This newspaper began in August of 1969 as the organ of a young, black-conscious organization which made three demands of the ruling PUP government. One demand was for the 18-year-old vote; the second was for radio time; and the third demand was for the teaching of African and Indian (Mayan) history in our schools.
At that time, black Belizeans were still clearly the majority of the population, but they had begun an exodus to the United States after Hurricane Hattie in 1961. Sugar cane was replacing mahogany and hardwoods as the colony’s leading export crop, and so economic power was moving from the Belize and Cayo Districts to the Orange Walk and Corozal Districts. Agriculture had become more important than traditional forestry.
Centuries before, the ancestors of Belize’s majority black population had been brought here as slaves to work in the forestry-based economy. In the latter half of the twentieth century, blacks were, for various reasons, unable or unwilling to make the transition to agriculture, and hence the post-Hattie migration to New York City, Chicago, and then Los Angeles.
Belize is a strange country, one reason being that it is a unique country. In considering Belize, the first thing you must note is that Belize is the only English-speaking country in Central America, and then you should remember that it was the only part of Central America which had a majority black population. Over the last 35 years, the demography here has changed dramatically: Belize’s black population is now a minority, and it is a marginalized minority. The masses of Belize’s black population, who built the settlement in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, are now fighting for survival in the modern Belize.
If you are a hard-line free market capitalist, or a Guatemala sympathizer, the background to present day reality means nothing to you. Alejandro Vernon, for instance, wrote in last weekend’s issue of The Reporter with reference to a recent Amandala editorial: “They prefer to reminiscence on the roots of crime in Southside Belize City and appear to justify the behavior today of the trouble-makers …”
Most of Belize’s gangs are located on the Southside of Belize City, and they are mostly black. The hard-line free market capitalists and the Guatemala sympathizers have recently begun calling for an all-out effort to “dismantle” the Belize City gangs. Days after this call was published in editorial form in the newspaper of the free market capitalists, a brutal attack was made last Monday night/Tuesday morning on elements of the leading Southside gang. Four of these elements had their throats slashed and their bodies mutilated in murders which shocked and frightened the nation. In the hours of trauma following the discovery of the bodies, schools and businesses closed down in the old capital, which is still the financial, education, and population center of the Belizean nation. The schools and businesses closed because they were afraid of retaliation from the gang.
Government of Belize moves to restore normalcy in the business and education districts featured a meeting with the relevant gang leaders in Belmopan on Tuesday morning and these leaders’ agreeing to leave the old capital for an unspecified length of time. It is believed that the gang leaders were also given cash money. Even though the GOB leadership felt they had no choice other than what they did, there has been a backlash of disapproval in various quarters against what some consider the appeasement of criminals. The fact that the relevant gang is located in a stronghold of the ruling party has added to the resentment of unsympathetic, law-abiding Belizeans.
The leadership of the Opposition PUP was, early on, seemingly supportive of government’s attempts to defuse the crisis, but on Wednesday the PUP began calling for a commission of inquiry into the murders. Our sources say that commissions of inquiry are not appropriate for straightforward violent crimes, but the PUP’s new position added substantially to Belmopan’s discomfiture, because it was obvious to most observers that the authorities’ early approaches to investigation appeared halting and uncertain.
We entitled this editorial, “Money and changes,” because we are looking at our Belizean situation from the overview. Powerful business and strategic forces outside of Belize have made certain decisions for the country’s future. These decisions include a trip to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to settle the Guatemalan claim to Belize, and the exploitation of what are generally believed to be important oil fields in and around Belize. For these objectives to be accomplished, the nation of Belize has to be “pacified.” Before an area is pacified with international approval, it has to be shown to be an area of insurgency.
We would say that the nation of Belize has been in crisis since last Tuesday morning because Belize City has been in crisis since last Tuesday morning. What is troubling is that in these times of crisis, the weakness of Belize’s nationalism is exposed. When we Belizeans should come together for strength, we become divided by Belizeans whose higher loyalty is to foreign states, religions, companies and concepts.
Though the days are hard, we trod on. We pray that this very dark hour is just before the dawn. Power to the people. Power in the struggle.