186. Memorandum of Conversation1
- David C. Walker, British Embassy, Washington
- Kenneth Oldfield, Permanent Secretary for External Affairs, Belmopan
- Robert S. Driscoll, Acting Principal Officer
- The Belize Question
Walker first questioned me about the Belizean economy. I told him that the economy of Belize was stagnating and had seen no real growth for over three years. He then asked if Belize could survive after independence. I replied that it depended on how much money HMG was prepared to spend. He also asked who was covering the balance of payments Belize habitually runs and I again replied, somewhat to his surprise, that HMG does.
“But surely,” he said, “somebody—the U.S., the World Bank, IDB, the CDB—would finance Belize after independence.” I replied that the U.S. had absolutely no interest in assuming HMG’s obligations here. “Even to prevent a left wing revolutionary government from taking over?” he asked. I explained to him that we had already made clear to Minister Rogers some time ago that that ploy had gone out of fashion about ten years ago. The problem with Belize, I remarked, is that there is nothing here anybody wants. Further, Robert McNamara had been quoted off the record that the World Bank should not lend money to a nation of 120,000 people. Unless the dispute with Guatemala is settled on friendly terms, Guatemala could, and probably would prevent Belize from borrowing at the IDB; and the money required to cover Belize’s annual trade defecit would exhaust CDB funds in a few years. Finally, Belize’s capacity to borrow is very small. I pointed out to him that the pundits at the IMF usually recommended that a 20% debt ratio was about the most a country could sustain and remain economically healthy. A 20% debt ratio for Belize is about $14 million, a little less than the annual trade deficit. Clearly, being able to borrow at international lending institutions was not going to solve the GOB’s money problems.[Page 520]
He asked if I had a solution, to which I replied that the solution seemed to be the present one. On a per capita basis HMG operates the most lavish charity in the world here. He corrected me saying that the Falkland Islands is the most lavish charity on a per capita basis. He then remarked that I did not seem to think Belize had a chance economically after independence. I replied that independence, first of all, was not an economic issue, to which he agreed. Then I remarked that perhaps only independence, when Belize could no longer call on HMG to cover her shortfalls, would force the GOB to make the hard economic decisions that were necessary.
Returning to the theme of possible U.S. involvement, Walker declared that if HMG notified the Belizeans that “it was pulling out on September 3rd,” and the Guatemalans threatened to invade, surely the U.S. would become involved. I explained that we had already tried to mediate the dispute, and failed, and we were most reluctant to attempt that again. Further, while a U.S. Ambassador is highly respected in Central America, this does not mean if our Ambassador told the Guatemalan President that we would not look kindly on an invasion of Belize that he would pay any attention to him. True, our primary interest was to maintain the peace in Central America, but our reading of the situation was that Guatemala was so committed to her claim on Belize that she would feel compelled to invade in case of unilateral independence. But surely, Walker replied, the idea of getting along without U.S. aid and military assistance would restrain Guatemala. I replied that the tactic of withholding aid had proved to be most unsuccessful in other cases, and that we believed that Guatemala would invade regardless of the consequences.
He then said that Central America was our backyard and that we had to be involved. I said that the Congress, which is a pretty good reflection of the mood of the American people, was very wary of foreign entanglements and showed its disenchantment by the rough handling it gives to the AID and military assistance budgets. Congress seemed to be tired of spending enormous amounts overseas with no tangible results. Walker replied that “this carping by the Americans about foreign aid was tiresome.” He said that on a per capita basis Britain gave more aid. I pointed out a white paper prepared by the previous Labour government had concluded that every $1.00 in foreign assistance HMG provided eventually earned $1.25 in incremental exports. Further, our experience had been that most other bilateral assistance programs, ODA included, were nothing more than elaborate schemes for supplier credits. AID could not make this claim. Finally, Walker agreed that, rightly or wrongly, the mood of Congress was pretty much as I described it.
Walker then returned to the “September 3rd” situation. “Assume,” he said, “that you are Kubisch or Kissinger; the British are leaving and [Page 521] the Guatemalans are poised for an invasion of Belize. What would you do?” I replied that first I would look at our interests in Belize and conclude that they were few. Then I would recognize that Belize does have an honest desire to be independent and that Guatemala has never exercised control over the territory. I would give the obvious instructions to our Ambassador to Guatemala and the OAS and then wait to see what developed. Beyond that I did not know. I told him that we had discussed this very situation among ourselves and that I had recommended, in jest, that we close the Consulate General. I asked him what he would do with this situation if he had the authority. He said that he would tell the Falkland Islanders, the Northern Irish and the Belizeans that HMG was pulling out on September 3rd and then leave them to their fate. He recognized, however, that Parliament would never allow such a thing to happen.
Walker asked what I thought the U.S. role was going to be in the coming years. Barring any great change in U.S. policy, I said that most likely the U.S. would continue as an interested, but non-participating, observer trying to maintain friendly relations with all three parties to the dispute.
Comment: Walker only confirmed what has obviously been an object of British policy in Belize for a long time. That is, if HMG can figure out a way of placing the whole problem on the back of the United States, it will. The British are stuck in Belize; they see little hope for progress in talks with the Guatemalans, as Walker readily admitted; and they see no way out. Further, among those British officials who concern themselves with Belize there seems to be a resentment against the U.S. for not lifting up HMG’s burden.
At one point during the conversation, when Walker was being his most insistent, he was asking why the U.S. refused to act. What he was asking, and what HMG would like to see us do, and what the GOB would dearly love, is for the U.S. to impose an imperial solution to the problem. And this solution is precisely what the British either cannot or will not provide for Belize. I made this remark to Ken Oldfield the following day as we went through a rehash of the previous evening. Oldfield, who has heard our position many times, said, “You chaps are bloody clever to stay away from this lot.” He also said that he was happy that Walker had heard our position directly from the people on the scene.
A notable aspect about the dinner conversation was that Oldfield stayed out of it. He only entered in to ask questions when Walker started talking about the Falkland Islands, NATO and the Irish-American involvement in the IRA. Also notable was Walker’s remark at the beginning of the evening that he was going to bait me. And he did.
Summary: During a dinner meeting, Acting Principal Officer Robert S. Driscoll and David C. Walker of the British Embassy in Washington discussed U.S. policy on Belizean independence and the dispute between the British and Guatemalan Governments.
Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P810026–0173. Confidential. Drafted by Driscoll. The meeting was held at Driscoll’s residence.↩