Belizeans achieved self government in 1964. This meant that all the ministries except Foreign Affairs and Defence were managed by Belizeans. During the period between 1964 and 1981 the PUP continued as the most successful political party and its main objective as the Government was the attainment of Independence. The majority of voters agreed and the PUP was given a mandate to openly pursue Independence. The task of attaining independence was difficult because of the Guatemalan claim. The Guatemalans threatened to invade if Belize got independence.
Prior to Belize gaining self government, only the British and the Guatemalans negotiated about the future of Belize. This however changed when self government was attained.
One of the first attempts to solve the problem with Guatemala in which Belizeans were involved came in 1965. The British had agreed with the Guatemalans to allow the US to act as an arbiter in the negotiations. An American lawyer by the name of Bethuel M. Webster was given the task of making a proposal. What resulted were the Webster Proposals. These proposals were agreed upon by the British and the United States. The plan was to give Belize independence from Britain but also give Guatemala control of the defense and foreign affairs of Belize. The Proposals also allowed for free movement of nationals between Belize and Guatemala and for free movement of goods through each country’s ports.
Philip Goldson was an observer in the talks between the British and the Guatemalans and was given a draft of the proposals to read. At the meeting, Philip Golson secretly wrote the terms of the Webster Proposals and leaked them to the people of Belize in 1966. Two years later the full proposals were released. Belizeans rejected the Webster Proposals and rioted in Belize City.
By 1975, the Belizean government had made only limited progress in the challenge of negotiating the withdrawal of Guatemala’s claim to Belize. Around this time, Mr. Price was advised by Mr. Salim Ahmed Salim, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Tanzania that Belize should seek solidarity from nations that were not familiar with its case by “internationalizing” the claim. This is precisely what Mr. Price proceeded to do.
Some of the first group of countries that supported Belize’s quest for independence included the Caribbean Community and Cuba. The Commonwealth of Nations and the Non-Aligned Movement also supported Belize from the early 1970s. Because of this overwhelming support, the first United Nations Resolution was passed with 110 countries in favour and 9 against in 1975. The countries that voted against Belize were Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Morocco, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Dominican Republic and Uruguay. Sixteen countries chose to abstain. Cuba was the only Latin American country that voted for Belize. This was the bloc of votes that the Belize Government was committed to swing.
Taking the advice of Mr. Salim Ahmed Salim from Tanzania, the country embarked on missions to court the Latin American countries that had abstained or voted against Belize in 1975.
The first opportunity to forge a friendship with a Latin American country was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka in 1976. The occasion was a meeting of Non-Aligned countries. At this meeting, General Omar Torrijos was making the case for Panama to regain control of the Panama Canal. Belize’s Premier George Price was also making the case for the independence of the country. The two leaders stayed at the same hotel and had made arrangements for an informal meeting. Price explained the problem to Torrijos who became convinced that Belize had just cause to be independent. The two men formed a friendship and agreed to support each other’s cause. Thus when the next United Nations Resolution was voted on, Panama voted for Belize. The following year, Mexico, voted for Belize. By 1979, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua voted in favour of Belize. In 1980, the most important convert was secured. This was because the United States which had abstained since 1975 elected to vote in favour of Belize. The US President who changed the American vote was President Jimmy Carter. Soon after, Belize achieved independence. The OAS also changed its stance and supported the UN resolution to accept Belizean independence and territorial integrity.
The other goals which the government of Belize pursued in the years leading up to independence were the task to improve the living conditions of Belizeans and creating more industries.
The government flexed its early muscles by making lands available in the Corozal district for cane farmers. Government negotiated the purchase of land from BSI for the cañeros. The Government also became involved as a grower in the revival of the Banana industry. Investors were also invited in to develop the rice industry.
Belmopan was probably the largest project undertaken by Belize’s first national government. Although the idea is said to have existed in the minds of early nationalists, it was the destruction of Belize City caused by Hurricane Hattie that crystallized the idea of a new capital. The idea was taken to the British who agreed to provide US $10 million for the construction of the new capital. Ground was broken in 1967 and the first phase of the city was opened in 1970.
As the Government matured, it became involved in Land Reform and Land Registration. Roads and bridges also took on a high level of priority. Power plants were installed at Ladyville and San Pedro and the grid around the major towns was extended. The Canadian government in the person of Premier Pierre Trudeau was engaged for a water and sewerage project in 1969. By 1971, WASA was created and works began in the following year. A new telephone exchange was built on Princess Margret Dive in Kings Park in 1973 and a Cable and Wireless Station was built in Ladyville.
As the country reached the late 1970s, Education, Health, Housing, Community Development and Credit Unions/Cooperatives became the developmental priorities.