Webster Proposal

Negotiations between the United Kingdom and Guatemala in search of a solution to Guatemala’s claim to Belize were bilateral negotiations until 1962. It was a significant historical moment because in that year delegates from Belize were permitted for the first time to participate in the Anglo-Guatemalan negotiations which took place in San Juan, Puerto Rico with the U.K. and Guatemala as principals. Belize had not yet achieved self-government and so the delegates were members of the Executive Council which comprised Hon. George Price, who later became Prime Minister of Belize, Mr. Albert Cattouse and Hon. Louis Sylvestre, along with Hon. Harrison Courtney Sr. as the delegation’s legal adviser.

The main thrust of these negotiations was to seek a solution to the dispute through economic cooperation. The parties agreed to request the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA) to undertake a study of the implications of closer economic cooperation between Belize and the Central American States with a view to Belize joining the Central American Common Market. It was also agreed to establish a tripartite committee, to be composed of representatives from Guatemala, Britain and Belize charged with the task of promoting mutual economic and social development between the peoples of Guatemala and Belize.

Although ECLA was commissioned to undertake the study contemplated, little else emerged from the agreements reached at San Juan. The tripartite committee was never appointed and diplomatic relations between the U.K. and Guatemala were broken in 1964, when Belize achieved internal self government. Guatemala protested that the U.K. had failed to consult her on this constitutional advance for Belize as she was obliged to do.

In June 1965, Britain, in consultation with Belize, agreed with Guatemala to submit the dispute to a Mediator appointed by the United States Government. The Mediator, Mr. Bethuel M. Webster, delivered his report in April 1968, in the form of a draft Treaty, the main provisions of which may be summarized as follows:

  • Article 1 of the draft treaty provided that British Honduras would be granted independence under the name of Belize not later than 31st December 1970.
  • Article 2 obliged Belize and Guatemala to grant to each other’s goods free entry through their ports and free transit through predetermined routes of each country.
  • Under Article 3, the port of Belize city would be declared a duty free port for the benefit of Guatemala and placed under the control of a supra-national Authority. Guatemala was obliged, at the request of Belize, to provide similar facilities for Belizean goods.
  • Article 4 guaranteed nationals of each country free movement in the territory of the other as well as the right to the same treatment as was accorded by each country to its own citizens. This included the right to freely acquire and dispose of personal real property.
  • Under Article 9, Guatemala and Belize agreed to establish a supra-national Authority to be charged with the responsibility of carrying out certain powers and functions including the supervision and control of free ports, as well as the designation of transit routes. Britain was required to pay to the Authority US $4m. to assist the Authority to perform its functions under the Treaty.
  • Article 10 provided that Belize, would join CACM before 31st December 1970 with financial assistance from Britain.
  • Article 13 obliged Guatemala and Belize to consult and cooperate with each other on such matters of mutual concern in foreign affairs as may be raised by either government.
  • According to Article 14, the defence of Belize would be handled within the framework of the Inter-American Treaty of 1947, to which Belize would accede. In that event it would not be necessary for Belize to conclude bilateral defence arrangements with any other country.

The plan placed the defence, foreign affairs and, to a certain extent, the economy of Belize under Guatemalan control after independence. The normal channel of communication to international bodies by the Belize government was to be through the Guatemalan government. The two governments were to consult on matters of external defence but this was tantamount to Belize being subjected to the dictates of Guatemala. Even the provision of internal security in Belize, a responsibility expected within dependence, was to be the subject of consultation and co-operation. Belize was to accept a customs union with its neighbour, which was to be allowed free access to its Caribbean ports and territorial waters. It was to be rewarded with Guatemala’s support for its entry into the Central American community and into the Inter-American community and in particular into the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

In sum, it is believed that the proposals exclusively committed Belize to a hemispheric destiny as a satellite or department of Guatemala. Nowhere in the document was it stated that the Guatemalan claim was revoked. Nor was Belize explicitly given the right to seek membership of the Commonwealth, the United Nations or international bodies outside of the Inter-American system. She was, in short, denied the prerogative of an independent state to choose, or reorder at least some of the priorities of her future.

With regard to the country’s internal politics, the proposals also made few concessions to the dominant traditional social values. For example, degrees granted from outside Belize or Guatemala were excluded from the reciprocal recognition of educational qualifications. This undermined the dominant British orientation of the educational system in Belize and, in the absence of post-secondary facilities, virtually decreed Guatemala as the new center of higher learning for Belizeans.

Bearing in mind the great disparity between Guatemala and Belize in terms of population and resources, the end result, of these proposals, taken together, would have been the effective domination of Belize by Guatemala. Belize accordingly, declared that these proposals were totally unacceptable. Indeed so unacceptable were they, that unrest and disturbances erupted in Belize even before the government had an opportunity to signify its total rejection of the proposals as incompatible with the aspirations and rights of the people to achieve full sovereignty as a free and independent nation. Requests were made to the Government of the U.K. “to seek other means by which the Anglo-Guatemalan dispute may be satisfactorily and honourably settled so as to allow the country to pursue its unimpeded course to unfettered and sovereign independence.” (93) On 20 May, 1968 the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Michael Stewart, announced that since the draft Treaty was not acceptable to Belize, it was not acceptable to the British Government.

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