Belize, Relations with

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BELIZE, RELATIONS WITH. Never colonized by the Spanish, Belize (formerly British Honduras) remains a Central American anomaly. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, English pirates and loggers settled the Caribbean coast on sparsely populated lands once claimed by the Mayan empire. In 1862, the British settlement became a colony, reflecting the ascendance of British power in the Western Hemisphere. The United States protested under the 1850 Clayton-Bulwer Treaty that closed Central America to colonizing powers, but unable to force the British out, it acquiesced. By the 1930s, the United States quietly endorsed the stability and order of British colonialism.

In the twentieth century, cooperative relations with the British in the Caribbean assured U.S. objectives: promoting stability and investment, defending national security, and protecting Panama Canal trade routes. Pervasive U.S. economic and cultural influences challenged British political control. The small elite of colonial administrators and civil servants shared prestige with a growing business and merchant class dependent on U.S. trade. Since 1894, American Catholic missionaries, headed by Missouri Province Jesuits, operated and taught in most of the colony's denominational schools, including the prestigious St. John's College. In the 1940s and 1950s, Jesuits promoted grassroots cooperatives and credit unions that became the focal point of colonial development.

Following British currency devaluation on 31 December 1949, the country's first broad-based nationalist movement emerged under the Peoples' United Party (PUP). Nearly all the nationalist leaders were Jesuit-educated Catholics, including PUP leader George C. Price, who had studied for the priesthood in the United States. Strong American ties, compounded by the predominance of American movies, media, and literature, resonated with most Belizeans. Despite PUP's pro-American, pro–free enterprise, anticommunist, and anticolonial orientation, the United States refused to recognize the movement, preferring slow British decolonization to sudden and uncertain independence. After 1959, the Price government's refusal to support anti-Castro efforts and U.S. desire to improve relations with Guatemala reinforced the United States' reluctance to accept United Nations petitions for Belizean independence, which was eventually granted in 1981.


Barry, Tom, with Dylan Vernon. Inside Belize. Albuquerque, N.M.: Resource Center Press, 1995.

Bolland, O. Nigel. The Formation of a Colonial Society: Belize, from Conquest to Crown Colony. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977.

———. Belize, a New Nation in Central America. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1986.

Shoman, Assad. Thirteen Chapters of a History of Belize. Belize City: Angelus Press, 1994.


See alsoCaribbean Policy .