Strictly speaking, it is not this newspaper’s responsibility to focus on ethnic issues in Belize. But, we grew up where we grew up and we work where we work. We therefore remain conscious of the role ethnicity has played and continues to play in Belize.
Mexico’s official policy is that all Mexicans are just that – Mexicans, and that is supposed to be the end of that. It is not the end of it. After the Cuban Revolution in 1959, the new government supposedly announced that racism was “solved.” It was not.
There are different perspectives from which to view the Ex-Servicemen’s uprising in July of 1919 in Belize Town. But, the fact of the matter is that this was unquestionably a major uprising, and it occurred. It should form part of Belize’s twentieth century historical matrix. It does not. There can be no doubt that the colonial administration of British Honduras wished for the episodes of July 21 and 22, 1919 to be obliterated from Belizean memory. Clearly, they succeeded in doing so.
One can understand why the People’s United Party (PUP), when it came under the leadership of Rt. Hon. George Price in 1956 and held power until 1984, leading Belize to self-government in 1964 and independence in 1981 in the process, would not have been interested in raising the 1919 issue. The PUP would have considered the issue somewhat decisive. Mr. Price’s father, for instance, had been on the wrong side of history.
Because of the aura of blackness which surrounded the Opposition National Independence Party (NIP) in the 1960s, one would have thought they considered the 1919 uprising relevant. But the NIP never came to power. When the Opposition finally came to power in 1984, it was as the United Democratic Party (UDP), an alliance in which the NIP had become a minor party. We will never know, then, what the NIP would have done.
With the 95th anniversary of 1919 coming up in a couple months’ time, and the centenary of this momentous event taking place in five years’ time, our thesis at this newspaper is that the Belizean academic community, at least, should be paying some attention to 1919 in their discourses. 1919 took place just a couple decades after the colonial power structure supported the first public celebration of the 1798 Battle of St. George’s Caye, a centenary event organized by an employee of the Belize Estate and Produce Company (BEC), the most powerful British institution in the colony in 1898.
1798 has been the most controversial subject in Belize’s socio-politics since the late 1950s, and 1919 should be important, at least academically, if only in that it raises questions about the supposedly idyllic racial atmosphere in the settlement of Belize 121 years before.
The 1919 uprising began one July night on the main street of Southside Belize Town. 53 years later, another uprising began one May night on the main street of Southside Belize City. Because the colonial power structure had succeeded in obliterating the memory of July 1919, the rebels of May 1972 knew nothing of what their ancestral predecessors had done, and what had been the aftermath. Enough had remained the same 53 years later for there to have occurred another spontaneous combustion.
42 years after 1972, the Southside of Belize City is characterized by gang wars among heavily armed youth from different neighborhoods. These wars have been going on for more than 25 years. They present no danger to the political power structure, a power structure which ceased to be British in 1981 but which still swears allegiance to “Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors.”
We want to make the point that the fact that the Southside City area representatives, who all sit in the ruling Cabinet, appear to be of the same ethnicity as the gang warriors, does not seem to count for much. The emergency “band-aids” applied by the Government of Belize to the Belize City violence do not affect the root causes of the problems.
The present administration has been in power for six years. If they were serious, they could have begun addressing matters in a fundamental way, at societal foundation. The question has to be asked: to whom are our rulers loyal, to the Queen or to those who were victimized by her predecessors?
Party politics is not our purview. Even after independence, the native power structure has always refused to honor those who resisted oppression in British Honduras. As if they disrespect of 1919 is not enough, none of our children are being taught that this year marks the eightieth anniversary of the founding of the Labor and Unemployed Association (LUA) by Antonio Soberanis Gómez in 1934. Antonio Soberanis Gómez followed in the footsteps of the 1919 Ex-servicemen. He stood up to and against colonial oppression. On October 1, 1934, Soberanis organized the first labor strike at the BEC sawmill. You don’t know how brave that was.
Monrad Metzgen of the Loyal and Patriotic Order of the Baymen (L&POB) has quietly been made a national hero of Belize. Someone in the Government of Belize was sending us a message thereby. The message was, not because I look like you means I think like you or care about you. I look out for me. I have a black skin and a white mask. I am bogus.
Power to the people.