103. Action Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Oliver) and the Legal Adviser (Meeker) to Acting Secretary of State Katzenbach1


  • British Honduras Mediation


In November of 1965 the United States agreed, at the request of the Governments of Guatemala and the United Kingdom, to mediate their dispute over British Honduras. On the Department’s recommendation the President appointed Bethuel M. Webster as the United States Government mediator.

Ambassador Webster has met with representatives of the two parties and British Honduras many times during the last two years. These discussions have centered on the conclusion of a settlement under which British Honduras would become independent but would have close ties with Guatemala. We have now reached a point where further negotiations are unlikely to resolve the remaining differences between the parties. We believe, therefore, that the time has come when the [Page 242] United States should present to the parties the proposed treaty worked out by Ambassador Webster, which we believe represents a fair solution to the dispute and would provide constructively for the future of British Honduras.

The British and British Hondurans are considering calling a constitutional convention in London this summer to prepare for British Honduran independence in early 1969—even without settlement of the dispute with Guatemala. It is important that they and the Guatemalans have an opportunity to give consideration to our proposals for settling the dispute before the first public steps toward independence are taken. The claim to sovereignty over the territory of British Honduras is an emotional issue in Guatemala, and the Guatemalans may react strongly when the United Kingdom moves toward granting independence.

The proposed treaty (attached)2 embodies many of the suggestions made by the parties during their meetings with Ambassador Webster. They have reviewed and commented on earlier drafts. The treaty provides that British Honduras would obtain its independence from the United Kingdom by the end of 1970 (Article 1); that Guatemala would have access to the Caribbean through British Honduras (Article 2); that Guatemala may use free-port areas in British Honduras (Article 3); and that certain common service facilities would be integrated where feasible (Article 5). A joint authority would be established to take jurisdiction over these matters and others of mutual concern in the economic field (Article 9); the United States would appoint the seventh member of the authority if Belize and Guatemala cannot agree on a candidate. The British would make a financial contribution of $3 million to the joint authority which could be used, inter alia, to help construct a road connecting British Honduras and Guatemala. (This road is of importance to the Guatemalans since they believe the United Kingdom has an unfulfilled obligation, resulting from an 1859 agreement, to build such a road.) The treaty establishes a basis for British Honduras’ joining the Central American Common Market if it should decide to do so (Article 10), and for British Honduras’ joining the OAS (Article 13 (4)). It also provides for consultation and cooperation between Guatemala and British Honduras in internal security (Article 12), foreign policy (Article 13), and external defense (Article 14).

The treaty does not satisfy Guatemala’s demands for control over British Honduras’ defense and foreign affairs and for the construction, by the United Kingdom, of a $40 million road in Guatemala. The treaty would, in general, be acceptable to the British and the Government of British Honduras; it is likely to be opposed, for political reasons, by [Page 243] the opposition party in British Honduras and by other elements of the population who deeply distrust Guatemala.

We believe that it would be desirable for you to present the proposed treaty to the British and Guatemalan Ambassadors. We suggest your doing so on April 11 in Washington with Ambassador Webster present. If you agree, we will prepare a talking paper for the occasion.


That you agree to present the United States’ proposed treaty in the British Honduras mediation to the British and Guatemalan Ambassadors on April 11.3

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 32–1 GUAT–UK. Confidential. Drafted by Frank and McCormack; concurred in by Webster, Salans, Burrows, Wiggins, and Shullaw. Originally addressed to the Secretary; the word “Acting” was subsequently inserted by hand. According to Rusk’s Appointment Book he was in Washington on March 29 but left the next day for Wellington, New Zealand, to attend SEATO and ANZUS meetings. (Johnson Library)
  2. Attached but not printed.
  3. Katzenbach approved this recommendation on April 4. Rusk met separately with the Guatemalan and British Ambassadors on April 18, presenting each with a copy of the draft treaty and an accompanying diplomatic note. (Telegram 149198 to Guatemala, April 18; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 32–1 GUAT–UK) At a meeting in Washington on April 23 Guatemalan Foreign Minister Arenales told Rusk that the draft treaty was unacceptable to his government although he “would be able to sell treaty easier in Guatemala if he had prestige of being President of UNGA.” (Telegram 151804 to Guatemala, April 23; ibid.) On June 18 the Department received a diplomatic note indicating that the U.K. Government also found the draft unacceptable. (Telegram 193917 to Guatemala, June 29; ibid.)