In our lifetime we have seen two peoples from widely separated parts of planet earth, the Vietnamese and the Cubans, make some unbelievable and bloody sacrifices in order to achieve and maintain independence, sovereignty, and national dignity. The lesson we learned is that such a desire for the said independence, sovereignty, and national dignity can be an awesomely powerful emotion and energy in a people.
In the case of Belize, there was a point in April of 1968 when the United States of America denied an acceptable standard of independence, sovereignty, and national dignity to our nation, Belize, and offered us a satellite status to Guatemala in the Seventeen Proposals of Bethuel Webster.
The generation of black Belizean youth growing up in the 1960s had considered Hon. George Price to be less macho than we preferred in our Maximum Leader, but Mr. Price’s response to the Seventeen Proposals eventually proved to be extraordinary, courageous, even adventurist. Once Mr. Price realized in 1968 how opposed the Belizean people were to the Webster Proposals, he rolled the dice. Mr. Price sent Assad Shoman and Lindy Rogers to left-wing countries regionally (Cuba and Panama) and internationally in order to build a consensus for Belize’s support which would pressure the United States of America to support unconditional independence for Belize. (Belizeans celebrated Hon. Philip Goldson’s birthday on Tuesday, July 25, and we remember, with maximum respect, that Mr. Goldson risked his personal freedom in order to expose the Webster Proposals in 1966.)
In following Assad Shoman’s advice, to internationalize Belize’s struggle for independence, Mr. Price sacrificed Roman Catholic, business right-wing support for his ruling People’s United Party (PUP), and during the course of his final push for independence, Mr. Price saw his domestic political popularity, which had been unquestioned until 1974, seriously threatened by a new, neoliberal, anti-communist political party – the United Democratic Party (UDP), formed in 1973.
The bacchanalia and debauchery which begins in Belize next month are supposed to be celebrations of the Battle of St. George’s Caye in 1798 (September 10) and of Belize’s independence in 1981 (September 21). The reality is that our August/September bacchanalia and debauchery have become more frenzied over the last two decades, even as the tourism industry has grown each and every year since the late 1990s. The “celebrations” are good for business: the more bacchanalia and debauchery, the more “fun” for the tourists.
Okay, Mr. Price finally achieved independence for Belize, but there is something flawed with our independence: our independence is not passionate and militant like Vietnam’s or Cuba’s. One of the problems with our independence has been the steady growth of social and economic inequality in Belize. Whatever his faults, it is for sure that Mr. Price never encouraged social and economic elitism: he fought against it, in fact.
One of the most powerful instincts in human beings involves our love for our children. Parents want the absolute best for their children. There is competition amongst children, but there is even more competition amongst parents. In the words of the old Creole proverb: “Every jahn cro tink ‘e pickni white.” Parental love is one of the engines which drive social inequality over a period of time, yet no one can criticize parental love for children. Parental love is a good thing, a great thing. In response, just, fair-minded governments have to find ways to ensure that equal opportunities exist across the social spectrum. If not, over a period of time more and more of our population’s human talent becomes crushed under oppression, while a social and economically superior class emerges which is not necessarily all that talented. This is one of the lessons of history.
This newspaper recently asked the visiting Belizean astrophysicist, Sydney Taegar, to give us an interview because we hoped his story would inspire Belizean children. Under British colonialism, which denied higher education opportunities to native children at the base of the pyramid, Sydney Taegar’s grandfather was an ordinary waterfront worker. His talent was repressed under British colonialism. It was during the early anti-colonial period that Sydney’s father, Leroy, a longshoreman’s son, displayed his brilliance enough in order to access the opportunity for foreign studies.
In Belize, this newspaper has always been committed to fighting against class prejudice and ethnic bigotry. We believe that Belize should not encourage these manifest exhibitions of social and economic injustice. For sure, we do not believe Belize should be tolerating exclusive, segregated enclaves of immigrants. We are all human beings here, all created in the image and likeness of God, as it is said.
There are Belizeans who want to fight 1798 every year around this time. We respect the historical impact of Centenary. As we have mentioned before, the huge body of superb music which emerged out of the Centenary experience in the first half of the twentieth-century, gives evidence of a sincerity of purpose in the composers of said music. We know that Centenary was the only event which the British colonial government spent money on: Tenth of September was officially subsidized. Our composers and musicians were inspired. The newspaper’s argument is that the sincerity of the twentieth-century musicians did not authenticate the late nineteenth-century narrative, which was always a white supremacist narrative.
1798, nevertheless, has been historically divisive where the Creole and Mestizo populations of Belize are concerned, and we can’t use 1798, as some of us do, to fuel a fight against the flood of Central American immigrants since 1980. The Central American immigrants may look the same as the Caste War refugees of the nineteenth-century, but there are different narratives involved here. And, the indisputable truth of the matter is that the Caste War refugees have paid their dues: Corozaleños and Orange Walkeños have made their bones, big time.
Our point is that there is divisive foolishness amongst our core populations which is propagated in the service of a supposedly idyllic colonial past. No one can deny that class prejudice and ethnic bigotry exist in Belize. Those toxins must be addressed, and ideally they should be addressed by our elected leaders and the educational system they control.
The 1798 narrative is organic to the propaganda of the ruling UDP. The UDP is a party built, in the first instance, on the foundation of the 1951 National Party (NP), which was pro-British and pro-colonial. Belize finally achieved political independence because a nationalistic, anti-British leader gambled mightily. The UDP, in office on five different occasions since 1984, has never challenged the relevance of our political independence.
But, the UDP has never addressed the class prejudice and ethnic bigotry in Belize. These toxins have spread since independence. At least, that is how it appears to us on Partridge Street in Belize City’s Southside. (In the matter of class prejudice and ethnic bigotry, the Opposition PUP has definitely regressed since the decline and exit of Mr. Price. This is one of the reasons you will often see us refer to a “PUDP.”)
Amandala has been the nation’s leading newspaper since 1981. But we do not take ourselves too seriously, because we know that Belize has been experiencing a rapidly changing demographic over the last three and a half decades. Sometimes we have to ask ourselves, for whom do we speak when we speak editorially? And, are those people for whom we supposedly speak as significant as they were in 1981? So that, when we propose our editorial theses, we do so with a question mark in our minds sometimes.
Of this one thing we are sure: 1798 has no material relevance to Belize’s issues with Jimmy and Carlos Raul Morales today. Thomas Paslow was not fighting for his slaves in 1798. In 2017, you and I are the descendants of slaves and fighting for our own reality in The Jewel. Let the bacchanalia and debauchery, then, begin. But the real fight is yet to come. That is the fight for our independence, our sovereignty, and our national dignity.
Power to the people.