. One Amandala headline, recognizing increasing pressure on then Premier George Price by the British to concede something to satisfy Guatemala, even asked the question, “Independence Premier or Moses? “, implying that his life’s dream and the stated objective of the PUP from its inception in 1950, that of seeing Belize attain its independence, might have been delayed beyond the leadership term of Mr. Price, who would then be compared to the Biblical Moses, who led the Israelites out of Egypt and toward the Promised Land, but did not himself get to set foot there in his lifetime.
The wily British, masters of diplomacy, with centuries of experience in empire and international politics, “tightened the screws” on Belize, even while Ambassador Assad Shoman, Deputy Prime Minister Lindberg Rogers, diplomat Robert Leslie and others, helped Premier George Price to carry the message of Belizean self-determination and independence to our fellow Central American and Caribbean nations, as well as to countries around the world in the “Non-Aligned” movement.
The local Opposition, especially the Loyal and Patriotic Order of the Baymen, would not be enthused with the details, if divulged by our frontline PUP leaders and negotiators, that our “brotherhood of Britain” was exerting great pressure on the nascent nation of Belize to give up some of its territory to Guatemala as the price for securing our independence. The historical fact was, as clearly disclosed by Shoman and others, and evident from previous collaborative efforts with the Americans in the Webster’s Proposals, that all the big players – the U.S. and Great Britain along with Guatemala – felt that Belize should give up something, and the Guatemala position was always that it had to be territory.
There was an impasse. The whole world, with the exception of the U.S, Israel and Guatemala, had seen the justice of our cause, and were fully in support of the new nation and people of Belize to attain our independence with all our territory intact; and they said so clearly and unequivocally in repeated resolutions at the U.N. General Assembly. (The U.S., under President Jimmy Carter, eventually gave us the green light.)
The U.N. was running out of patience with the British, and had set a deadline for their relinquishing their hold on the colony of British Honduras, which had been given its “Self- Government” from way back in 1964, but still had not yet attained independence in 1981. The resurrected Webster’s Proposals in the form of the Heads of Agreement on March 11, 1981, had spawned riots in Belize City. With the drive to independence in high gear, the British and friends had pushed the hand of our leaders. Hearing the comments of Assad Shoman in 2018, it appears that our leaders had decided that they would sign anything the British wanted, as long as they were not giving up any of our territory, or making any binding agreement that would prejudice the rights and freedom of Belizeans. To them, the “Heads” were just areas to be discussed and agreed on later, which would allow them to reject any area they could not finally agree on. Belize would not be bound to anything, just some “Heads of Agreement” to be worked out later. But Belizeans still went “ballistic.” Certain areas of the “Heads” were so against our nature, that Belizeans declared by their actions, “No dice!” No “agreement” here on those “Heads.”
In a sense, it could be said that the great Belizean people took Premier George Price, Harry Courtenay and Assad Shoman, who signed the “Heads,” off the hook with the British. They could say, “See; we have tried to work with you, but our Belizean people are a tough bunch to satisfy. Sorry, Mother England.” One may even surmise that, perhaps the PUP leaders had a good idea beforehand that that would be the reaction of Belizeans. But they were “playing Anaacy” with the mighty British, as time was nearing to the U.N. deadline to hand Belize its independence.
Many young Belizeans don’t know that following the announcement of those Heads of Agreement in March, 1981, and the strikes and riots that followed, the then Governor of Belize, (on the advice of the Prime Minister), had to declare a State of Emergency, which meant British soldiers, trained to shoot and kill if necessary, were deployed in the streets of Belize City. And Belize remained in a State of Emergency until after Independence Day, September 21, 1981.
Think about that. The Amandala was around, giving its “blow by blow” analysis during all this period of crisis, and it may have been then that it became the “leading newspaper” in Belize. There was no Krem then; Radio Belize ruled the airwaves unchallenged; and only at election time were Opposition members allowed a few minutes on air, but their remarks had to be pre-recorded and sanctioned by the Government censors. Our “democracy” was therefore quite limited, where sharing information and public discourse with the people was concerned.
The march to independence continued; and so did the pressure from the British. But Belizean Premier George Price was standing his ground with the Belizean people at his back – “no land cession; independence now!”
In a State of Emergency, could there be any serious agitation of Belizeans to express dissatisfaction or rejection of anything the British were doing or saying? No public meetings were allowed. Indeed, it was all behind closed doors; what Belizeans knew, was that the “Heads” were “dead,” and we were going straight ahead to independence. But, a lot was happening that Belizeans were not aware of. Bit by bit, over the years, Shoman and others have revealed what was going on, the pressure by the British, with the urging of the Americans (President Carter had left office on January 20, 1981) and the Guatemalans, to still give up a piece of Belizean land to appease the Guats, in return for our independence. But no way would Price agree to that.
With time running out, the British then played their last card, their “trump” card, when they realized they could no longer stop Belize’s independence or get our leaders to agree to give up land to Guatemala. State of Emergency or not, any such announcement had the potential to ignite a real conflagration in the streets of Belize. That is one thing that all Belizeans understand — land cession, and no street leadership would