If you listen to the reggae and dance hall lyrics coming out of Jamaica, you will often hear direct, serious criticisms of politicians coming from Jamaican composers. To those of us who believe we understand how parliamentary democracy works, the attitude of those Jamaican composers may seem negative and defeatist. In achieving functional democracy, what else is there besides party politics and politicians?
Jamaica’s base situation was always more dire than Belize’s during slavery and colonialism, because Jamaica is half Belize’s size but has to provide for eight or nine times as many people as live in Belize. Less had to feed more in Jamaica.
Rastafarianism, a set of religious beliefs which emerged in Jamaica in the early 1930s, is like all other religions in that Rastas look to a supernatural force, Jah Rastafari, for the ultimate solutions to the problems of daily life, those problems being mostly socio-economic. Rastas are very focused on the Bible, especially on the Old Testament; their belief system is a complex one. The bottom line is that Rastas see party politicians as a fundamental aspect of that odious system which Rastas refer to as “Babylon system,” which is to say, a system of governance owned and controlled by the same elements which enslaved their ancestors and oppress them in the present reality.
Rastafarians believe that the campaign promises offered by politicians are illusory. Historically, religion has often served as a solace to those human populations which are suffering. Christianity, for instance, began among the Jewish people, who were waiting for a Messiah to deliver them from under the yoke of the Roman Empire. The Jews believed that their God would deliver them from the oppression of the Romans. When they found out that Jesus Christ was teaching a spiritual salvation as opposed to temporal deliverance, many Jews turned against Christ. But, the religion has survived, and, of course, grown. Rastas believe in Jah and Haile Selassie I, but it is not precisely clear how their deliverance from Babylon system will occur.
In Belize, a majority of our citizens continue to believe in one of the two major political parties – the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) and the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP). Most Belizean citizens subscribe to some sort of Christian theology, so the leaders of the UDP and the PUP both give explicit allegiance to the Christian God. There are many areas of similarity between the PUP and the UDP, so much so that this newspaper sometimes refers to them as “PUDP.”
When this newspaper began in 1969 as the organ of a cultural movement, we scrupulously avoided party politics. But six months after we began publishing Amandala, the ruling PUP charged us with sedition, a political crime. Although we were acquitted in the Supreme Court, the experience intimidated us to the point where we felt we had to join the orthodox political fray in order to defend ourselves from future political aggression.
Our experiences in electoral politics post-sedition were exciting but unproductive, until one of the major parties, the then ruling PUP, decided in 1977 that they wanted the support of our small constituency of 4 percent. Since that time, Amandala has been a relatively mainstream publication. We are not a religion. Perhaps more important, we have never allowed ourselves to be controlled by any of the two major political parties.
By now, Belizeans should have seen that there is a limit to the ability of electoral politics to transform the socio-economic conditions we inherited from colonial British Honduras. Belizeans should be able to appreciate why Rastafarians excoriate the politicians. The reality is that Jamaica and Belize both came out of crushing British colonialism, Jamaica in 1962 and Belize in 1981, and the people who were at the base of the pyramid then are at the base of the pyramid now. There are elite ruling classes who have consolidated and increased their wealth and power, while allowing a few politicians and attorneys to join them. There is an overwhelming amount of corruption, violence and despair in Belize in 2017.
The thing is that, theoretically, we Belizeans should be able to liberate ourselves through party politics. We Belizeans should be able to improve our living conditions through electoral politics, but only theoretically. And because of that theoretical possibility, it has never occurred to the masses of Belizeans to go the route of revolution as Mexico did in 1910, Cuba did in 1959, and Nicaragua and Grenada did in 1979. No, we Belizeans continue to vote and pray, and pray and vote. We leave everything to God.
The corruption, violence and despair are right before our eyes, but we find ourselves the victims of a political system which empowers elected politicians to the point where they become like gods over us. We have seen the same thing happen with PUP governments and with UDP governments. The governments of Belize are too powerful.
This newspaper has suggested a change to a system of proportional representation, where we could replace governments in mid-stream, as it were. No one has responded to our suggestion. Belize continues on its journey to absolute mediocrity and failed state status.
Under the present political system, where the two political parties are so powerful, no individual citizen or small non-political group can begin anything positive for their community without being crushed between the UDP and the PUP. We should take the previous statement back. There is a single exception to the rule, and that is Dara Robinson. Maximum respect is due to the one Dara. It does appear that Dara is a Rastafarian, so perhaps his is a case where Jah has answered upliftment prayers.
Power to Dara, and power to the people.