As we journeyed through Belize as an Ancient Mayan stronghold to a longed for European treasure, it’s crucial to realize that despite everything: treaties, battles, colonization & decolonization, Belize has come a long way.
Now, let’s continue this walk of identity through history with a visual pit stop at the vivid town of San Ignacio known for its market days.
Early steps towards Independence: Evolving through Decolonization
Evolving through decolonization is quite a strong phrase; it is apt for Belize’s next stage, the road to Independence. For Belize, this process started in the 1950s when its first two political parties were formed; adult suffrage was achieved, allowing adults of 21 years or older to vote, and new constitutional reforms gave British Honduras limited autonomy.
Also, the first general elections took place (1954), and it was won by the People’s United Party, led by George Price, now considered a National Hero and father of the Nation.
It’s safe to say that things were progressing.
From 1954 to 1964, this tiny nation in the making saw great heights in development and great tragedies; it was struck by Hurricane Hattie in 1961, more than 260 people were killed, and it also gained full internal self-government.
Significant losses and great triumphs led to the replacement of its capital from Belize City to Belmopan and a name change from British Honduras to Belize on June 1st, 1973.
As published in the Gazette, “an ordinance to change the name of the Colony of British Honduras to Belize and to make amendments to the Laws consequential thereto.”
1981 Becoming an Independent Nation:
In February 1981, countrywide consultations began on the proposed constitution of Belize, which culminated with the debate in the House of Representatives and the Senate. After seeking international support and successfully doing so; finally, on September 21st, the Union Jack was lowered, and the Belizean standard Flag was hoisted to signal Belize’s Independence as a free and sovereign nation.
Although the Independent dream had been achieved, Belize as a young nation faced many challenges, such as political power struggles and invasion threats by its neighbour Guatemala, which led to 1,500 British troops being stationed to defend the country against Guatemala and its territorial claims and, of course, natural disasters such as Hurricane Keith that lead to widespread devastation.
Now that Belize’s history and identity has been discussed its easy to pin point the country’s attributes and connect them to its origins. For once, now we know why Belize is the only English speaking nation of Central America, why the political system mirrors that of the United Kingdom, why there is a Prime Minister instead of a President and why the Guatemala never rested its territorial claims.
To be Belizean!
True to its words the national anthem once more brings to light the deep Belizean sentiment from the 1700s to now:
Nature has blessed thee with wealth untold,
O’er mountains and valleys where prairies roll;
Our fathers, the Baymen, valiant and bold
Drove back the invader; this heritage hold
From proud Rio Hondo to old Sarstoon,
Through coral isle, over blue lagoon;
Keep watch with the angels, the stars and moon;
For freedom comes tomorrow’s noon.
Don’t you agree?