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A golden age lost

EditorialA golden age lost

The nationalist, anti-colonial People’s United Party (PUP) began in September of 1950 in Belize City, the then capital city, and spread, most importantly, north, and west and south. We say the PUP’s spread to the north was most important, because the citizens of the Belizean north would prove to be the most serious, militant, organized, and hard-working of the Belizean revolution.

When the PUP began in 1950, Belize City featured one third of the population of British Honduras, and all the banking, media, secondary education, and public services were based in the capital city. Only Belize City had electricity and telephones and any real medical services. There was no way you could start a national political party in those days if you did not start it in Belize City.

Now the settlement of Belize, which had become British Honduras in 1862, had essentially begun on the delta of the Haulover Creek of the Belize Old River when pirates, taking refuge inside the Barrier Reef from those who hunted them, began to rest, fish, gather fresh water, and repair their vessels inside what we now know as the Belize City harbor. In the beginning, the banks of the Haulover Creek were all mangrove swamp. Little by little, the visitors began to cut down the swamps, fill the land, and build housing.

At some point, they realized that logwood was plentiful in the area, and there was a market in Europe for logwood, which was used for dye before the invention of synthetic dyes. All this was taking place in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, when the pirates made a transition from their lives as buccaneers to become woodcutters. Their hearts, of course, remained piratical. This was the beginning of Belize.

In the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, there was a point where the new woodcutters changed their focus from logwood to mahogany and cedar, and they began going further and further west up the Belize Old River in search of these trees, which they floated down to the Belize City harbor for shipment to Europe and North America.

Belize City was their warehouse, their rum shop, their harbor, their haven and their home. (At one point, the elite settlers made St. George’s Caye their home.) The woodcutters began to purchase African slaves to work in the forest along the Belize Old River, and it was in Belize City that those slaves were chained and bound.

So, in a nutshell, this is how Belize City, as low and swampy as it is, became the settlement/colony’s capital city. It was where the money and the action were.

All slaves, and they were the majority of the Belize City population, were freed in 1838, and they set about making lives as free people. All the skills they acquired and occupations they took on were related to the economic development, based on forestry, on the Haulover Creek delta. So now, free, working Belizeans became shipwrights, seamen, fishermen,butchers, machinists, mechanics, blacksmiths, tinsmiths, carpenters, cabinet makers, tailors, seamstresses, shoemakers, and so on. Don Hector Silva has said there was a similar kind of economic activity in Cayo municipalities like Benque Viejo, where there emerged artisans and skilled people to take care of a municipality’s immediate, pressing needs. So, this was how it was in Belize City, pretty much a self-contained entity, when the nationalist revolution began in 1950. Cayo was the most important destination for Belize City back then, because Cayo became where you were finding the hardwood trees, as you moved further and further west. This is the symbolism and the mystique of the Holy Saturday Cross Country.

But, there was trouble straight ahead, even as the nationalist revolution was beginning. The forests of Belize were on the point of depletion. The British and the Belizean contractors had cut trees and shipped logs, but they had not replanted the trees. The economics of the colony was about to experience a seismic shift, from forestry to agriculture. It was the Belizeans of the north who adapted best to that shift, because they had come out of an agricultural tradition in the Yucatán. And it was in the north that the PUP government’s major industrialization effort – the Tower Hill sugar factory, would be sited in the early-mid 1960s.

In 1969, just 19 years after the nationalist revolution had begun in Belize City, an organized challenge to the nationalist party began, spontaneously, in the capital city. That organized challenge was called the United Black Association for Development (UBAD). We can see, in retrospect, that it was not really the PUP’s fault: UBAD was a result of frustration caused by the swift deterioration in the forestry-based economics of the city and the colony. Compared to what we have seen happen amongst the city’s black youth over the last 25 years, and what we have seen has been a carnage, the years of UBAD, from 1969 to 1972, were a golden age of unity and solidarity amongst the city’s black youth. That golden age collapsed in early 1973 primarily because there was no economics to sustain it. Thus ended the last hurrah of Belize City youth.

The mid-week edition of Amandala reported on Tuesday that there has been a 50% drop in the murder rate amongst Belize City’s youth. This is a remarkable statistic, and it has been greeted with great relief and happiness amongst older citizens in the old capital. The drop in the murder rate has taken place because the Government of Belize has found different ways to create economic activity amongst the chronically unemployed and desperate youth in the city.

There are two things we would say here. The first is that this specialized economic activity by GoB will be difficult to sustain, in financial terms, but at the same time it will also be next to impossible, socio-politically speaking, for the Government of Belize not to so sustain. The second thing is that Belize’s educational system, cold talk, requires a drastic restructuring, because it is the manifest failure of that educational system which has led to murderous violence amongst city youth.

In the New World Order’s scheme of things, two decisions appear to have been made a couple decades ago. One is that Belize’s competitive advantage lies in tourism, and the second is that Belize City’s youth are expendable. We categorically reject these two theses. The Government of Belize has accepted the first thesis, that tourism is the way to go, but has now, because of self-interest, hedged its bets where the second thesis is concerned, that Belize City’s youth are expendable.

Our personal thesis at this newspaper is this, and it is a leaf taken out of the cañeros’ book: there is no substitute for hard work and a man must never sacrifice his dignity. Thus endeth the lesson.

Power to the people.

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