Editorial

Editorial

Since Norda Dobson’s definitive work on the History of Belize in 1973 there has been little of real significance produced on the national front – that is to say, little of significance until Fred Hunter’s The History of the Sovereignty of Belize by Occupation, Force or Arms, Treaties, printed in Belize by the Angelus Press, and published in September 2013 by Fred Hunter Sr.
Mr. Hunter, served as Minister of Public Utilities in the PUP Government of the late Prime Minister, George Price. He has written with authority and a deep knowledge of Belizean history, collecting rare information from many sources and presenting them in one convenient package.
The depth and reach of his knowledge is itself impressive, but what Mr. Hunter has to say about the territorial claim of Guatemala to parts of Belize makes compelling reading. .
All of Guatemala’s claim is based on the inheritance principle, the convenient post-colonial doctrine known as utis poseditis. Guatemala asserts, quite simply that Spain owned all the lands on this side of the Caribbean, and that when Guatemala achieved her independence and Spain withdrew, the possessions which Spain once held devolved to the new State of Guatemala.
But the Treaty of Madrid (1670) explodes this claim because it acknowledges that England had the right to colonize in the Americas and in the Caribbean as well.
Historians on our side of the controversy have pointed out that Guatemala acknowledged the boundaries of Belize in the 1859 Treaty, again in 1863 and in 1893 and as late as 1933. Mr. Hunter points out that Guatemala never administered or ruled over any portion of what is now Belize at any time in the past.
He acknowledges the significance of the 1859 Treaty and the uninterrupted continuity of Baymen rule over Belize. But in addition, he insists that the Battle of St. George’s Caye in 1798 put an impregnable capstone on the dispute – through possession by force of arms.
In recent years Belizeans have not been paying much attention to territorial implications of The Battle of St. George’s Caye because of a legal opinion expressed by Lauterpatch & Bowett, distinguished international consultants retained by the Government of Belize to help refute the Guatemalan claim.
Lauterpacht & Bowett hold the view that by the Treaty of Paris in 1763 Britain ceded the territory of the Settlement of Belize back to Spain, thus effectively confirming Spain’s right to the lands occupied by the Baymen, and discounting any benefits which may have accrued from the Battle of St. George’s Caye which occurred three years later.
But Hunter has a different view altogether. He argues that Britain did not have the legal authority to cede the lands occupied by the Baymen, because at the time these lands did not belong to Britain. Britain’s own Parliament in 1817 stated categorically that “the Baymen Settlement was not a part of His Majesty the King of England’s plantation or dominion.”
Belize became a colony of Britain on May 12, 1862, at the formal request of the Baymen Settlers, who felt that Britain would defend one of her colonies with more willingness than she would an independent settlement.
The Baymen Settlement was, at the time, “a free and independent state with its own legislature, the Public Meeting, its own Magistrates and courts, its own administrators, the seven Magistrates, raising its own taxes and spending them as it saw fit, without any interference or permission from anyone, and finally defending itself successfully from the attacks of Spain, and holding on to the territory against all odds, using its own navy and army.”
Hunter points out that the Treaty of Madrid (Godolphin 1670), more than a hundred years earlier, gave the British Monarch the right “to have, hold and keep and enjoy forever, with plenary rights of sovereignty, dominion, possession and propriety all those lands, regions, islands, colonies and places whatsoever being situated in the West Indies or in any part of America which the said King of Great Britain and his subjects do at present hold and possess, so as that in regard thereof or upon any colour or pretence whatsoever, nothing more may be or ought to be urged. nor any question or controversy be ever moved…”
It is this Treaty of Madrid (Gondolphin) which put the Settlement of the Baymen out of the reach of Spain. Once the Settlement had become independent, neither Britain nor Spain could legally make a claim on it, and that’s why the later treaties must be considered illegal, as far as they refer to the Settlement of the Baymen.
Hunter’s interpretation of the Treaty of Godolphin, imbuing it with authority to ward off future disputes is controversial. It may be the first time that an early treaty is being used to deflate a later one on grounds of legitimacy. But Hunter does so with aplomb and conviction.

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