British Honduras became a self-governing British colony in 1964. At the time, it was felt that we would now move on smartly to independence, but the Anglo-Guatemalan dispute got in the way in 1968 when the Belizean people rose up against Bethuel Webster’s Seventeen Proposals.
Early the following year of 1969, the UBAD organization was established, out of nowhere actually, and three months later there was an attempt to unseat the Hon. Philip Goldson as Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition – the National Independence Party (NIP). It was a strange and unexpected challenge. Mr. Goldson was a full-fledged national hero.
Two years before, some wealthy businessmen in the British Honduras Chamber of Commerce had begun publishing a new weekly newspaper – The Chamber Reporter. Its first editor was Miss Zelma Tucker, the eldest daughter of a prominent executive in the Santiago Castillo group of companies. Miss Tucker had been trained in journalism in the United Kingdom. (Miss Tucker soon left the newspaper and went on to become Belize’s first novelist – Mrs. Zee Edgell.)
It was The Chamber Reporter which introduced offset printing to Belize in 1967, and this modern technology, which featured the instant reproduction of photographs, coupled with the professional journalism training of its editor, made the new publication an immediate, credible threat to Mr. Goldson’s personal newspaper – The Belize Billboard. The Billboard was still being printed on a letter press, which meant that wooden blocks had to be carved to hold photographic plates. These blocks sometimes took days to make, and were expensive.
You have to remember that before the coming of The Reporter (The Chamber Reporter soon changed its name), Mr. Goldson’s Billboard had absolutely dominated the newspaper landscape here for a decade. Its only competition had been The Daily Clarion, which folded after Hurricane Hattie in 1961. (The less said about The Belize Times, the better.)
The Billboard was a daily newspaper. Its Sunday issue was powerful. Mr. Goldson was making so much money off the Billboard that he could afford not to be a candidate in the 1961 general election, and he paid his wife’s way when Mrs. Hadie Goldson traveled to London in 1961 to study law, a course she completed in 1965.
It may be mere coincidence that stiff newspaper competition for Mr. Goldson’s Billboard arose almost immediately after his daring exposure of the “Thirteen Proposals” in 1966. Mr. Goldson, sworn to secrecy, had attended the meetings, along with PUP government leaders, where the New York City attorney, Bethuel Webster, was drafting the Seventeen Proposals. At this time Mr. Goldson was one of two NIP members in the House of Representatives and the Leader of the Opposition. In a daring, heroic move which could have landed him in jail, again, Mr. Goldson revealed on the NIP rostrum in Belize City and in his newspaper what details he could remember of Webster’s Proposals. These details, which proved remarkably accurate, became known as the Thirteen Proposals. They sparked riots in the capital city.
With his Thirteen Proposals move, Mr. Goldson became a definite spoke in the British and American wheel. He had now refused to play by the rules of the game. 1966 was a year of serious decolonization worldwide, and the British wished to rid themselves of Belize while protecting their various business interests in Guatemala. Belize represented a vulnerable eastern flank for communist Cuban infiltration into Guatemala, which was the United States’ most important ally in Central America. Webster’s Proposals were a major Washington foreign policy initiative, as well as a huge petroleum package. The Seventeen Proposals were a really big deal. Mr. Goldson was flying in the face of London, Washington, and, of course, Guatemala City. He had no allies except for the Belizean people.
Seen in perspective after these four plus decades, the UBAD movement of 1969 can be seen as representing a desperate attempt by the descendants of those whom the British had brought here in chains from Africa to work in Belize’s hardwood forests, to find a place in a twentieth-century Belize where there were no longer any hardwood forests. The Seventeen Proposals had made it clear that those descendants of slavery, black and English-speaking, would be turned over to Latin Guatemala. This was the fate for his people which Mr. Goldson had rejected, and it was for this that he had to be sacrificed.
My original intent in this essay was to give you a sense of the temporary constitutional limbo of self-government into which UBAD emerged in 1969. In addition, I wanted to frame a regional context for what was happening at the exact same time in Trinidad, Guyana, Grenada, Antigua, and Jamaica. The black power movement in Trinidad was the largest and most violent in the Caribbean. Elements of the Trinidad army and the powerful oil workers union were involved in uprisings against the Eric Williams government.
Jamaica always gets the spotlight in the British Caribbean, but it was Trinidad where the heavy action was taking place. This is not to say that it was not in Jamaica that radical black consciousness had begun. It is amazing that it was around the same time that Stokely Carmichael was making his historic call for “black power” in Mississippi in the spring of 1966, that Haile Selassie I made his spectacular visit to Jamaica in April that year. On April 21, 1966, one hundred thousand Rastafarians (according to Wikipedia – the free encyclopedia) surrounded the Kingston airport to welcome His Divine Majesty, the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah. No one had ever seen so many Rastafarians together before, and nothing since that day has been the same in Jamaica or on planet earth. It was in that same year of 1966, to repeat, that Philip Goldson issued his call for the salvation and sovereignty of his people.
In 1967, Dr. Walter Rodney’s mingling with Jamaica’s Rastafarian population had created too much interaction between the University of the West Indies’ Mona campus, where he was teaching, and the roots Rasta. The Jamaican power structure became alarmed. When Jamaica’s Hugh Shearer government refused to allow Dr. Rodney, a Guyanese, to return to Jamaica to resume teaching, riots broke out in Kingston and on the Mona campus in October of 1968. There were several deaths and millions of dollars in damages.
In Belize, the two-party power structure would like you to forget that a UBAD ever happened. The fact is that there were very important things taking place in Belize and around this region before and during UBAD. The struggle goes on. Power to the people.