From Mediation to Adjudication
It was in November of 1965 that the United States agreed to the “request” by Great Britain and Guatemala to mediate the Anglo/Guatemala dispute over British Honduras. Some officials in the U.S. Department of State were reluctant to get involved because, as they said, “we have endeavoured to avoid a direct role in the United Kingdom–Guatemala talks on Belize, because of our desire to avoid the onus of a settlement which may well be unpopular, particularly in Guatemala, where the weakness of the Government’s claim is in inverse proportion to the emotional appeal of the issue. The possible adverse reaction to United States mediation from Mexico, which also has a claim to part of British Honduras, has been another consideration.”
Nevertheless the hardliners persevered, the die was cast and so what was to be a three-mediator job became only one, and he was to be the American, Bethuel M. Webster, with ambassadorial rank. He was directed through the mediation process by Mr. Richard Frank, an assistant Legal Advisor for Inter-American Affairs; he was assisted by one Mr. McCormack. It would be 2 ½ years before their work came to a fatal conclusion.
I will attempt to speed through some of what occurred during those 2 ½ years. First, I should say that I became seriously involved after the April 1962 conference in Puerto Rico. The British delegation was led by Lord Dundee and the Belize delegation was led by Premier George Price. Leader of the Opposition, Philip Goldson, was barred from participating and was reduced to demonstrating in front of the hotel where the meeting was held.
When Goldson inquired of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London why representatives of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition were excluded from such talks, he was told that it was a privilege and NOT a right for them to be included. He was not invited to the talks in Washington in May of 1963 or the London talks of June 1965. He was a part of the delegation to London in June of 1966 resulting in the premature leak of the Webster 13 Proposals and the subsequent developments I believe we all know about.
In January of 1967 I wrote to Ambassador Webster, regarding the long delay of his mediation results. In response he invited us (The Freedom Committee) to meet with him at the headquarters of the New York Bar Association on February 13, a holiday. Our executive officers and two of our three advisors, Samuel Haynes and Rev. Gerald Fairweather, attended. The third advisor, Charles Folks, who was also the president of AFL-CIO Local 431, was involved in a labour mediation and was unable to attend.
I opened my presentation by telling Ambassador Webster that it was significant that we were meeting on the birthday of the Great Emancipator, President Abraham Lincoln. After our formal discussions we were taken to another room in the building for refreshments and I had a chance to ask Webster, off the record, what persuaded him to undertake such a humungous task of mediating this dispute. His answer was, “Well, when the President of the United States asks you to do something, it is often hard to refuse”.
I was surprised at the youthfulness of his two advisors. Richard Frank was at least 5 or 6 years younger than me. During the discussions he berated me for what he said was the one-sided and inaccurate reports broadcasted nationwide over the Freedom Committee’s news wire. In the following months I felt sorry for Mr. Webster, as I believed he was being used.
The U.S. State Department had serious reservations regarding the stability of the government in Guatemala. The president, Mendez Montenegro, had come to power with a slim majority. His military officers were out of control, with the indiscriminate killing of anyone who was perceived to be aiding the communist rebels. The U.S. was fearful that Montenegro would be overthrown; the guerrillas were stepping up their violent attacks against the government. Solving the Belize problem would be a spectacular boost for the president, but things suddenly started to go downhill.
The Freedom Committee arranged for Goldson to appear at the United Nations in August. Webster was annoyed and complained to Bloomfield in Canada; Bloomfield told him there was nothing he could do about it.
In November, Mendez Montenegro suddenly appears on Hunting Caye with a party of 30, including women and children, using and enjoying the Caye even before Webster said it was ok to do so. When Governor Sir John Paul sent immigration officer Arthur Adolphus with an order to expel the bunch, Montenegro’s security people took the order and tore it up saying, “The President does not need permission to visit national territory.”
On the 25th of November, Philip Goldson reported the incident to me as follows: “On Thursday evening I saw the Governor concerning the reported presence of the Guatemala President at Hunting Caye. The Governor confirmed this. He said that the government was sending an expulsion order but he doubts that it would be obeyed and he did not know what to do if the President does not obey it. The President said that he had come to stay until Saturday and he obviously meant to do just that because he had a gunboat and planes flying overhead to enforce his right to stay. Radio Belize broadcast the news at midday and at seven o’clock Wednesday, Adolphus was sent with the expulsion order, arriving on Friday morning, but it appears that the President paid no attention to it”.
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the British were buckling under American pressure to facilitate the U.S. State Department’s objective of giving Guatemala complete control over British Honduras, negating the fundamental rights of its population in the process. It was because of this possibility that our colleagues in the British Honduras Emergency Committee in London arranged for me to meet the Deputy Under Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Relations Office, Sir John Rennie, upon my return to London from Gibraltar as an observer to the Referendum of September 10, 1967. I wanted to pursue the reason for the reluctance of the British to consider any form of referendum for Belize.
In April of 1967, Sir John Rennie came to Belize along with S.W. Carter to personally deliver the draft of the Mediator’s proposal to be vetted by the Price government and to scold Goldson for his intransigence in not accepting the British/American solution to the Anglo/Guatemala problem, telling him, “Don’t you see what you are doing to my career?” I cannot recall what, if any, was Goldson’s response to this insult, but I am sure that if he had expressed such sentiments to me when I sat in his office in September, I would have had an appropriate response.
Few people knew at the time that Sir John was the head of Britain’s super secret M16 – The British Intelligence Gathering Agency; he was the exact counterpart of America’s CIA Chief Richard Helms. Sir John and his colleagues came to Belize using fake names and passports reminiscent of one of his earlier intelligence predecessors, T.E. Lawrence, known to us as the flamboyant “Lawrence of Arabia,” who faked his way through almost all of his exploits.
Even the press in the Soviet Union questioned the importance of the Belize issue which required the attention of Britain’s top spymaster Mr. “C” himself.
In 1968 things were getting worse in Guatemala; in January two high ranking U.S. military advisors, Colonel John Webber and Commander Ernest Munro, were assassinated. Later in August, the United States Ambassador’s limousine was forced to the curb on a major thoroughfare in Guatemala City and the Ambassador, John Gordon Mein, was shot dead, the first such assassination of an ambassador in United States history.
Delivery of the Webster proposals in Washington for April 27, 1968, was announced publicly (never mind that the Guatemalan Ambassador and the British Ambassador had it weeks before). The Price government, with eight (8) delegates, and the Opposition, with three (3) delegates, were summoned to Washington for this BIG day. Professor Bloomfield was invited by the Belize Government to be present. I was invited by Richard Frank of the State Department and we all attended the sumptuous “end of mediation” banquet laid on by U.S. businessmen with interest in Guatemala on the eve of this big day.
The proposals were to be handed out and discussed at the British Embassy the following morning. Mr. Frank could not invite me to attend as part of the Belize delegation; that was left to Premier Price, so Professor Bloomfield suggested to him that since I was in Washington representing more than 5,000 expatriate Belizeans, that it would be a good idea to have me “sit in”. Mr. Price told him he will think about it. Next day, when Bloomfield asked about his decision, Mr. Price told him the answer was NO, because Lindbergh Rogers was not in agreement. I considered this to be odd since Lindy and I always had a cordial relationship, which improved after he was appointed Ambassador to the UN.
While everyone was at the British Embassy, I returned to my hotel room, made a free telephone call to London to the Diplomatic Correspondent for the Guardian, Patrick Keatley, who I knew had the proposal for publication.
He owed me a few favors, and it was time to cash in. The proposals were read to me over the phone and I can say now that I received them even before George Price or Philip Goldson.
Later in the day Bloomfield called me to his room to discuss the implications of these proposals, I cautioned him that all attendees to the presentation had to sign an agreement to keep it secret until it was released in Belize and Guatemala. He told me not to worry, since he signed the document as a “witness”. We then both had a good laugh over the fact that we seemed to have outwitted them all.
Philip Goldson took the proposals with him back to Belize, held public meetings and we all know the results. The mediation was dead, or was it? Ambassador Mein in Guatemala suggested that mediation continue in some other form, but he was overruled by his superiors, who wanted to “cut this off clean”.
In July 1968 Richard Frank submitted his report to his boss, Ambassador Covey Oliver, saying, I strongly believe that we should end the mediation, that we should do so in writing, and that we should make no committed vis-à-vis further participation in the dispute, for the following reasons:
1. Ambassador Mein suggests that the parties can reach agreement. I believe it is now quite evident that a solution will not be found in the foreseeable future – because of Arenales’ reaction to the mediator’s proposals, Mendez Montenegro’s disinterest in the dispute, the policies and emotions in British Honduras manifested after the treaty was published, and the British unwillingness to resolve the dispute with a large cash settlement.
2. A solution will only come with time, when the reality of an independent British Honduras is recognized in Guatemala, and when the British Hondurans, as masters of their own affairs, realize the need to make concessions. These events will occur more quickly if the parties are looking to themselves rather than to the United States for an answer.
3. The United States can no longer fill a useful role as a neutral third party. We are not needed to facilitate contact and communication between the parties. We do not have fresh ideas. The parties seem unprepared to have a solution “imposed” on them by the USG, as has been shown by the unanimous objection to the US treaty.
4. Becoming involved in Arenales’ machinations leaves us dangerously exposed. Arenales has told us he wishes to reduce British influence in British Honduras. He has told the British he wishes to reduce US influence in Central America. He has told both of us that he believes the best solution would be the bribery of either Price or Goldson.
5. The British Honduras issue is not of major concern to either the Guatemalan public or to the President of Guatemala at the present. It is possible this dispute could die a natural death. However, if we remain involved and mislead the Guatemalans by showing support or sympathy, we could induce Guatemalan politicians to make the claim a political issue – it could sprout life and reach the proportions of the Venezuelan-Guyana dispute. Rather than nipping this at the bud, we would be assisting in creating an unfortunate situation calling for later reaction.
6. Only Arenales (for personal reasons) and a handful in Guatemala are concerned with the dispute. Mendez Montenegro has shown little interest in assuming the risks of a settlement or in using the issue for political purposes. I believe the Government of Guatemala would not object if we terminate the mediation and dampen rather than encourage Arenales.
(NEXT: Some little known facts regarding the “pollution” of the 1859 Treaty between the United Kingdom and Guatemala.)