Features — 22 February 2011 — by Evan X Hyde
In America they say that a shoeshine boy can become the President: in Belize a street hustler actually became the Deputy Prime Minister. That was the late C. L. B Rogers, and he was much loved and admired in the streets of Belize City for many years.
The late Albert Cattouse had been Rt. Hon. George Price’s original Deputy in 1961, but he was replaced by Mr. Rogers around 1967, I would say. In any case, it was Lindy Rogers who was Mr. Price’s “policeman” in the population center when UBAD exploded on the scene in 1969. Mr. Rogers was Minister of Home Affairs, which means he ran the police and the paramilitary forces.
A small group of UWI graduates, one of whom was a former UBAD officer and one of whom is presently a UDP Cabinet Minister, targeted Rogers for electoral defeat sometime in the mid-1970’s. I can call names, but I will not. Rogers’ opponent in the 1979 general elections was Curl Thompson, a foundation member of the Liberal party in 1973 whom Rogers had defeated in the 1974 generals.
In 1977, C. L. B. Rogers was still a relatively young man, but he was overweight, and he was not exercising. He experienced a serious health problem around that time, which may have been heart-related. He may have been flown to Jamaica for expert attention, but the matter was kept very hush-hush. I was close friends with the late Ray Lightburn, Lindy’s right hand at the time, but Ray knew how to keep his mouth shut where his bosses’ business was concerned.
Early in 1978, as a result of a misunderstanding following the December 1977 Belize City Council elections, Mr. Rogers and I parted ways. So then, when he lost in 1979, it really didn’t mean diddly to me. In retrospect, however, I’d like to know why the black university graduates targeted Rogers and paid no such attention to the PUP’s Harry Courtenay next door in Collet.
There is another consideration. Two of the three specific university graduates involved in the initiative, or even plot, have claimed to be black-conscious. The man they supported in 1979, Curl Thompson, would become Deputy Prime Minister in 1984. But there is no evidence of his supporting Rufus X’s right to run in Belize Rural North in 1987. That was the critical moment in the UDP’s 1984 to 1989 term, when the party showed its true colors, so to speak. To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Thompson went missing-in-action.
The UWI graduates were patting themselves on the back for beating Rogers, even though the UDP lost in 1979, but the story was more complicated and intriguing than that. There were a bunch of PUP families who were transferred from Mesopotamia to Collet before the 1979 elections. Many of them had lived in the George Street “long barracks.” They were moved to better housing in the area now known as St. Martin’s, behind the St. Martin de Porres church and school. These families, who had been Lindy Rogers’ voters in Mesop, became Harry Courtenay’s margin of victory over Ken Tillett in 1979. Remember, he had beaten Tillett by just a single vote in 1974. (After the 1974 Collet race, the UDP had blamed Evan X Hyde’s 89 votes in the division for Tillett’s narrow defeat.) Rogers, who had won by 124 in 1974, lost by 90 in 1979. Add 124 and 90, you get 214. Courtenay, who had won by 1 in 74, but increased the margin to 224 in 1979, won with the votes which cost Rogers his seat. The stats don’t lie.
Today, the irony is that those families of Rogers’ voters who saved Harry Courtenay in 1979, are now the backbone of Cordel Hyde’s strength in Lake Independence. Cordel Hyde, by the way ain’t no rookie no more. He’s won Lake I in three consecutive general elections, and the PUP leaders will ignore him at their own peril. You can take that to the bank.
Back in Harry Courtenay’s days, the Collet constituency actually included most of what is now Queen’s Square, Collet, and Lake Independence. Preparing for the 1984 general elections, the PUP went into gerrymandering mode, and carved Collet into the three aforementioned parts. Since then, Queen’s Square has always gone UDP. The PUP have now lost Collet in two straight general elections. They’ve won Lake I three consecutive times, but the Lake I area representative is not on the PUP national executive.
The PUP is a party which is confused and living in a past which is no more. People are on the national executive who cannot face the people in an election. There are also rejects and untested youth. That is the definition of “special interests.” After a while, the PUP will figure things out, I suppose. They’re not stupid. Just sentimental.
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.