Frantz Smith

Phone:(+501) 631-6472

Email frantz@belizeinfocenter.org


Marilynn Tulcey

Phone:(+501) 608-8088

Email mtulcey@gmail.com


Emily Martinez Palacio

Phone:(+501) 630-0572

Email emilypalacioava@gmail.com

1871 – 1950

This period represents the time when the British government exerted full control of the colony. This occurred because the settlers were afraid of being overrun by Maya engaged in the Caste War in southern Mexico. Consequently, the settlers requested the English Crown to protect the settlement with British soldiers.

During this period, the Governor was the seat of power in the colony and he had an appointed Legislative Council to work with. The Legislative Council was appointed in 1871 and this body was not replaced until 1954.

Considerable immigration continued to occur during this period. Mexican refugees, American Ex-Confederates, West Indians, Indians and Chinese and some Middle Eastern people from Lebanon and Palestine also arrived.

In the late 1800s, the influence of the United States of America became more prominent in British Honduras. This was with the blessing of the British Government which created the British Honduran Dollar and set its value on parity with the American dollar in 1894 (Prior to this, Central American currency were used in British Honduras). American companies started to buy Belizean lumber. Companies such as the United Fruit Company bought Belizean bananas and the William Wrigley, Jr. Company imported Belizean chicle into the United States.

Besides chicle and lumber, investments were made in coconuts, cohune and citrus. Together with the mahogany industry, all these industries declined in the early 1900s.

Thus, when British Honduran soldiers returned from helping Britain to prosecute World War I (The Great War) in 1919, there were no jobs for the ex-servicemen to commit themselves to. Coupled with the experiences of racism they had faced in Europe and the unemployment they experienced on return home, they rioted starting in July 1919. The mob harassed persons on the Welfare Committee and order was not restored until the H.M.S. Constance and the U.S.S. Castine came to British Honduras.

After WWI, the decline in traditional industries in British Honduras was especially devastating to British Honduran workers during the time of the Great Depression which started in 1929.

Even before the depression, workers in Belize had faced very low wages and unemployment for extended periods. Inhabitants of the colony looked to the Crown for relief work but only minimal attention was forthcoming from the Governor. The only relief came in the form of a daily ration of a pound of cooked rice and three ounces of sugar per person. One leader who emerged to fight for relief to unemployed persons and workers was a barber by the name of Antonio Soberanis. Soberanis volunteered to lead a group called the Unemployed Brigade. Soberanis later founded a new organization which he called the Labourers and Unemployed Association (LUA). The LUA demanded a minimum wage of $ 1.50 per hour, and 8 hour work day and that “all men so employed must be 90 per cent British Subjects.” Soberanis was able to successfully negotiate an increase in wages from 8 to 25 cents per hour work for stevadores in Stann Creek.

Soberanis was arrested for the third time in 1935 and this led to a breakdown of the LUA and the progress of the nationalist movement was temporarily derailed.

During World War II unemployment was cut significantly as war jobs in Panama, Peten and Scotland became available. It was not until 1950 that the nationalist movement re-emerged.

A prelude to the nationalist movement was the formation and agitation of the General Workers Union (GWU) in 1943. Although the GWU supported the British Empire, its leader Clifford Betson and others organized a successful sawmill strike against the BEC in 1947. The GWU continued with agitation but it was not until the devaluation of the British Honduran dollar on December 31, 1949 that another formidable nationalist movement would emerge in the colony.

After the end of WWII, Britain was experiencing severe economic challenges. Consequently, British Honduras was also experiencing lean times. In order to make its exports attractive, Britain devalued its currency. Britain also devalued the British Honduran dollar from parity with the US dollar to the new rate of exchange which saw four British Honduran Dollars equal to one pound sterling. Despite promising not to devalue the British Honduran dollar, the Governor went behind the backs of the Legislative Council and executed the devaluation on December 31, 1949.

The devaluation of the British Honduran dollar hurt the rich and poor alike.  Wealthy merchants like Henry Melhado, Guy Nord and Robert Sydney Turton were affected.  As a result, men like Robert Sydney Turton started to support the nationalist movement and threw finances behind the first political party which would emerge in Belize.  Turton who had made his money from the transportation industry (Texan and Honduras mules, pitpans and boats), mahogany, boom chain, chicle and real estate businesses in Belize.  Mr. Turton supported George Price in the early days of the PUP. It was said that Mr. Turton tried “everything” in businesses and was in a good position to support the nationalist movement of the early 1950s.

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