23. Memorandum From Robert Pastor of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Belize

Negotiations on Belize has apparently ground to a halt at the very moment when the newspapers have begun exploiting wild rumors of a settlement. In Belize this past week, demonstrators marched before our Consul General’s office protesting US intervention in this issue and our desire to impose a settlement contrary to the will of the people of Belize. And as the cable at Tab A indicates, there are groups in Belize prepared to rivet U.S. attention—perhaps by violent acts—to what they interpret as a malevolent policy of the USG.2


The British desperately want to get out of Belize in a way which will permit Belize to live peacefully with Guatemala. Foreign Minister Owen is driven by a desire to rid himself of this issue and has persuaded Secretary Vance to help. The British had reached a tentative agreement with the Guatemalans to cede a portion of southern Belize in exchange for Guatemala’s recognition of Belizean independence. The Belize government, however, refuses to consider any cession of its territory, and the British attempt to reach a settlement has come to a halt.

I sense that the British are subtly shifting their strategy with the goal of trying to back away from the issue and put us in the front. Under normal circumstances, I think the U.S. should help the British to the maximum extent possible. However, these are not normal circumstances. If we are perceived as intervening in the internal affairs of a small country in Central America, or perceived as getting bogged down in a complicated and confused political situation there, this could not help but work to our disadvantage in the Senate’s deliberations over the Panama Canal treaty. The linkage is not obvious, but our opponents [Page 64] are searching for such linkages to make us look silly. I don’t think that now is the time to provide them with such an opportunity.

I recommend that you call Secretary Vance and suggest to him that we slow down in our efforts to reach a settlement until the Canal treaty is ratified. This will probably mean that we will not be able to reach a settlement before July 1st—the date of the inauguration of a new Guatemalan president. But it is not clear that Laugerud, the current Guatemalan President, can really deliver anyway.

This is one issue on which I agree with ARA, although for different reasons. They have continually resisted Secretary Vance’s efforts to try to help the British, largely, I believe, for reasons having to do with the Bureau’s historical passivity on issues of territorial disputes, such as Belize. I have always fought ARA on this point and supported Secretary Vance’s efforts, but I now believe that the timing for greater U.S. involvement is not right.


That you call Secretary Vance and relate these points.3

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Brzezinski Office File, Country Chron File, Box 5, Belize. Secret. Sent for action. Inderfurth’s and Armacost’s initials appear in the top right-hand corner of the memorandum. Brzezinski wrote at the top of the page: “lunch.
  2. Not attached. Telegram 6088 from Belize City, January 26, reported a possible plot to burn the Consulate General to protest “the evils of the U.S. Government’s policy toward Belize.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 45, Latin America: 12/77–7/78)
  3. Brzezinski did not indicate his preference with respect to this recommendation.