THE DOWNIE ECONOMIC REPORT (1959)
“Downie was particularly struck with the small size of the population, first in absolute terms, second, in relation to the size of the country, and finally with the way in which it was widely scattered throughout the country. He considered these aspects of the population the crucial obstacle to the transformation of the economy. The small population meant a tiny local market and also precluded economies of scale in the provision of government and public utility. An effective government organization of the country needed to be only very little expanded to deal with twice or even three times the population.”
“The economy would always remain under-developed and undeveloped unless the population was substantially increased to about 300,000 by 1975. This could not be achieved by the natural increase of the population at its annual rate of 3.7 per cent.”
– pg. 210, THE MAKING OF MODERN BELIZE, Cedric H. Grant, Cambridge University Press, 1976
In an article she submitted recently to Amandala (published in this issue) the lady, Therese Belisle-Nweke, a Belizean who has lived in Lagos with her Nigerian husband for several decades, brought up the serious and important subject of West Indian Federation.
One of the reasons the subject was serious and important in the modern politics of British Honduras was because of the matter of race. Another reason was that West Indian Federation involved the issue of large scale immigration into the colony. West Indian Federation was a critical subject in the politics of British Honduras in the late 1940s and the 1950s, and it may have been the dispute about Federation inside the leadership of the nationalist People’s United Party (PUP) which, ultimately, caused PUP leaders, Leigh Richardson and Philip Goldson, to be overthrown and replaced by George Price in September of 1956.
Unlike the Belgian government, which cast the Congo people into political independence in 1960 without any preparation for that socio-constitutional change, the British did various studies and wrote several reports in order to assist Belize in its move to self-rule. There was, for instance, an Evans Commission in 1948, and the Downie Report of 1959, both of which looked at the immigration matter. It was felt that the colony was under-populated and required an infusion of immigrants. According to Cedric Grant in his informative and enlightening work, The Making of Modern Belize (pg. 211), “These immigrants were to be primarily agricultural settlers for whom new and concentrated peasant communities were to be established.” This was the recommendation of both the Evans Commission and the Downie Report.
In the view of the British at the time, there were islands in the British West Indies which were overpopulated, and these were considered a logical source for Belize’s new population. Perhaps the principal reason Mr. Price won the PUP’s 1956 power struggle was because the Belizean people rejected West Indian Federation, as did he.
Two decades later, mass immigration into Belize did occur, but it did not come from the West Indies: that immigration came from the Central American republics of Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Salvador. The Central American immigrants were considered Latin, which is to say, they were Spanish-speaking, generally Roman Catholic, and relatively light-skinned. Had Belize become involved in West Indian Federation, our immigrants would have been English-speaking, Anglican and Methodist in religion, and dark in skin color. Belizean voters rejected West Indian Federation. They did not vote on Central American immigration: this was masterminded, organized, and financed by the United Nations, with some Scandinavian countries acting as surrogates for the United States and the United Kingdom.
As a result of the Central American immigration, Belize’s population changed from majority black to majority Latin. This was a change that was plain to see, and it took place in the lifetime of this newspaper. It is a change which has had its tensions, but it is a change which has taken place peacefully. At the same time Central American immigration into Belize was taking place in large numbers in the 1970s, black Belizeans were continuing a migration to the United States which had speeded up dramatically after Hurricane Hattie in 1961.
Cedric Grant’s important book has virtually disappeared from the Belizean conversation. In fact, overall, there is not much of a Belizean conversation where academic analysis is concerned. Academic Belizean conversation is critical for us in this country because we are still trying to build a nation. What academic conversation seeks to do is identify and emphasize the facts, while removing from the narrative as much of the emotion and party politics as possible.
It is hard to get Belizean academics to enter into public discourse, because ruling political parties are extremely powerful in Belize’s political system, and they have the ability to intimidate academics. What Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) does today in order to pressure academic Belizeans who are, strictly speaking, non-combatants, is the same thing Premier George Price’s ruling PUP used to do back then.
Cedric Grant was completing the doctoral dissertation which formed the basis for his book when the United Black Association for Development (UBAD) burst on the Belizean scene in 1969. For the purposes of his book, Professor Grant expanded on his dissertation research with an analysis of the years between 1969 and 1974 in Belize’s socio-politics. In so doing, he left us the only serious analysis of UBAD outside of this newspaper’s various articles on the subject.
When UBAD began in 1969, there was no Southside model and no civil war among Southside gang organizations to analyze with such a model. But, in 1969 there were already pressing socio-economic issues stressing black youth, and there was a roots black identity crisis which remained from slavery and colonial days. UBAD addressed the identity crisis with black consciousness, but when it began to move to socio-economics, UBAD broke in two. This division at the leadership level arguably had to do with party politics, in the first instance, and development philosophy in the second. The homicidal black youth of 2015 may be considered the casualties of UBAD’s crash in 1973. Today’s homicidal black youth appear to have no vision or purpose apart from the “bling.”
In 2003, this newspaper, against heavy odds, led the Belize Black Summit initiative, and in 2011 we managed to organize a national conference of Belizean writers, artists, musicians, and intellectuals – the so-called WAMI. Such initiatives are expensive, but they are valuable because they provide frameworks for Belize’s thinkers to analyze, discuss, and project. It is not Amandala which should be organizing such initiatives: it is the Belizean academic community. Our academic community is failing us.
Finally, as an interesting historical footnote, let us look at an editorial reaction in the November 8, 1959 issue of Philip Goldson’s Belize Billboard when the Colonial Secretary, in line with the Downie Report, was considering another community of Mennonites and a community of Dutch displaced persons from Indonesia as the first batch of settlers in Belize. Wrote Mr. Goldson: “Why should Dutch refugees and Mennonites be admitted freely into the country while the question of West Indian immigrants being admitted must first be submitted to a public opinion test? This sounds too much like racial discrimination and looks too much like playing up to the racial prejudices which the leader of the PUP has been preaching and advocating for the past few years. We have no objection to the Mennonites, though we do not consider them to be the ideal type of immigrants. We do believe however that we must be careful about admitting Dutch immigrants into the country. We cannot ignore the fact that in South Africa the descendants of Dutch immigrants are carrying out an apartheid policy against the native people with little regard for the rights, desires and aspirations of the people who were the original owners of the country.”
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.