Features — 17 May 2016
The betrayal of BAM

Reprint of Editorial — 17 June 2011

BELIZE CITY, Friday, April 3, 1981–On behalf of the community, AMANDALA hereby calls for an official inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death on Tuesday night of Corporal George “Pete” Matthews, 34, one of Belize’s greatest musicians.

“Pete,” a brother beloved in the city, was shot in the mouth at the Central Police Station after 10 Tuesday night. How and by whom remains a mystery.

– pg. 1, Amandala, Friday, April 3, 1981

 

BELIZE CITY, Mon. April 27, 1981–Soccorro Bobadilla, 17, fiery, buxom youth leader, has been expelled from the Belize Technical College following her refusal to give an assurance to the school that she “will observe proper conduct both in and out of uniform.”

By “proper conduct” the authorities apparently meant that she was to give apologies for speaking on the BAM rostrum during the March 17-April 2 disturbances and to promise not to do so again.

– pg. 5, Amandala, Thurs. April 30, 1981

 

It is sad, though not surprising, how the leaders of the ruling UDP have chosen to mark what is the thirtieth anniversary of the Heads of Agreement uprising and the political independence of Belize. Both events took place in 1981, the uprising in late March and early April, and our independence on September 21. The UDP have chosen to ignore the rebellion against the Heads of Agreement by the people of Belize, and concentrate everything on independence. This, to our mind, constitutes a betrayal of the Belize Action Movement (BAM).

The BAM leaders were Odinga Lumumba, Wilfredo “Shubu” Brown, Rodwell Pinks, Kenworth Tillett, Sam Rhaburn, and Leroy Panting. The unlikely star of the uprising was a Belize Technical College student by the name of Soccorro Bobadilla. A few years ago, Soccorro disappeared on the way from Los Angeles through Texas to Belize by road, and she has not been heard from since. Lumumba, Brown and Pinks are deceased. Leroy Panting is in the United States. Kenworth Tillett is employed with the ruling UDP. Sam Rhaburn is an accountant who was elected a UDP area representative for Belize Rural North in 1984, and again in 1989. In 1991, he joined Hon. Philip Goldson’s NABR group, but soon returned to the UDP. Rhaburn was a Cabinet Minister in the 1984–1989 UDP administration.

One reason it would have been important to mark the Heads of Agreement uprising is that in Belize we have not been paying proper respect to our roots heroes. Another reason we needed to have done this was because it is vital that our people remain fully conscious, and the younger ones be well informed, where the text and nature of the Heads of Agreement are concerned.

When the Margaret Thatcher government of Great Britain and the Ronald Reagan government of the United States produced the Heads of Agreement for the government of Belize to sign as a prerequisite for independence, the PUP, led by Hon. George Price, were in power in Belize. The UDP had been shattered by a stunning defeat in the 1979 general elections. BAM was a spontaneous, roots movement whose most charismatic personalities were Odinga, Kenworth and Soccorro. It was BAM which led the fight against the Heads of Agreement in Belize City.

In Corozal Town, a shotgun blast which came from a group of pro-independence PUP marchers, killed Sylvino Riveroll on Thursday, April 2, 1981. As a result of that murder, the Governor of Belize, James Hennessey, immediately declared a state of emergency, which lasted through independence.

Two days earlier during the disturbances in Belize City, one of Belize’s greatest musicians, the saxophonist George “Pete” Matthews, was killed, it was ruled accidentally, during an attempt one night to mobilize police forces at the Queen Street Police Station. Matthews had been in the Police Force only because Deputy Premier C.L.B. Rogers wanted him to improve the police band. Pete Matthews was an artist, the furthest thing from a cop you could think of.

Perhaps the UDP leaders do not wish to recognize BAM and the uprising against the Heads because this newspaper and the photographer Anselmo Belisle played a critical role in bringing the story to the people of Belize. It was during this specific time that Amandala became the leading newspaper in Belize, a rank it has held for thirty consecutive years. The irony of the situation in 1981 was that, whereas Amandala had played an important role in helping the nationalist PUP to defeat the neoliberal UDP in 1979, in the Heads of Agreement uprisings this newspaper supported the Belizeans who rejected the Heads of Agreement, a document which was just as nefarious as the Seventeen Proposals had been in 1968.

The difference was that, in mid-March of 1981 the PUP leaders of Belize, Hon. George Price, Hon. Assad Shoman, and Hon. V.H. Courtenay, actually signed the Heads of Agreement in London. The people of Belize rebelled. While there were individuals involved who later became UDP officials, such as Hubert Elrington, the UDP, in its assigned role as Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, was weak, ineffectual and downright invisible in 1981.

This is why we are not surprised at how the UDP have chosen to “play” the ceremonies and so on marking the thirtieth anniversary of 1981. There are some people with big positions and big mouths in 2011 who were nowhere on the scene in March of 1981. But, they should give respect where it is due. That is the point of the editorial.

Power to the people! Power in the struggle!

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