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A British Crown Colony since 1862, Belize was declared an independent nation from on 21 September 1981. This module provides an overview of the key events on Belize's road to independence.

Road to Independence

Since its birth in 1950, the goal of the Belize nationalist movement was self-government and independence. In 1960 the United Nations passed a historic resolution fully supporting independence for colonial territories and peoples. Many countries were emerging from colonialism to independence, some after years of armed struggle. In the Caribbean, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago became independent in 1962. Belize however remained a British colony due in large part to the government of Guatemala insistence on a land claim to Belize. Guatemala threatened to use force against Belize if it became independent without first settling the claim.

For many years, the Belizean Government largely left matters up to the British, who were constitutionally responsible for the foreign affairs and defense of Belize. In 1975, after 14 years of negotiations, the Guatemalan Government demanded the cession of a large area of Belizean territory as the price for withdrawing its claim.

The Government under the stewardship of Premier George Price, leader of the Peoples United Party, decided that it would wage a campaign for Independence, this time on the international front, to gain support for its claim to full Independence with its territory intact and secure.

There followed six years of intensive diplomatic activity on the part of the Belize Government in an exercise that became known as "the internationalization effort". From 1975 to 1979, the U.S. abstained on all the United Nations resolutions concerning Belize's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. Finally, in 1980, it changed its policy of neutrality and voted in favour of the U.N. resolution that called for the independence of Belize. This resolution was adopted in November 1980. It demanded the secure independence of Belize, with all its territory, before the next session of the U.N. in 1981. It called on Britain to continue to defend Belize, and on all countries to come to its assistance. One hundred and thirty-nine countries voted in favour of the resolution, with seven abstentions and none against. Guatemala refused to vote.

On 11 March 1981, Britain, Guatemala and Belize signed "The Heads of Agreement". This document stated that there was no final agreement nor even specific proposals, but rather areas for discussion that would form the basis for a final agreement after negotiations. Guatemala agreed to recognize an independent Belize within its existing borders, but only if agreement could be reached on other points in the document. These other points included the "use and enjoyment" of certain cayes, free port facilities, freedom of transit on two roads, facilitation of oil pipelines, co-operation in security, and a non-aggression pact. These were not spelled out specifically. It was left for future negotiators of the three countries to hammer out the details and reach a final agreement acceptable to all sides. This agreement lapsed before independence.

On 21 September 1981, Belize became an independent nation with George Price as its first Prime Minister and Dame Elimira Gordon as the first Governor-General. Later that day the official handing over of the Instruments of the Independence Constitution took place in Belmopan and the following day Price flew to New York to be present when the UN Security Council and the General Assembly voted to approve and formerly admit Belize as the 136th Member of the United Nations on  25 September1981.  On the same day it became a full member of the Non-Aligned Movement, after being a member with "special status" since 1976.  On Independence Day Belize was also admitted to membership of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Meaning of Independence

Belize becoming an independent nation, now meant that Britain, no longer controlled the affairs of the country. It was now the responsibility of the newly elected Prime Minister and the locally elected Cabinet. Independence also meant that a Constitution, symbols, emblems, an army, and passports had to be developed for the country. As an independent nation, Belize assigns Ambassadors overseas who represent the country. They sign treaties on behalf of Belize and become members of various international organisations. This is important, as it gives the country equal rights on various issues relating to international trade, policies and treaties.

Symbols of Independence

In the preparations to become a sovereign nation the founding fathers went through a democratic process to select the country’s flag and national symbols. The following is a comprehensive description and images of the Belize Flag and National Symbols of Belize. All symbols were selected with bi-partisan support from the two major political parties the Peoples United Party and the United Democratic Party.

Click to enlarge The Coat of Arms of Belize

The shield of the Coat of Arms is divided into three sections by a vertical line and an inverted V. The base section represents a ship in full sail on waves of the sea. The two upper sections show tools of the timber industry in Belize: a paddle and a squaring axe in the right section and a saw

Supporting the shield are two woodcutters, the one on the right holding a beating axe over his shoulder in his right hand, and the one on the left holding a paddle over his shoulder in his left hand.

Above the shield rises a mahogany tree. Below the shield is the motto scroll. A wreath of leaves encircles the Coat of Arms. The motto says: "Sub Umbra Florero", meaning "Under the shade I flourish." The Coat of Arms embodies an important aspect of the history of Belize, as the mahogany industry formed the basis of our economy in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Click to enlarge The National Flag of Belize

The red, white and blue flag of Belize is a symbol of the unity of our nation. Prior to Independence the People's United Party (PUP) proposed a blue flag with the Coat of Arms in a white circle. Because of the close association of the flag with the PUP, public opinion was divided as to its suitability to act as a unifying symbol.The United Democratic Party (UDP) did not propose a flag, but called for a flag that could rally all citizens, regardless of their political affiliation. As a consequence, the bi-partisan National Symbols Committee invited citizens to submit designs for a National Flag. The design selected by the Committee is a royal blue flag with one horizontal red stripe at the top, one at the bottom, and a white circle with the Coat of Arms in the centre.

Title Land of the Free
Composer Selwyn Walford Young
Lyricist Samuel Alfred Haynes
Adopted 21 September 1981

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The National Anthem of Belize

Land Of The Free is the official national anthem of Belize. The lyrics were written by Samuel Haynes and the music composed by Selwyn Walford Young in 1963. The anthem as originally written and composed was Land Of The Gods. But due to sensitivity that the word Gods could be interpreted as unchristian, the word Gods was replaced throughout the lyrics by the word Free.

O. Land of the Free by the Carib Sea,
Our manhood we pledge to thy liberty!
No tyrants here linger, despots must flee
This tranquil haven of democracy
The blood of our sires which hallows the sod,
Brought freedom from slavery oppression’s rod,
By the might of truth and the grace of God,
No longer shall we be hewers of wood.


Arise! ye sons of the Baymen’s clan,
Put on your armour, clear the land!
Drive back the tyrants, let despots flee -
Land of the Free by the Carib Sea!

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.
  The National Prayer of Belize

Almighty and Eternal God, who through Jesus Christ has revealed Your Glory to all nations, please protect and preserve Belize, our beloved country.

God of might, wisdom and justice, please assist our Belizean government and people with your Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude.

Let your light of Your divine wisdom direct their plans and endeavours so that with Your help we may attain our just objectives. With Your guidance, may all our endeavours tend to peace, social justice, liberty, national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety and useful knowledge.

We pray, O God of Mercy, for all of us that we may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of Your most holy law, that we may be preserved in union and in peace which the world itself cannot give. And, after enjoying the blessings of this life, please admit us, dear Lord, to that eternal reward that You have prepared for those who love You.


Click to enlarge The National Flower of Belize

The black orchid (Encyclia Cochleatum) is the National Flower of Belize. This orchid grows on trees in damp areas, and flowers nearly all year round. Its clustered bulblike stems vary in size up to six inches long and carry two or three leaves.

The black orchid flower has greenish-yellow petals and sepals with purple blotches near the base. The "lip" (one petal of special construction, which is the flower's showiest) is shaped like a valve of a clam shell (hence the name Encyclia Cochleatum) and is deep purple-brown, almost black, with conspicuous radiating purple veins.

Click to enlarge The National Tree of Belize

The Mahogany Tree (Swietenia Macrophylla) is one of the magnificent giants of the forest. Rising straight and tall to over a hundred feet from great buttresses at the roots, it emerges above the canopy of the surrounding trees with a crown of large, shining green leaves. In the early months of the year, when the leaves fall and new red-brown growth appears, the tree can be spotted from a great distance.

The tree puts out a great flush of small whitish flowers - the blossom for dark fruits, which are pear-shaped capsules about six inches long. When the fruits mature they split into five valves, freeing large winged seeds which are carried a protection of the forest floor and germinate to begin a new life cycle. The mahogany tree matures in 60 to 80 years.

British settlers exploited the forest for mahogany, beginning around the middle of the 17th century. It was originally exported to the United Kingdom in the form of squared logs, but shipment now consists mainly of sawn lumber.

Click to enlarge The National Bird of Belize

The Keel Billed Toucan (Ramphastos Solfurantus) is the National Bird of Belize. It is noted for its great, canoe-shaped bill, brightly colored green, blue, red and orange feathers. The bird is about 20 inches in overall length. It is mostly black with bright yellow cheeks and chest, red under the tail and a distinctive white patch at the base of the tail.

Toucans are found in open areas of the country with large trees. They make a monotonous frog-like croak. Toucans like fruits, and eat by cutting with the serrated edge of their bills. Toucans nest in holes in trees, using natural holes or holes made by woodpeckers, often enlarging the cavity by removing soft, rotten wood. They lay two to four eggs which are incubated by both parents. The nesting stage lasts from six to seven weeks.

Click to enlarge The National Animal of Belize

The Tapir or Mountain Cow (Tapirello Bairdii) is the largest land mammal of the American tropics. The tapir is a stoutly built animal with short legs, about the size of a donkey and weighs up to 600 pounds. Its general color is dusty brown with a white fringe around the eyes and lips, white tipped ears and occasional white patches of fur on the throat and chest.

In spite of its local name, the tapir is not a cow. It is closely related to the horse and is also kin to the rhinoceros. The tapir is a vegetarian. It spends much of its time in water or mud shallows, and is a strong swimmer.

The National Animal is protected under the law thus the hunting of the tapir is illegal.

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Prince Michael of Kent, PM George Price, and GG Dame Elmira Gordon in Belmopan at Belize Independence Day.
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PM George Price with Prince Michael of Kent, on the day that Belize became an independent nation, 21 September 1981
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Independence Day celebrations, 21 September 1981
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GG Dame Elmira Gordon participating in Independence Day celebrations, 21 September 1981
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PM George Price participating in Independence Day celebrations, 21 September 1981
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Independence Day celebrations, 21 September 1981
Belize's Independence Day 21 September 1981
Download The Belize Constitution 1981
Download The Belize Act 1981
Download The Belize Independence Order 1981
Download Recent Independence Addresses
Romero, M.A. 2001. Belize - The Road to Independence. Retrieved from: http://www.belize.com/belize-the-road-to-independence.html
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