|A British Crown Colony since 1862, Belize was declared an independent nation from on 21 September 1981. This module provides an overview of the key events on Belize's road to independence.
Road to Independence
Since its birth in 1950, the goal of the Belize nationalist movement was self-government and independence. In 1960 the United Nations passed a historic resolution fully supporting independence for colonial territories and peoples. Many countries were emerging from colonialism to independence, some after years of armed struggle. In the Caribbean, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago became independent in 1962. Belize however remained a British colony due in large part to the government of Guatemala insistence on a land claim to Belize. Guatemala threatened to use force against Belize if it became independent without first settling the claim.
For many years, the Belizean Government largely left matters up to the British, who were constitutionally responsible for the foreign affairs and defense of Belize. In 1975, after 14 years of negotiations, the Guatemalan Government demanded the cession of a large area of Belizean territory as the price for withdrawing its claim.
The Government under the stewardship of Premier George Price, leader of the Peoples United Party, decided that it would wage a campaign for Independence, this time on the international front, to gain support for its claim to full Independence with its territory intact and secure.
There followed six years of intensive diplomatic activity on the part of the Belize Government in an exercise that became known as "the internationalization effort". From 1975 to 1979, the U.S. abstained on all the United Nations resolutions concerning Belize's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. Finally, in 1980, it changed its policy of neutrality and voted in favour of the U.N. resolution that called for the independence of Belize. This resolution was adopted in November 1980. It demanded the secure independence of Belize, with all its territory, before the next session of the U.N. in 1981. It called on Britain to continue to defend Belize, and on all countries to come to its assistance. One hundred and thirty-nine countries voted in favour of the resolution, with seven abstentions and none against. Guatemala refused to vote.
On 11 March 1981, Britain, Guatemala and Belize signed "The Heads of Agreement". This document stated that there was no final agreement nor even specific proposals, but rather areas for discussion that would form the basis for a final agreement after negotiations. Guatemala agreed to recognize an independent Belize within its existing borders, but only if agreement could be reached on other points in the document. These other points included the "use and enjoyment" of certain cayes, free port facilities, freedom of transit on two roads, facilitation of oil pipelines, co-operation in security, and a non-aggression pact. These were not spelled out specifically. It was left for future negotiators of the three countries to hammer out the details and reach a final agreement acceptable to all sides. This agreement lapsed before independence.
On 21 September 1981, Belize became an independent nation with George Price as its first Prime Minister and Dame Elimira Gordon as the first Governor-General. Later that day the official handing over of the Instruments of the Independence Constitution took place in Belmopan and the following day Price flew to New York to be present when the UN Security Council and the General Assembly voted to approve and formerly admit Belize as the 136th Member of the United Nations on 25 September1981. On the same day it became a full member of the Non-Aligned Movement, after being a member with "special status" since 1976. On Independence Day Belize was also admitted to membership of the Commonwealth of Nations.
Meaning of Independence
Belize becoming an independent nation, now meant that Britain, no longer controlled the affairs of the country. It was now the responsibility of the newly elected Prime Minister and the locally elected Cabinet. Independence also meant that a Constitution, symbols, emblems, an army, and passports had to be developed for the country.
As an independent nation, Belize assigns Ambassadors overseas who represent the country. They sign treaties on behalf of Belize and become members of various international organisations. This is important, as it gives the country equal rights on various issues relating to international trade, policies and treaties.