This is our third consecutive editorial on the Belize Grassroots Youth Empowerment Association (BGYEA) and their fight to plant corn in the buffer zone between their Harmonyville community and Mile 41 on the George Price Highway. Clearly, the newspaper considers the matter an important one, both in symbol and in substance.
44 years ago, the People’s United Party (PUP) government of Rt. Hon. George C. Price packed up most of their government’s offices and moved them to Belmopan, officially opening the new capital on August 1, 1970. The decision to build the new capital had been made following the devastation of Belize City (and Stann Creek Town) by Hurricane Hattie on October 31, 1961.
Belize City had been the administrative center of British colonial rule. One third of the population of the colony lived in Belize City. All the secondary schools, the banks, the insurance companies, the only real hospital, the Supreme Court, the Treasury, the international seaport, the international airport, and the leading business houses were in Belize City. To live in any of the Districts – Corozal, Orange Walk, Cayo, Stann Creek, and Toledo, in colonial days, was to live far away from the center of things.
Belmopan, the new capital, was the first macro move of self-governing (1964) Belize, and the symbolism of the government move out of Belize City was huge. It was the first time anything substantial had ever moved away from Belize City. Always, always previously, everything had headed to the original, unquestioned capital.
Essentially, BGYEA is an organization that came out of Belmopan a few years ago. Attacked by the Government of Belize after an initial period of cooperation, BGYEA leaders came to Belize City last week to drum up public support in the old capital/population center. BGYEA is challenging a GOB injunction preventing them from the aforementioned buffer zone corn planting. Their challenge is being heard in the Belize City Supreme Court this coming Friday, June 13.
BGYEA has been using the national radio and television airwaves to publicize the sincerity and importance of their cause for years now. Under the recent GOB fire, BGYEA, which had received dismal support for a Belmopan demonstration last year, decided to hold a rally last Saturday morning in Belize City. The vibes were positive in the days leading up to the rally, the weather held dry, and BGYEA supporters came into the city from the Districts, especially Toledo, Stann Creek, and Cayo. But Belize City itself, the stronghold of the ruling UDP, did not represent in the expected numbers.
We thought, quite arbitrarily, that 600 would have been a successful rally turnout for BGYEA. The spirit was high on Saturday morning; the Belize City rally was much more successful than last year’s Belmopan demonstration. But the UDP will pooh-pooh the BGYEA numbers, perhaps half or a little more than half of our arbitrary 600 benchmark.
Justice is supposed to be a blindfolded goddess, but in Belize since independence, Justice has sometimes seemed to be affected by the size of one’s numbers strength. Certainly, the quantum of a litigant’s money resources affects the outcome of many civil cases, because every time a case is taken to a higher court, the legal costs increase. The financial stakes become larger, more dangerous, and less wealthy litigants have to fold their tents. Money talks.
The legal dispute between Lord Michael Ashcroft and KREM Radio provides a good example. In the Supreme Court in 2008, the honorable Chief Justice Dr. Abdulai Conteh, ruled that KREM Radio should return $25,000 plus interest, a total of $45,000 to Lord Ashcroft. Justice Conteh’s ruling represented a major victory for KREM Radio because Lord Ashcroft didn’t want money: he wanted the 10 percent of KREM Radio which he had insisted on purchasing as a condition for his Belize Bank’s loaning KREM $75,000 in 1994. KREM Radio was being represented, as a charity case on their part, by high ranking attorneys Michael Young and Lois Young. Lord Ashcroft was being represented by several of his expensive British attorneys, specially flown in from the mother country.
The Ashcroft attorneys then took the case to the Belize Court of Appeals, where they won a 2-1 majority ruling from the three Justices, reversing Dr. Conteh’s decision. KREM was still being represented pro bono by Michael Young and Lois Young. All things being equal, these are senior, expensive legal counsel. They were doing KREM Radio a mighty favor. The highest court in our jurisdiction, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), was technically available for KREM Radio to challenge the Appeals Court ruling. KREM, however, decided to bow to the manifestly superior legal and financial resources of Lord Ashcroft.
We think BGYEA basically has the moral support of the Belizean people. But BGYEA is a small and inexperienced group. Their organizational framework is rudimentary. In order to do battle with the Government of Belize, BGYEA has to reach the masses of the Belizean people with the details of their struggle, and then they have to be doing fundraising in order to finance their public relations and education programs, not to mention their legal fees.
Those established organizations which supported BGYEA in a timely fashion through the formation of the Rod of Correction (ROC) group on Thursday, and the most important of those ROC groups were the national trade unions, really only gave token support to BGYEA on Saturday. They were playing politics, which is to say, hedging their bets. Life is real. This is the big city. And, this is BGYEA’s fight to win or lose.
The Toledo Maya came out big time for BGYEA. Maximum respect. BGYEA will have to reciprocate when the Maya assemble on Sunday, June 22, in Toledo.
You can’t go anywhere organizationally in Belize if you do not become national. That is the great advantage which the UDP and the People’s United Party (PUP) have. They are nationally organized, and they have been so for several decades.
In Belize, what we have of democracy gives us the right to organize around any legal cause we choose. 45 years ago this newspaper was established with the core support of roots Belizeans. Over the years, we have done our best to remain true to our roots. That is why we support BGYEA. That is why we support the Toledo Maya. It is a matter of principle.
Power to the people.