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26/09/2011 | Editorial: Jamaica Observer: George Price: Architect of Belize

Editorial

Given the immense contribution Mr George Cadle Price made to the creation and development of Belize, we were not surprised that he was awarded that country's highest honour, the Order of National Hero, in 2000.

 

The outpouring of respect that has followed his passing last Monday is, therefore, understandable and most appropriate, considering that former Prime Minister Price was really the architect of Belize, formerly the British colony known as British Honduras. Indeed, Mr Price, who was 92 years old when he died, was one of a generation of pioneer nationalists who guided their countries from British colonial rule to independent statehood.

Born in the coastal town of Belize City in January 1919, Mr Price's education stopped at the high school level.

He was a man given to a materially modest lifestyle and could never be accused of having an insatiable appetite for the limelight throughout his political career that spanned more than 50 years.

The late Mr Price began his political career in 1947 when he was elected to the Belize City Council. In 1950, he was a founding member of the People's United Party (PUP) and party leader for four decades starting in 1946. It was his leadership which led to political independence for Belize in 1981, resulting in him serving two terms as prime minister -- 1981-84 and 1989-1993.

But gaining independence for Belize was no easy task, because it involved extricating British Honduras from the grip of British colonial rule. It also required strength in standing up to Guatemala which claims more than half of Belizean territory.

This claim and border dispute, which date back to 1940, have never been definitively settled from the point of view of Guatemala.

The dispute originated with the Treaty of Tordesillas of 1494 which divided the so-called New World between Spain and Portugal. However, England and other European countries refused to recognise the legitimacy of a treaty to which they were not parties. By the Treaty of Godolphin of 1670, Spain confirmed England was to hold all territories in the Western Hemisphere that it had already settled, but England did not occupy Belize when it signed the Treaty.

Eventually, in 1821, Guatemala became independent of Spain, and, in 1862, Belize became a British colony. By the Anglo-Guatemalan Treaty of 1859, Guatemala agreed to recognise Belize and Great Britain promised to build a road from Guatemala to a nearby Belizean city.

However, in 1940, Guatemala claimed that the 1859 treaty was void because the British failed to comply with economic assistance provisions. But a ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) required that Guatemala honour the boundaries in the 1859 treaty, even if the UK never builds the road.

Guatemala was obviously still unhappy with the ICJ ruling on September 21, 1981 when Belize became an independent nation, as Guatemala City refused to recognise Belize's independence until 1991, at which time diplomatic relations were established.

But in that same year, Guatemala renewed its claim on Belize, basing its position on heritance of Spain's rights. In June 2008, the Belizean prime minister, Mr Dean Barrow, proposed referenda for the citizens of Belize and Guatemala, asking whether they support referring the issue to the ICJ. That has not yet happened, leaving the future of the country that Mr Price devoted his life to creating still clouded by Guatemala's claim.

There are three possibilities in this scenario: the dispute remains unresolved like all the others in Latin America; the dispute is finally settled; or part of Belize is absorbed by Guatemala. Whatever materialises, Belize, we believe, is destined to shift from being an English-speaking country of the Caribbean Community to a Central American country where the majority of the population speaks Spanish.

We hope, however, that the Belize that late Prime Minister Price devoted his life to creating will remain an independent country, whether Caribbean, or Central American, or Spanish-speaking, or English-speaking.


Jamaica Observer (Jamaica)

 



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