Editorial — 01 March 2017
What happened to the youth?

Black Power was the peculiarly African Caribbean response to an international revolutionary abertura that was captured, inter alia, in the Czechoslovakian Spring, the student uprisings in Mexico that were brutally suppressed preceding the Olympics; the tumultuous, revolutionary French student and worker strikes; the Tet offensive in Vietnam; the flourishing of the peace movement in the United States and Europe; and, of course, the North American Black Power movement. All were focused around that remarkable year, 1968.

– pg. 262, BLACK POWER IN THE CARIBBEAN, edited by Kate Quinn, University Press of Florida, 2014, from an essay by Brian Meeks entitled BLACK POWER FORTY YEARS ON – AN INTRODUCTION.

We have pointed out to you before in these editorial pages that the role being played by the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU) in the activist forefront of our socio-politics properly belongs to the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP), in the first instance, and to the young people of Belize, in the second.

The PUP was a roots, labor union-based political party which was taken over by big money over the last quarter century, say. The PUP of 2017 is not the PUP of 1950, or the PUP of 1969. It is not even the PUP of 1981, because in 1981 the social justice PUP Leader, Rt. Hon. George Price, was still in effect. The PUP today does not have the roots credibility the party was enjoying in 1950, 1969, and even 1981.

The question of the young people of Belize is the question with which we are concerned today. We need to look at some modern-era history here, and we wish to preface our remarks by saying that we want to open a discussion: we do not wish to pontificate. But, facts are stubborn things, as it is said.

The year 1968 was an explosive year in Belize, in the United States, and in fact all over planet earth. In early 1968, America mediator Bethuel Webster formally introduced the Seventeen Proposals in Washington, D.C. His proposals were a United States State Department blueprint for a solution to the Anglo-Guatemalan dispute over the territory of Belize, a solution which would allow Belize, which had become a self-governing colony in 1964, to move forward to independence. Belizeans reacted to the Seventeen Proposals with street violence. In early April of 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Black Americans reacted with street violence. In Paris, in Berlin, in Mexico City, in Kingston, street violence was a feature of 1968. Many young people died in 1968, especially in Mexico City.

In late 1968, a group of Belizean university graduates, the most prominent of which were Assad Shoman, Said Musa, and Evan X Hyde, began organizing a demonstration which was unprecedented in the colony. There were few university graduates here at the time, and they had never marched in the streets.

As a kind of upshot of that original January 1969 demonstration against the Vietnam War, two organizations soon emerged – first the United Black Association for Development (UBAD), and then the People’s Action Committee (PAC), led by Shoman and Musa. In October of 1969, UBAD, led by Evan X Hyde, and PAC entered a coalition, but that coalition collapsed in January of 1970, at which point PAC began to fade off the national activist scene. (At some point, Shoman and Musa were absorbed into the PUP, because they became PUP candidates in the general election of October 1974.)

UBAD, however, remained a potent street force, reaching a peak of activist power between May and September of 1972. UBAD, which had become a political party in August of 1970 following the Supreme Court sedition trial of Evan X Hyde and Ismail Shabazz (they were defended at that trial by Shoman and Musa), had participated in the December 1971 Belize City Council election as a junior partner in coalition with the official Opposition Party – Hon. Philip Goldson’s National Independence Party (NIP).

It is critical to remember that in 1971 the voting age here was 21, so that many of the young Belizeans who supported UBAD were disenfranchised. It was not until 1978 that the ruling PUP decided to yield to an original UBAD demand and move the voting age down to 18.

The fact of the matter was that UBAD enjoyed massive credibility with Belize City young people between early 1969 and early 1973, and the gang violence which is decimating Southside youth would have been unthinkable in the UBAD era. It is true that there was no cocaine trade in Belize between 1969 and 1973, and in Belize City young people were not involved in the growing marijuana business. Still, it is interesting to speculate what would have happened if UBAD had held together.

The fact is that UBAD split in two at the leadership level in early 1973, half of its leadership in effect voting to support the so-called Unity Congress, which included the NIP, the People’s Development Movement (PDM), and a new Liberal Party. The Unity Congress formally became the United Democratic Party (UDP) in September of 1973.

The non-UDP half of UBAD, led by President Evan X Hyde, disbanded itself in November of 1974, and it is out of that section that Kremandala has emerged, a business and activist force on Belize City’s Southside.

Returning to the issue of Belizean youth, after UBAD the most dramatic uprising of Belizean young people was led in 1981 by the students of Belize Technical College, the only non-religious high school and Sixth Form in the population center. The youth were rejecting the Heads of Agreement, which was introduced to the Belizean people in March of 1981.

Five or six years later, following the spraying of Belize’s marijuana fields with paraquat in 1985, Belizean youth were attacked by crack cocaine, almost immediately followed by the organization of gangs, originally along Crips and Bloods lines copied from Los Angeles and other American inner cities. It is noteworthy that American cable television had been introduced into Belize in 1982, and the new industry soon found itself to be completely unregulated. It is reasonable to say that the combination of cable television, crack cocaine, and gangs has destroyed socio-political activism amongst Belizean youth.

The point we would make here is that the UDP has won five different general elections since 1984, and all of us know how powerful ruling parties are in Belize. There has never been the slightest indication from any UDP government that they have a serious desire or intention to reverse the catastrophic damage to our youth caused by cable television, crack cocaine, and gangs.

Our thesis is that the UDP betrayed those UBAD leaders who supported its foundation in 1973. This may not seem like a big deal, although one of those pro-UDP leaders from UBAD, Rufus X, publicly denounced the party in 1988. The UDP betrayal of UBAD is, however, a big, big deal, because black youth continue to murder each other and are sentenced to jail in sociological conditions which are more civil war than civilian life on the Southside. It is many, many years now that conscious, concerned, black activist leaders should have come together, both in Belize and in the diaspora, to recognize the emergency and address it in some way. This has not happened, and one of the reasons it has not is because the UDP continues to portray itself as standing for black youth. The record, however, suggests otherwise.

From 1969 to 1973, there was a UBAD. Now there are only guns and knives and grenades and blood and prison cells. Let those who have the political and legal power today, answer the question: what happened to the youth?

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