BELIZE CITY, Tues. Sept. 21, 2010
Against the backdrop of a series of 6 United Nations (UN) resolutions spanning 1975 to 1980, affirming the right of Belizeans to self-determination, independence and territorial integrity as well as calling on all states to facilitate the attainment of the goal to a secure independence, Belize — then British Honduras — got its independence from Great Britain (UK) on September 21, 1981.
This year marks 29 years since that declaration and since the country of Belize adopted its own constitution. Malta and Armenia also celebrate their independence the same day as Belize, attained in 1964 and 1991, respectively.
Belize was the last country in Central America to gain its independence and the third to the last of all independent states in the Caribbean.
On September 15, 1821, the people in what are known today as Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, broke from Spanish rule, declaring what was then known as The Kingdom of Guatemala or The Captaincy General of Guatemala as independent. A year later, the kingdom was annexed to Mexico, but their independence was soon after restored. The Republic of Guatemala was established separately in 1847. Panama became independent in 1903, making Belize the last in the Central American region to declare its independence.
Haiti became independent in 1804 — the earliest country in the Caribbean and Latin America to break from colonial rule with the uprisings of the African population.
In the Caribbean, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago were among the earliest, declaring their independence in 1962. The youngest independent nation in the Caribbean, St. Kitts and Nevis, declared its independence in 1983. Antigua and Barbuda declared independence the same year as Belize in November 1981.
According to History of Belize: Nation in the Making, “The only reason Belize had to wait more than 20 years [from the 1960 UN declaration] before achieving independence was because the government of Guatemala insisted on a land claim to Belize.”
In December 2009, when there was controversy over the statement made by Belize Foreign Affairs Minister Wilfred Elrington, that Belize and Guatemala share what he termed an “artificial border,” the Minister explained to us at the time that the border conflict between the countries needs to be resolved in advance of hemispheric integration. “On a monthly basis” the integration of 33 countries in the Americas is being discussed, in line with the European Union model (an economic and political union) that has seen the integration of 27 states. Belize is already a part of integration movements in both Central America and the Caribbean in the form of the Central American Integration System (SICA) and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), respectively.
The historical landscape is important: The European countries decided more than five centuries ago that they had the authority to claim the lands of the so-called Americas, which, though populated at the time, were deemed to be “discovered” after Christopher Columbus got lost in his search for Indian territory in the late 1400′s. In May 1493, Spanish Pope Alexander VI issued a decree in the form of a papal bull (Inter Caetera) to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, declaring “heathen” lands to be the shared property of Spain and Portugal. The Treaty of Tordesillas ensued in 1494, which detailed the sharing of the lands. (These decrees followed the papal bull of 1455 issued by Pope Nicolas V to King Alfonso V of Portugal as a part of the decrees purporting to seize non-Christian lands that had been “discovered” and to put locals under subjugation or slavery.) With the initiation of Spanish and Portuguese colonialism, eventually came the massive enslavement of Africans, the atrocities against the indigenous populations of the Americas, and the forced spread of Christianity in the Americas and other parts of the world. The French and the British came into the picture later and also exploited other nations and ethnic groups.
During the 1600′s, the British came to the area now known as Belize to exploit logwood. Africans were enslaved from the Bight of Benin, the Congo, Angola and other parts of Africa for this trade, and they were the black logwood cutters whose images originally appeared on the Coat of Arms of Belize.
The Spanish did not surrender control to the British although they agreed (via treaties) for them to exploit the area for logwood. The British took control after the Battle of St. George’s Caye in 1798, which explains why Belize became the only English-speaking Central American nation.
With the Kingdom of Guatemala breaking from Spanish rule in 1821 and the Republic of Guatemala established more than two and a half decades later, the British entered into the boundary treaty of 1859 with Guatemala (not with Spain). The boundaries in that 1859 treaty are the same boundaries reflected in the Belize Constitution of 1981.
It is this boundary treaty that remains a point of contention 151 years later, as Britain did not fulfill its obligation to build a road for Guatemala to access the east coast of the Central American isthmus as it had promised. As a result, Guatemala is claiming that the territory it has inherited from Spain reverts to its ownership. It is not seeking reparations from the UK, and on the 9th of September, 2010 — the eve of St. George’s Caye Day — the Congress of Guatemala voted unanimously to take Belize to the International Court of Justice, a part of the UN system, to settle the dispute.
While 2010 marks another major development in the dispute between Belize and Guatemala, it also marks a historic year for the Maya in Belize, who won a favorable ruling in the Belize Supreme Court declaring most of the lands in the Toledo District, all Maya villages of Southern Belize, as their ancestral homeland. The Government of Belize, which has claimed that the Maya of Toledo are not indigenous and (based on accounts in their own Maya Atlas) are migrants from Guatemala, does not agree with the Supreme Court decision and will pursue an appeal.
Colonization has robbed indigenous peoples of the Americas of lands as well as their basic human rights, but it has also led to the inhumane treatment and displacement of Africans, an untold number of who perished in the transatlantic slave trade.
The papal bulls, which indigenous groups blamed for triggering the atrocities, remain in effect and some indigenous leaders continue to call on Rome to formally revoke them. Annually, some activists do ceremonial burnings of the text to continue to vocalize their opposition to the manner in which their lands had been usurped by the Europeans, while at the same time purporting to “save” the so-called “heathen.”
According to Pope Eugene IV (1441, Cantante Domino), “The most holy Roman church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic church, not only pagans, but also Jews [Yahudim or those who worship YAHUAH] and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless before death they are joined with Her [the church]…. No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he remain within the bosom and the unity of the Catholic church.”
At the Parliament of World Religions in 1993, the Declaration of Vision was formalized, calling for the restoration of the fundamental human rights of indigenous peoples. This was reiterated in the last 2009 declaration, which states: “Certain doctrines have been threatening to the survival of our cultures, our languages, and our peoples, and devastating to our ways of life. These are found in particular colonizing documents such as the Inter Caetera papal bull of 1493, which called for the subjugation of non-Christian nations and peoples and ‘the propagation of the Christian empire.’ This is the root of the Doctrine of Christian Discovery that is still interwoven into laws and policies today that must be changed.”
Although most nations are independent today, Christianity and Roman Catholicism continue to be the dominant faith in countries such as Belize. The representative of the state of the Holy See, the seat of the Roman Catholic Church and the domicile of the pope, was present at Tuesday’s Independence Day celebrations in Belize, among a host of other dignitaries from near and far, including the United Kingdom, whose countries have diplomatic relations with Belize.
British Honduras became a formal Crown Colony of Britain (UK) in 1871 and attained self-government in 1964. British Honduras formally became Belize in 1973, 8 years before independence.
Back then, Belize reportedly had a population of 150,000. Today, the population has more than doubled, exceeding the 300,000 mark, according to current estimates. A new census has recently been conducted to give a more accurate picture of Belize’s current demographics.
Article courtesy Adele Ramos, Amandala