This weekend, various parts of the country will be buzzing with activity and tight security detail as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and his wife, Kate, visit Belize. The occasion is the first leg of a Caribbean tour in celebration of the Platinum Jubilee for Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Second, who is William’s paternal grandmother. Now at almost ninety-six years-old, Her Majesty has assigned much of the heavier royal duties, such as these extended events to other members of the royal family. But she herself has visited Belize twice during her almost seventy years on the throne, and so have several members of the royal family. News Five’s Marion Ali takes a look back at those historic visits.
Marion Ali, Reporting
In May 1958, towards the end of a trip to the West Indies, Princess Margaret, the younger sister of Queen Elizabeth the Second, visited Belize. It was during that visit that the new Princess Margaret Drive in King’s Park was named in her honour. At that time, Belize was still a colony with Sir Colin Thornley as Governor. Princess Margaret’s visit would mark the first of many royal visits to Belize during Queen Elizabeth’s reign. It wasn’t until 1985 – four years after Belize had attained political independence— that Her Majesty, the Queen, visited for the first time. She was welcomed by Belize’s first Governor-General, Dame Minita Gordon at the Philip Goldson International Airport and introduced to then Prime Minister, Sir Manuel Esquivel and leaders of government. In Belize City she was welcomed by the Mayor, Frank Lizama, and schoolchildren who had spent many weeks rehearsing musical compositions by the future Governor-General, Sir Colville Young, and sang their hearts out to the Queen’s delight. Steel pan players beat out lively music, also carefully arranged by Sir Colville. In Belmopan, she inspected a guard of honour mounted by the Belize Police Force. And inside the National Assembly Building, former Prime Minister, Sir Manuel Esquivel welcomed the Queen.
Sir Manuel Esquivel, Former Prime Minister of Belize [File: October 1985]
“Your Majesty, the people of Belize welcome you into our hearts and into our homes. Our land is your land; our home is your home.”
Following a State dinner at the Government House in Belize City, Her Majesty addressed Belizeans.
Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, II [File: October 1985]
“Respect for moral and spiritual values and the rule of law have made this country a notable example of how freedom can work in practice. A climate is being created where personal initiative and free choice have become a matter of choice for every Belizean. What you have achieved augers well for the future development of the nation but it must be carefully nurtured and strengthened and then passed on to future generations.”
Later that evening, Her Majesty was entertained with cultural performances that went on well into the night. The following day, she took part in a ceremony in Orange Walk, at the Queen Elizabeth Park, named after her on that occasion. The Monarch would return to Belize less than nine years later in 1994, this time with her husband, Prince Phillip … and, as history would have it, again under the reign of the U.D.P. and Prime Minister, Sir Manuel Esquivel. But by that time, Her Majesty’s representative in Belize was Sir Colville Young, who was knighted on that occasion. Flanked by Prince Phillip at her side, the Queen addressed Belizeans from inside the National Assembly. She highlighted that Belize was the first country whose Governor-General had composed and arranged the songs that welcomed her. Her speech, though delivered twenty-eight years ago, holds true even today.
Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, II [File:February 1994]
“Many of the changes which we have witnessed are to be applauded and encouraged. Many have helped the disadvantaged to achieve their proper place in society. But some – the increase in crime being an obvious example – have done damage to society and it is up to us to keep that society strong enough to withstand any assault from whatever quarter. It is never enough to treat symptoms alone. Such measures as the strengthening of law enforcement agencies and criminal justice systems are worthwhile, but we must simultaneously look at the real roots of the disease. That oftentimes means a process of honest and sometime uncomfortable self-examination by a nation as a whole. But Belize is capable of that.”
Then, in April, 2001, the Queen’s only daughter, Princess Anne, visited La Milpa – the third largest archaeological site found in Belize – as well as the La Milpa Field Station. She was also able to view samples of artifacts collected from archaeological digs of the Maya sites found on the Rio Bravo. Then, in March of 2002, Prince Andrew – Her Majesty’s third child – visited Belize and opened section three of the Southern Highway upgrading project, a stretch of road from the Bladen Bridge to the Big Creek Port. This came through a $26 million grant from the United Kingdom. He also opened the Princess Royal Youth Hostel classroom and library at Gracie Rock. One member of the royal family who is known for his outgoing character, Prince Harry, found it fitting to share a couple of dances with local Belizeans when he visited in 2012 – and understandably so; he was here on the occasion of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
Marion Ali reporting for News Five.
Their Royal Highnesses, William and Kate, will arrive on Saturday and will tour a number of places before moving on to Jamaica and the Bahamas.