The New York Times December 24, 1984, Monday
Late City Final Edition

Most times, especially when the molten Caribbean sun beats down, it can be downright somnolent in this British-style democracy, the only country in Central America with a Privy Council. But the speed with which Belize's political landscape was rearranged recently was something else again.

It was a development as sudden, and for some supporters of Prime Minister George Price, the father of the country, almost as traumatic as the never-forgotten hurricane that leveled Belize City 23 years ago.

On Dec. 14, the day of the first national elections since independence three years ago, this Commonwealth country was under the control of Prime Minister Price's 20-year-old center-left Government and his People's United Party. Less than 24 hours later, the Price administration was out and Manuel Esquivel, a 44-year- old junior-college physics teacher - whose more conservative United Democratic Party had never won a general election - was busy drawing up a Cabinet list. He took office two days later.

Before the election, many supporters of the Government were almost evangelical in their expressions of support for Mr. Price, a tall, deceptively youthful looking former seminarian who routinely laces his speeches with Scripture. In hindsight, this may have been a sign of their uneasiness about his chances for re- election.

''They will never take him out because he's a God-given man to our country,'' said Nicholasa Godfrey, an elderly woman who said that she had voted for Mr. Price in every election since 1964. ''No way - I'll die with him.''

''That's right,'' said Cecelia Hall, 69, who was standing with Mrs. Godfrey on a voting line outside the Odd Fellows Hall in the Pickstock District of Belize City, population 40,000. ''When he go down,'' Mrs. Hall declared, ''we all go down.''

And go down he did. The opposition won 21 of 28 seats in the National Assembly; Mr. Price's People's United Party 7. Once the extent of the upset was known, the local newspapers - there are seven of them in Belize City, all weekly tabloids - were hardly more restrained.

On Sunday, a 12-page anti-Price sheet called Amandala, hailing Belizeans' removal of ''a political monkey off their back,'' ran its main election story under the full-page headline, ''Free at Last! Thank God Almighty, Free at Last!''

An accompanying article explained that Mr. Price had had ''grown arrogant'' as a result of ''too many years of popularity and power.''

Many Belizeans who spoke this week on the dirt and gravel streets of Belize City said they did not expect much change under Prime Minister Esquivel - although Mr. Esquivel's party had campaigned on a platform that pledged to greatly improve such government services as housing, education and hospital care. Some said his plan to stimulate Belize's economy was comparable in intent to Mr. Price's, only more aggressive; his foreign policy a shade more pro- British than pro-American - but hardly enough, they thought, to make any big difference in their lives.

Others were certain there would be differences. They mentioned Mr. Esquivel's expressed readiness to try new programs to reduce Belize's unemployment rate, which is usually put at 14 percent, but may be higher. The situation has led up to 50,000 Belizeans to move to the United States to find work; the money they send home is said to be an important contribution to the gross domestic product, which totaled $176 million in 1983.

Attracting more foreign investment, particularly for tourism development, was a key element of the new Prime Minister's platform.

''I think more people will come in and invest now,'' said Cherry Grant, a maid at a Belize City hotel. ''That way there will be more jobs.''

Tourism was never very high on Mr. Price's list of development priorities; he argued that too much of it would turn Belize into a nation of ''tray carriers.''

Miss Grant said she would rather have the choice of doing such work than no work at all.

Mr. Price, who led the country from the start of self-rule in 1964 to independence in 1981. had never lost an election before this month. Yet a feeling seems to have taken hold that, since the nation had already been liberated, the services of the liberator were no longer required.

Beyond that, many voters seemed convinced that Mr. Price, who is said to think of himself as a kind of tropical British Socialist, had grown too set in his ways to revive the ailing sugar industry, much less to deal firmly with the problem of Guatemala's 125-year-old territorial claim on this New Jersey-sized country.

Mr. Price's electoral nemesis, Derek Aikman, was appointed Minister of Transport, Education and Youth in the new Cabinet.

Mr. Aikman, at 25 the youngest candidate in the election - Mr. Price, at 65, was the oldest - is a popular, smooth-talking businessman who managed Air Florida's Belize office before the airline went out of business. He is said to hold a degree in ''human resources administration'' from Biscayne College in Miami, now St. Thomas University.

People who know Mr. Aikman say he has big plans.

''He'd like to be Prime Minister in 10 years,'' one Belizean said.

''Five years,'' a companion corrected him.

Five days after the election, the vanquished Prime Minister sought to put the best face on the results.

''In a way that we did not expect,'' Mr. Price said at a rally in Belize City on Wednesday night, ''the general election has brought victory for the People's United Party. ''It was not the victory that we had worked for. But it is a victory which shows that the People's United Party established the democratic process, and that the democratic process has won.''

The crowd of 2,000 cheered bravely.

''We are not going to give up,'' he cried.

Some people at the two-hour affair, which was called to thank the party faithful, said it was bigger and more enthusiastic than any rally held during the campaign.