History Of Belize
The history of Belize dates as far back as 11,000 years ago based on artifacts that were discovered in the Orange Walk District. These artifacts, belonging to a culture called Clovis were known as ProtoMaya and are believed to be the first inhabitants of Belize. More archaeological findings revealed that the Mayas inhabited Belize around 2000 BC to 1000 A.D. The Mayas presence in Belize as evidenced today by Mayan Temples and other structures can be seen all around the country. It is believed that as many as 1 million Mayas lived in Belize during the height of the Mayan Civilization.
The Battle of St. George's Caye (10th September)
European settlement in Belize was present in the early 1500's with the visit of Christopher Columbus to the Bay of Honduras. The Spaniards were intent on conquering and subduing the Yucatan coast in 1511, inclusive of the Belize region. The first recorded European settlement in Belize was in 1638 by shipwrecked British sailors. These British settlers, known as the Baymen, cut logwood in Belize for export to Europe. Periodic attacks by Spain to reclaim sovereignty ensued, resulting in treaties between England and Spain, allowing the Baymen to continue cutting logwood.
On September 10th, 1798 a battle between the Spaniards and the Baymen was fought at St. George's Caye. It was part of an outbreak of war between Spain and Britain. Against unfavorable odds, the Baymen defeated the Spanish and they never tried gaining control over Belize again. Britain gradually assumed more control over the settlement. In 1853, a Legislative Assembly was established and replaced the existing simple form of democracy that was instituted as the Public Meeting. In 1871 Belize became a Crown Colony with Legislative Council and a Lieutenant Governor. In 1884, Belize was governed by a Governor.
Belize at 25On September 10th, 1798, Belize's destiny was being planned. The outcome of the battle predicted the fate of this young nation and would mold its future in many different respects, as compared to those of its neighbors. As a result, today Belize is the only country in Central America where English is the official language. Furthermore, her history, culture, and people all contribute to the diversity and flair of what is Belize - an uncommon and exceptional trait in the region. Today, over 200 years later, the 10th of September is still celebrated as a National Holiday in Belize. Many activities are planned all over the country to commemorate this historical event, which garners great support from the Belizean public.
(Adapted from Belize Today, It's History, Culture & Ecosystems, produced by the Belize Tourism Training Unit, 2004).
The Road to Independence: September 21st, 1981
Independence Day, Belize The road to Independence generally followed the course taken by other British colonies in the Caribbean up to the early 1960's, but since then it has been distorted by a peculiar circumstance, the unfounded claim of Guatemala to the territory of Belize - a claim that has bred national disunity and seriously warped the political, social and economic development of Belize.
With Independence, a serious task faced the Belizean people - not only to transform a society marked by centuries of colonial exploitation and dependency, but also to build unity shattered by decades of political strain under the weight of the Guatemalan 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 fruitless negotiations, the Guatemalan Government demanded the cession of a large area of Belizean territory as the price for dropping its unfounded claim. The Belize Government decided that it must wage a second war 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". Immediate and firm support was received from the countries of the Caribbean Community and the Commonwealth of Nations. In 1975, the first United Nations resolution on Belize was passed by the General Assembly by a vote of 110 in favor, 9 against and 16 abstentions. This large initial support was made possible because of the undertaking by the Non-Aligned Movement, at its Foreign Minister's Conference in Peru that year, to commit its total support to Belize. Although the United Nations support was substantial, it showed up a serious weakness - none of the mainland Spanish speaking Latin American countries had voted for Belize. It became the number one priority to win the support of these countries, and special efforts were made to gain the solidarity of the people and government of Latin America and especially of Central America, whose countries were particularly bound by economic and other historical ties with Guatemala.
Independence Day, BelizeThe chink in Guatemala's armor of Latin American support first appeared in another continent - at the Summit Meeting of the Non-Aligned Countries held in Colombo, Sri Lanka in August 1976. Belize had been invited as a special guest, and was given special status in the Movement. Also present there to lobby support for the struggle to regain sovereignty over the Panama Canal for his people was General Omar Torrijos. Although Panama had been previously committed, in a signed declaration of Central American countries, to support Guatemala's claim, General Torrijos became convinced of the justice of the Belizean struggle for Independence, and at the next United Nation's(UN) General Assembly session, Panama voted in favor of the Belizean resolution. General Torrijos became an ardent campaigner for Belize in Latin America, and was instrumental in securing the support of many other countries. General Torrijos became a constant source of sound advice and inspiration; he will live forever in the hearts of Belizeans who can never forget his significant contribution to our struggle for Independence.
After Panama, many other Latin American countries voted for Belize in subsequent UN resolutions, but another break in the Central American wall did not occur until the victory of the Popular Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua, which not only brought an important new vote for Belize at the UN, but also a committed ally. Another event that considerably improved the international position of Belize was the assumption by Jose Lopez Portillo of the Presidency of Mexico. Although Mexico had supported Belize before, President Portillo's principled and very firm stand greatly strengthened Belize's hand.
By November 1980, international support for Belize was virtually unanimous. A UN resolution called for Independence for Belize without strings attached, and with security, by the end of 1981. This time the United States of America, which had previously abstained on all the Belize resolutions since 1975, voted in favour, and no country voted against.
The last bastion of Guatemalan support to fall was the Organization of American States, which had traditionally taken Guatemala's side in the controversy. With the emerging importance of the Caribbean states in the Organization, and with the gradually increasing Latin American support at the UN, Belize's cause won acceptance. In November 1980, the OAS by an overwhelming majority endorsed the UN resolution calling for a secure Independence in 1981.
The solid mounting support for Belize did not, however, deter the government from continuing its efforts to find a peaceful negotiated settlement to the controversy, but meetings held in 1981 proved that the Guatemalan Government, by insisting on terms that would amount to land cession, was still demanding too high a price for dropping its unfounded claim to Belize.
The decision was therefore taken, with the consent of the British Government and the blessing of the international community, to proceed with Independence and to continue its efforts thereafter to develop peaceful and friendly relations with the government and people of Guatemala.
Belize became an independent nation on September 21st, 1981; and so, Belize's place in the world remains assured. The victory of Independence belongs to each and every Belizean throughout this history who, no matter how small a way, demonstrated by action, conviction that nothing is more abhorrent than slavery in any form, and that nothing is more precious than freedom and Independence.
Independence Day in Belize is a day that honors our struggles, our struggles to a better life, a day that celebrates our triumph that has led our country and its people to freedom and a new and improved way of life. We are a nation that has much to celebrate, and this year is no exception as it celebrates its 27th birthday. Come and celebrate with us, "Belizean style".