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Canals and Borders: The Dynamics of British Expansion in Central America and the Anglo-Guatemalan Territorial Dispute over Belize, c.1821-1863

Gomez, David Maurice; (2021) Canals and Borders: The Dynamics of British Expansion in Central America and the Anglo-Guatemalan Territorial Dispute over Belize, c.1821-1863. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London).

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The conventional analysis that territorial expansion in Belize, formerly British Honduras, was continuously Great Britain’s objective obscures the role that the settlement played in obtaining and sustaining British expansion in Central America after the latter separated from Spain in 1821. This analysis also misses why in the face of a territorial claim by Guatemala, Great Britain for decades refused to convert the logging settlement to a formal colony, despite repeated requests from the woodcutters and settlers in Belize to do so. Then in 1862 Great Britain made a historic volte-face. Research has shown that the British preferred informal empire in Latin America, and that formal empire was only opted for where this was important or necessary for safeguarding Great Britain’s commercial supremacy and strategic advantages. Was this the case with the British settlement of Belize? This study challenges the established analysis of Great Britain’s handling of the territorial dispute with Guatemala over Belize by arguing that British administrative control over and territorial expansion within the Belize settlement were not formal imperialism but served Great Britain’s wider interests in Central America. To show this, it reconsiders Belize’s salience to British imperialism and investigates the relationship between British expansionism in Central America during the nineteenth century and Great Britain’s reason for converting Belize to an official colony in 1862. This study utilizes an analytical framework of informal empire that emphasizes the concept of salience or ‘value of territory’ to re-examine historical sources on the territorial dispute, including hitherto unused sources in Guatemala and the United States of America. Analysis of the archival material found that Great Britain retained possession Belize not for the timber resources, but for the strategic value that such possession offered for British expansion in the region. This finding suggests that new research is needed to confirm if valuing Belize for strategic purposes was a continuity in British policy towards Belize from the earlier colonial period. The study also found that Great Britain subordinated settlement of Guatemala’s territorial claims to Belize to maintaining British predominance in Central America because doing so enabled Great Britain to forestall French and United States influence in the region. Hence Great Britain only converted Belize to a colony when doing so became unavoidable for retaining British influence in Central America. In the Belize case then, Gallagher and Robinson’s hypothesis of informal empire holds. This thesis offers an original perspective on the territorial dispute over Belize and contributes to our understanding of British imperial history in Central America, as well as to the study of issues-area in territorial disputes.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Canals and Borders: The Dynamics of British Expansion in Central America and the Anglo-Guatemalan Territorial Dispute over Belize, c.1821-1863
Event: University College London
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © The Author 2021. Original content in this thesis is licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) Licence (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/). Any third-party copyright material present remains the property of its respective owner(s) and is licensed under its existing terms. Access may initially be restricted at the author’s request.
UCL classification: UCL
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10129631
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