By Wellington C. Ramos
The British landed in Belize in 1638, long before Guatemala ever dreamt of becoming a nation state and still Guatemala is claiming our country up to this day. Why? Because, in the early part of Belize’s history, the British had no intention of making Belize one of their colonies until 1862.
Born in Dangriga Town, the cultural capital of Belize, Wellington Ramos has BAs in Political Science and History from Hunter College, NY, and an MA in Urban Studies from Long Island University. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science and History
If the British wanted to obtain Belize as their property, they had several opportunities when they signed treaties with Spain to make it their territory. This was done because the British settlers who lived in Belize loved the country and exerted pressure on the British to grant them colony status.
Also, the settlers fought in the Battle of Saint George Cay on the 10th September 1797 to drive the Spanish out of Belize. This day should have been the Independence Day for the country of Belize because of its significance in demonstrating our forefathers’ true nationalism when many of them died in defence of our homeland.
The birth of the major political parties in Belize started in the early 1950s with the People’s United Party under the leadership of Leigh Richardson, John Smith and then George Cadle Price. This party was formed to try and obtain Belize’s independence from Great Britain. However, according to several sources, they were receiving assistance from Guatemala, a neighbouring country claiming Belize, to support their party. Why the leaders of a political party would try to break away from one colonizing country to be colonized by another country is still puzzling to me up to this day.
In the end, some of the leaders bolted from the People’s United Party and formed the Honduran Independent Party and the National Independence Party. Members of the new parties, especially Philip Goldson, accused the leader of the People’s United Party George Price for selling out Belize to Guatemala. There was even a Sharp Commission established by the British government to investigate George Price’s dealings with Guatemala.
He was indicted, placed on trial and found not guilty for the charges laid against him. After the trial, George Price became more popular among Belizeans. In all the years of Belize’s existence, the education system was geared towards making Belizeans proud British citizens and not Belizeans. Belize became a self governed nation in 1964, which started the process of nation building towards independence. This was the time for the government of Belize to start the process of educating Belizeans to become proud Belizeans and nationalistic. From the time Guatemala became a country in 1823, they have always considered Belize to be a province of their country.
Their citizens were educated in all their schools to believe the same. Even up to this day if any Belizean was to meet a Guatemalan citizen and tell them they came from Belize, the Guatemalan citizen would respond by telling them “Belice es nuestro”, meaning Belize belongs to us. In all my years of attending school in Belize I was never taught to believe that Belize belongs to me. The history curriculum was all about how Peter Wallace, a British buccaneer, discovered Belize and how the settlement started.
Later on, as I grew up, I would go to the NIP meetings with my mother and hear Philip Goldson talk about how George Price was selling out Belize to Guatemala and that was why he left the People’s United Party. When I attended the PUP meetings, I never heard George Price defending himself against the allegations made by Mr Goldson.
We became an independent nation on September 21, 1981, and we were still not nationalistic as Belizeans. Now we find ourselves 32 years later still haunted by this Guatemalan claim. Today, there are Belizeans who are in support of taking this claim to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for final resolution; those who are against and those who have no position whatsoever. The people that are in favour of taking it to the ICJ believe it is the best way to resolve the problem once and for all and Belize have nothing to lose. Those who are against believe that it is risky and Belize risks losing some of the territory it currently has. Those who are uncertain about what course of action to take are still trying to make up their minds over this issue.
If our government had been educating our people on this issue since we became independent, about why Belize belongs to us and nobody else, we would not find ourselves in this difficult situation. Another big problem is that some Belizeans are not getting anything from their country and they see some families and foreigners getting everything out of Belize and they do not care anymore.
Currently, Guatemala wants half of Belize and we have Belizeans who are trying to get a lot to build a home for their families and farmland to grow food for them but haven’t gotten any up to today, while the same Guatemalans who are coming into Belize are getting lots, lands and Belizean citizenship.
Building nationalism is always about taking care of your citizens first so that they can have pride in being Belizeans. We must now start to give all Belizean citizens lots and lands and educate our people in all of our public schools to become nationalistic Belizeans.