The British have done a number on us all through these years. It started, of course, when they kidnapped us from West Africa and shipped our ancestors here to cut logwood and mahogany for them. The profits were sent to London, and the Belize settlement was absolutely neglected where infrastructure and institutions were concerned.
After World War II, Belizeans, like colonial subjects all around the world, seized the opportunity to begin fighting for self-government and independence. “The opportunity” derived from the fact that the white supremacist European states had gone to war with each other in 1939, for the second time in two decades, for the prize of world hegemony.
Following the lead of Ghana and Nigeria in West Africa, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and Barbados moved to independence in the Caribbean. Bermuda and the Cayman Islands did not, for their own reasons. Belize was in a unique situation because of a serious territorial claim by its Central American neighbor to the west – Guatemala. So, Belize’s independence was delayed for 17 years after self-government in 1964.
The British could have dealt with the Guatemalan problem, but they were so much more powerful than the Guatemalans that they had chosen over the decades to ignore Guatemalan complaints. Eventually, after the Americans, in line with their 1823 Monroe Doctrine, became involved in the Anglo/Guatemalan dispute as interested parties in 1962, the British, in cahoots with their Western Hemisphere cousins, began to support proposals which would have compromised the sovereignty of Belize and make Belizeans subordinate to Guatemalans.
The Government of Belize then began to agitate for international support for our independence, whereupon the British responded by pressuring Belize to cede territory in order to appease Guatemala. Eventually, Belize managed to gain independence in 1981, but the claim was not settled, the British refused to give the former colony a defence guarantee, and, more ominously, they provided a constitution for Belize which now appears to our more analytical and nationalistic citizens to be one which provides for Belize to remain a vassal of the British monarchy, without, to repeat, the British being obligated to defend us. Crazy.
Once the Prime Minister of Belize is sworn in after general elections, there is not a real democracy here for the next five years. What this means is that when there are crises in independent Belize, such as the present financial crisis exacerbated by social instability, domestic stress leads to street confrontations because Belize’s monarchical system does not allow for a change of government, such as would take place under a system of proportional representation, or with safety valve mid-term House and Senate elections, as would take place under a republican system like that in the United States.
The power of Prime Minister Dean Barrow is excessive under the British-designed constitution, but where popular support and House numbers are concerned, the present situation is a more tricky one. Apparently a big part of the problem has to do with Deputy Prime Minister, Gaspar “Gapi” Vega, who is being challenged for UDP Deputy Leadership by Education Minister Patrick Faber. Vega, de facto leader of the Orange Walk UDP, lost three out of the four Orange Walk seats in last year’s general elections, defending only his own constituency. He had previously botched the Marcel Cardona matter in a horrible way, and to top it off, reports of corruption have become the order of the day in his Ministries and related businesses.
A situation similar to the UDP’s present discomfort arose for the ruling PUP in 2004, a little over a year after the blue had won a second consecutive term of office. The so-called G-7 rebellion in Cabinet in August of 2004 was soon followed by massive union-led demonstrations in the streets, and it became clear that Belize could do well with some serious changes in governance. The Belize constitution being monarchical, however, Prime Minister Said Musa served out his five-year term, amidst tumult and controversy.
Today, the problem for some Belizeans is that they feel the only option here is to return the same PUP to office which, in the first place, created the financial burden now referred to as the “superbond.” If Belize had a republican or proportional representation form of government, Belizeans would be able to change or adjust the government.
As it is, however, the nation will now run into a power struggle in which the Prime Minister has the power to defend his government, no matter what. We saw this from 2005 onwards. It is the British who left us with this Rosemary’s baby, constitutionally speaking. We Belizeans have come to the point where we deserve better than this, and we demand it.
Power to the people.