When the nationalist movement began in Belize in 1950, the giant Belize Estate and Produce Company (BEC) was a major issue. BEC was the largest landholder and employer in Belize, and controlled the forestry and chicle industries, besides having entered areas of business such as insurance and import commission. BEC was a quintessentially British company, and it was being challenged by a remarkable Belize native, one Robert Sydney Turton, who had risen from absolute poverty to compete with BEC in mahogany, chicle, and import commission.
The tariff structure in British Honduras was such as to force British Hondurans to trade with the mother country – Great Britain. This suited BEC, it may have actually been designed for BEC, but such a tariff structure discriminated against RST, who was doing more and more business with the United States. The devaluation of the Belize dollar at the end of 1949 was the straw which broke the camel’s back in Mr. Turton’s view of things. It appears that the BEC owners and executives were tipped off by the British, whereas Turton was caught off guard. Devaluation cost him a lot of money. The agitation by the new People’s United Party (PUP) in 1950 for self-rule was a Robert Sydney Turton agenda matter. But, the masses of the Belizean people had been fed up with BEC for a long time, and they looked with longing towards opportunities in the United States of America, just six hundred miles away. Robert Sydney Turton and the Belizean people, then, were on the same page.
The role of Robert Sydney Turton in the nationalist movement has not been properly researched, studied, or discussed, because the Right Honorable George Price was Mr. Turton’s personal secretary, and it was important for PUP propagandists to play down that relationship. It did not look good for Mr. Price’s political image for his employee status in Mr. Turton’s businesses to be publicized, especially after Mr. Price became the Maximum Leader of the PUP in 1956.
Robert Sydney Turton was a cold-blooded capitalist, for sure. But he was Belizean, and nationalist, whereas those who formed the National Party (NP) in 1951 to fight the PUP were Anglophiles. The National Party leaders were natives who accepted, indeed embraced British colonialism, which was headquartered in the capital, the place we now know as Belize City.
In 2015, we can look at American Sugar Refining (ASR) as a foreign company modeled along the invader lines of BEC where its predatory nature is concerned. The difference between 1950 and 2015 is that those who are fighting today for their economic rights against the foreign company are 6,000 cane farmers who benefited from the nationalist revolution in Belize and Mr. Price’s human rights leadership. There is no Robert Sydney Turton in this 2015 mix. It is difficult for this newspaper to see how any Belizean nationalist would not support the struggle of Belize’s cane farmers against ASR. There are a few big cane farmers who are playing games with ASR, but the masses of the cañeros see ASR for what it is – a conquistador.
You should not be surprised by any decision or initiative coming from the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) which favors foreign companies like ASR over roots Belizeans like the small cane farmers. The UDP is a descendant of the National Party, an Anglophile party which was pro-BEC. The original UDP, established in 1973, was a neoliberal organization which favored big investment capital. When push comes to shove, nothing has changed in the UDP. They have no faith in the Belizean people.
Where Belize’s two-party system is concerned, the problem for the Belizean people is that the originally nationalist PUP was tragically hijacked by neoliberals sometime during the latter part of the 1980s.
When the Belizean people realized, after 1998, that the modern PUP was pursuing the same agenda as the UDP, several third parties were formed – in Toledo, in Belmopan, in Corozal, and now in Cayo. These third parties have not been able to come together as a national force, and one of the reasons for this is that they have no clarity where a philosophy of economic development is concerned. In fact, one of them appears to be neoliberal, while another appears to be Vatican-oriented. So confused is Belize’s party politics outside of the PUDP mainstream that a Belizean Mennonite with an openly pro-Israel agenda actually emerged to nominate more than 20 candidates for the March 2003 general election. Perhaps in line with that puzzling agenda, we have seen some heavily financed evangelical Christian media and organizations come on Belize’s socio-political scene in the last few years. These have special interest religious agendas, such as fighting U.S.–financed gay rights in Belize.
The long and short of all this is that there are so many things going on outside of the PUPD paradigm that, to repeat, a really credible third party with a nationalist agenda is yet to emerge. There is a confusing socio-political reality in Belize, and the reason it exists is because there are so many wealthy, powerful foreign interests trying to ensure there is no unification of the Belizean people. One of such interests is, of course, the Guatemalan business and military oligarchy, which, supported by the United States of America, is focused on preventing any roots, nationalist ideas from taking hold in Belize and drifting across Guatemala’s eastern and southern flanks.
If you are a serious Belizean nationalist, at home and abroad, we invite you to study this newspaper’s ideas and programs since 1969. We feel there is a relative consistency in same, which we offer as proof of our strength and sincerity. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds….” Our thinking here is that Ralph Waldo can say whatever he wants. On Partridge Street, we come from the old school, and we are proud of that. We are what we were.
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.