Editorial — 05 May 2018
ICJ referendum volatility

ST. MARY’S HALL, Mon. March 23 (1981)
A meeting of at least 500 members of the Public Service Union this evening after nearly three hours of discussion, decided by unanimous vote to issue an ultimatum to the Government of Belize – their employer: Government must offer a firm commitment to hold a referendum on the Heads of Agreement by March 30, 1981, or the PSU will strike for an “indefinite period.”
– from a pg. 5 story in AMANDALA No. 606 of Friday, March 27, 1981.

COROZAL TOWN, Thurs. April 2 (1981)
Shortly after 2:00 p.m. here, a demonstration held by the PUP during an all day riot by opposers of the Heads of Agreement was stoned by protestors. PUP militia men are reported to have opened fire with shotguns and rifles, killing Sylvino Riveroll, Sr., and injuring 9, some critically.
– from a pg. 1 story in AMANDALA No. 607 of Friday, April 3, 1981.

BELIZE CITY, Fri. April 3, (1981)
Banks in the former capital city reopened for business here this morning following the assumption of total power by British Governor James Patrick Hennessy yesterday afternoon through the declaration of a national state of emergency.

The admission of a political crisis in the nation follows days of protest, strikes, looting and a breakdown of law and order which had been pointedly ignored by Radio Belize and the international news media, whose stringers here are all PUP government employees.
– from the headline story (GUV’NA DA DI RULER) in AMANDALA No. 607 of Friday, April 3, 1981.

COLA’s media outburst on Wednesday, May 2, two days after the Government of Belize’s somewhat of a surprise announcement on Monday, April 30, that Belize’s national referendum on International Court of Justice (ICJ) arbitration for the Guatemalan claim to Belize will be held on Wednesday, April 10, 2019, suggests that the road from here to April 10, 2019 will be an increasingly bumpy one in The Jewel.

The fact of the matter is that $8 million is about to be introduced into the domestic discourse in Belize with the specific intention to have the Belizean people vote “yes” to going to the ICJ. We have been told for years that the money, subscribed by the international “Friends of Belize,” will be used to educate the people of Belize about the ICJ process and the precise choices facing us in the referendum. It is now pretty clear to the people of Belize, notoriously laid-back but also quite observant and analytical, that the “education” hype was a lie: the money has a message. That is why COLA went on the offensive Wednesday, and made threatening statements.

There are two generations of Belizeans who have come on our national scene since the Heads of Agreement provoked division, confrontation, and violence nationwide amongst the Belizean people in late March of 1981. Since that time, there have been violent incidents in places like the Tower Hill Bridge in Orange Walk and Benque Viejo/Succotz in Cayo, incidents in which the people have fought against our security forces, but these incidents have been confined to small areas in specific Districts. The Heads of Agreement was a national crisis, and when it reached gunfire flashpoint on Thursday, April 2, 1981, it was in Corozal Town, even though it was in Belize City that the drama had begun two weeks earlier.

 On the afternoon of that fateful April 2, 1981, with Belize on the brink of civil war following the death of Sylvino Riveroll in the streets of Corozal Town, the British Governor of Belize declared a state of emergency. It was under that said state of emergency that Belize gained political independence on September 21, 1981.

In March of 1981, the political landscape in Belize was a strange one. The then Opposition United Democratic Party (UDP), widely expected to win the general election held in late 1979, had collapsed after a 13-5 defeat at the hands of the ruling People’s United Party (PUP). The biggest reason the UDP collapsed was because, for the only time in the electoral history of Belize’s politics, the Leader of the Opposition, UDP Leader Dean Russell Lindo, lost his seat in the 1979 general election. The five UDP area representatives who had been elected to the House (two from Toledo; one from Dangriga; and two from Belize City) chose Dangriga’s Dr. Ted Aranda as new UDP Leader. But the financial backers of the UDP never supported Aranda.

When the pushback against the Heads of Agreement began after the document was read on Radio Belize, the government radio monopoly, on the night of March 16, 1981, the resistance was originally led by the Public Service Union (PSU). Consequent to that, a street movement was formed which was called the Belize Action Movement (BAM), and BAM’s poster man was Odinga Lumumba, a former UBAD activist in 1969 who had been deported from Ghana in December of 1980. With Lumumba, armed with a machete going around closing businesses in downtown Belize City, the students of Belize Technical College, led by the charismatic Soccorro Bobadilla, shut down the Technical campus and began marching to other campuses to shut down schools. Belize City became a battleground between BAM and Belize’s security forces.

There is an element from the old Albert Street taxi stand who have claimed that Lumumba’s role was overblown, but certainly Lumumba, Shubu Brown, Rodwell Pinks, Leroy Panting, Kenworth Tillett, and Sam Rhaburn, amongst others, became targets of the police and the Belize Defence Force (BDF). Lumumba, as we pointed out, had been a UBAD activist who became a Muslim after he returned to Britain and then moved to West Africa. Shubu Brown was a longstanding loyalist of former National Independence Party (NIP) Leader, Hon. Philip Goldson, who had become UDP Whip after the UDP absorbed the NIP in 1973. The militant street arm of the UDP, when it was led by Dean Lindo in the middle and late 1970s, had been the Youth Patriotic Front (YPF), whose loudest voice and direct liaison with Lindo had been the one Michael Finnegan. But when Lindo disappeared from the UDP following the 1979 general election defeat, so did Finnegan and the YPF. It is to be presumed, we submit, that Pinks, Panting, Tillett, and Rhaburn would have been influenced by the YPF.

The point of all the Heads of Agreement history presented in this essay is to set the table for what we may be looking at over the next year. The Opposition PUP of May 2018 is much, much better organized than the Opposition UDP was in March 1981, so it may be that there would be no need for ad hoc groups, like BAM and the Technical students, to form, and for unexpected leaders to emerge, as was the case in March of 1981. But, whatever the case, what we are saying is that there has not been such an issue like the ICJ referendum issue with the potential to divide the people of Belize emotionally since the Heads of Agreement in March of 1981.

From an overview standpoint, you know, one wonders what are the thoughts of the big people here who have a lot more to lose than us mere mortals. Take the Barry Bowen family, the Omario Perdomo family, and the Castillo/Arguelles family, for examples. These are believed to be closely linked with the ruling UDP, so, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, we assume that these people are thinking how the Barrow and Elrington families are thinking. But what about the Mennonites, the Chinese, and the Indians? In 1981, the Mennonites were not half the force they now are in Belize, so they could fly under the radar back then. The Chinese and the Indians were more blips on the Belizean screen in 1981. That has changed, beloved. All these people have become shot callers, as we would say, in 2018 Belize. No need to poll the Norwegian Cruise Line, the American Sugar Refiners, and the Santander of Belize’s corporate landscape for their ICJ opinion: these people are pro-ICJ.

These corporations are pro-ICJ because they are, in a sense, the local representatives of the Friends of Belize. International investors and corporations out there see us Belizeans as sitting on a pot of gold, and they know that we Belizeans are too divided and too naïve to take advantage of The Jewel’s natural resources. It is a paradoxical truism of Third World economics that bountiful natural resources are often a curse for native populations. The classic, tragic example of that truism is the nation-state formerly known as the Congo. The same is now true of Libya. Ditto Iraq. Consider Venezuela.

Why are bountiful natural resources a curse in the Third World? It is because of something called neoliberal capitalism, which is, for all practical purposes, inseparable from something we have described to you as international white supremacy. The most successful weapon these forces have used against us native populations, since slavery and colonialism, is religion. This has nothing to do with whether God exists or not, and it has nothing to do with what God wants us to believe and do or what God does not want us to believe and do. It has to do with money, which is the real God of neoliberal capitalism/international white supremacy. You have to get the sense.

Power to the people.  Long live Belize.

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Deshawn Swasey

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