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Fellow researcher @ Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies


Oscar Webber completed his PhD at the University of Leeds in 2018. It explored British responses to disaster throughout the long-nineteenth century. Since then, he has taught British and Caribbean history for two years at The London School of Economics. In the academic year 2021-2022, he has taken up an Early Career Research Fellowship at the Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies where he will be researching the history of the 1931 Belizean hurricane. Oscar has published on Caribbean disaster relief in range of journals such as West Indian Guide and contributed public articles to History Today and Time. 2022 will also see the publication of his first monograph, Negotiating relief and freedom: Responses to disaster in the British Caribbean, 1812-1907 with Manchester University Press in their ‘Studies in Imperialism’ series.

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Development and Disaster policy


Building a Workers’ Movement from the Wreckage: Contrasting Responses to the Belizean Hurricane of 1931

On 10 September 1931, a devastating hurricane hit Belize resulting in the death of at least 2500 people. Those casualties make it one of the deadliest disasters in Caribbean history but not only could many of them seemingly have been prevented, survivors seeking succour faced a punitive, ‘work-for-relief’ programme from the colonial government. In the longer term, British Parliament did offer a reconstruction loan, but its terms excluded the working classes and saddled the colony with debt. As a result, an unprecedented parallel relief effort, driven by discontented Belizeans, emerged in the aftermath of the disaster. Successful though it was, it did not close this chapter, instead discontent only grew as it emerged that the Government, unwilling to cancel colonial ceremonies planned for the tenth, had ignored advance warnings about the hurricane. These injustices monumentally changed Belizean politics and presaged a decade of unrest in the region. Antonio Soberanis Gómez, father of Belizean anti-colonialism, saw the hurricane and the politics of its aftermath as starting ‘the cry for independence’. Despite its significance to Belizean and Caribbean politics more broadly, the 1931 hurricane, the British response, and the accusations of a coverup have received little attention. Thus, this paper will explore the divergent responses to the hurricane, how they fed Belizean anti-colonialism and the whole event's connection to wider regional unrest. In doing so, it will develop our understanding of Caribbean anti-colonialism in the 1930s and foreground the important role the environment has played in shaping politics within the region.

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