(The Belize Weekly Newsletter No. 2 of 1965 – up to January 10, 1965: Published by the Government Information Service, Belize City) During September of last year, government concluded negotiations with Shell for prospecting licenses over offshore areas in this country, including the Turneffe, Lighthouse Reef, and Glovers Reef areas. The company is to make preliminary explorations prior to drilling for oil. The announcement from the Ministry of Natural Resources last week said the essential part of this exploration is that of seismic work which consists of firing small explosive charges in the sea and registering their reaction on instruments made for this specific purpose. The lines on which these charges will be set off are about five miles apart so that large areas will remain untouched. The release emphasized that this method of oil exploration has been used all over the world in offshore areas, especially in places like the Gulf of Mexico, the coast of Louisiana, Texas and Mexico. This method was also used by the Phillips Petroleum Company up to two years ago in this country in the offshore areas of the Toledo and Stann Creek Districts. Experience has shown both abroad and in this country that the amount of fish killed by the explosives in this process is negligible, and that there has not been any apparent damage to fishing grounds or reefs wherever this method has been used. In view, however, of the fears expressed by fishermen, the Minister of Natural Resources arranged, with the cooperation of the contractors to the company, for representatives of the various fishing communities to accompany the seismic crews and to observe at first hand the methods employed and the results. Shell is the second largest oil company in the world.
The old saying goes: what’s in a name, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. When it comes to surnames or family names, however, as referring to people of African origin in the New World, the difference between a black person named Brown or Smith or Jones, as compared with someone who calls himself “X” or Muhammad, is expressed in the way the power structure treats you. When the American power structure, especially, sees “X” or Muhammad, they understand immediately that that individual is a “conscious” person, whereas the black person who wears the slavemaster’s name comfortably, is someone who is not likely to rock the proverbial boat.
My late maternal grandmother, Eunice Locke Hyde, used to refer to certain people as “able” Creoles, whereas other people were just “Creoles.” I grew up with the understanding that “able” Creoles were people of straight African descent on both their fathers’ and mothers’ sides, whereas “Creoles” were those of us who had European paternity somewhere mixed with African maternity. I never held a conversation with my grandmother about this. This is just how it seemed to me as I was growing up near the corner of Regent Street West and West Canal Street.
Perhaps I misinterpreted my grandmother’s references, because I’ve never met anyone who shared this specific vision and used this expression. Bottom line, nevertheless, the Creole people were not monolithic. It was clear, for instance, that party politics divided the Creole people into PUP supporters and NIP supporters. There were black-skinned Belizeans, like Elfreda Reyes and Shubu Brown and Reginald Brooks, who were prominently and hard-core NIP. But there were also black-skinned Belizeans, like Elsa Vasquez and Dolly Simpson and Hilda Beckles, who were just as hard-core PUP.
Furthermore, color and class also divided the Creole people politically. Lighter-skinned Creoles, who were more likely to be clerical, were generally NIP, while working class, darker-skinned Creoles were mostly PUP. Inside the NIP, the Creoles claimed that Mr. Price, the PUP and Government Leader, was “Latinizing” the country, while the PUP’s working class Creoles remained loyal to the PUP despite the NIP propaganda.
NIP supporters were sympathetic to the colony’s British history and values, while PUP supporters were definitely hostile to the British.
The British had built a colonial administration which, by the middle of the twentieth century, featured Creole natives as rising civil service personalities. The civil service was absolutely dominated by Creoles before the PUP’s nationalist revolution in 1950. The Garifuna were almost non-existent, as were the Mestizos. The excuse for this ethnic discrimination may have been that all the government departments had their headquarters in Belize City, which was heavily Creole in 1950. And, the bulk of the Garifuna people lived in Stann Creek and Toledo, while the bulk of the Mestizo people lived in Orange Walk and Corozal.
Still, once he became the PUP’s Maximum Leader in 1956, Mr. Price began to change this pattern of public service ethnic discrimination. The Creole civil service, who were very much NIP, did not like it, and I think the emerging Mestizo civil servant who felt the brunt of their anger was Mr. Rudy Castillo, who became the Chief Information Officer during the Price era. Mr. Castillo was close to Mr. Price, very loyal, and very dedicated and skilled in his job. The socio-political enemies of the PUP began to call Mr. Castillo, “Goebbels,” and the name stuck somewhat.
A friend of mine in the diaspora recently made available to me digitized issues from 1965 and 1966 of a publication called the Belize Weekly Newsletter, which was prepared by Mr. Castillo at the Government Information Office. The friend wanted me to note a January 1965 newsletter where the newly self-governing Belize government was allowing Shell to explore for oil with dynamite in offshore areas of Belize. My column last week had discussed this phenomenon during the middle 1950s, when the British still held a tight grip on the colony’s administration. I was not aware that this offshore dynamite business was going on as late as 1965, which was the year I left Belize to study in the United States.
I’ve explained on several occasions in the past that my mother was openly NIP, and it was from her that we children inherited our first political loyalties. It is for sure that I am no longer an NIP, certainly not UDP, though some PUP propagandists may try to portray me as such. Last weekend when I read computer copies of the Belize Weekly Newsletter, much of the material in which would have been reproduced on the government monopoly radio station – Radio Belize, I felt the nationalist energy and sincerity of the late Mr. Castillo as he tried to sell Mr. Price’s dream of nationhood to the people of Belize.
In closing this column, I would like to say that I think the majority of the Creole people do not share my position of unqualified support for Greg Ch’oc and SATIIM. I think the Creole people, by and large, are skeptical, if not downright suspicious, of SATIIM. The Kek’chi Maya of Toledo were absolutely isolated during British colonial administration. Once Mr. Price came to power, their situation improved only marginally. As a Belizean nationalist, I consider Belize’s Kek’chi Maya of great importance as we seek to build the modern Belize.
Four decades ago, there were privileged Creole people who convinced many of us that Mr. Price’s behavior was inimical to our best interests. Finally, the party of the privileged Creoles came to national power in 1984, and we saw that nothing much really changed. We then had to ask ourselves a lot of questions, the main one being: if Mr. Price was not the ultimate enemy, then who was? UBAD gave you that answer in 1969, but you were not able to digest such a food. PUP or UDP, Buckingham Palace still rules.
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.