“On the next day, the 9th, sports were held in the Contingents’ honor at Newtown Barracks … the sports on the 9th only served to remind the men that their real status in their own society had in no way changed. The sports field at the Barracks was overlooked by the capital’s various social clubs – the preserve of the white-Creole elite – and, on that day, afternoon tea was served on the various verandahs to white store owners, Creole mahogany contractors and the dignitaries of the Colonial Administration.”
– RACE RIOT, CLASS WARFARE, AND COUP D’ETAT: THE EX-SERVICEMEN’S RIOT OF JULY 1919, Peter David Ashdown
The Southside of Belize City first went against the PUP in the Belize City Council election of December of 1974, when the UDP won 6 CitCo seats to the PUP’s 3. In the December 1977 CitCo election, the UDP won all 9 seats in a landslide victory. Then, in the general elections of 1979, the UDP won 2 of the then 3 Southside seats in the House of Representatives, with their Philip Goldson winning Albert and their Curl Thompson winning Mesopotamia. (The PUP’s Harry Courtenay retained the Collet seat.)
The number of Southside seats was expanded to 6 for the 1984 general election, and the UDP won all 6, winning 9 out of 10 seats in the old capital overall.
What did Belize City get out of its massive support for the UDP in 1984? We got the alienation of the Barracks real estate, which had been a historic commons, and we were forced to watch the Barracks’ conversion into hotels, casinos, and private construction. This was a betrayal of the majority roots people of Belize City, and it was initiated and organized by the United Democratic Party, the same party which half of the UBAD executive had decided to support in 1973, thus destroying the latter organization.
It was about 15 years ago, after the UDP Ramada Hotel had become the PUP Princess Casino under the first Said Musa government of the PUP, that the MCC Grounds became forfeit in the minds of the Cabinet, because the casino needed more parking space.
When my second son, Cordel, became Minister of Education and Sports in the Musa government of 1998 to 2003, he and I did very little talking. There were two huge issues where there was mental telepathy, however, to borrow a Press Cadogan phrase. The first was my discovery in December of 1999, just weeks after being elected as board chairman of the University College of Belize, that there had been a Cabinet decision to amalgamate five tertiary level institutions and establish a national university – the University of Belize. Such a proposition had been initiated in 1984, and it had failed. Pretty much on my own, I decided that I had to do my best to help UB reach its August 2000 deadline, or my son would be embarrassed.
The second matter involved MCC Grounds. Cordel didn’t need anyone to tell him that our family was massively opposed to any violation of the Garden, and it is clear that in his tenure as Sports Minister he resisted any suggestions in the direction of violation. In fact, it was he who rebuilt the so-called Ragamuffin Bleachers in the southwestern end of the MCC.
It was during the Mayoralty of the UDP’s Zenaida Moya that serious attacks on the MCC playing surface were launched. In her first term, which began in 2006, Ms. Moya began to use the MCC for the CitCo’s Municipal Fair. Her popularity was great at that time. No one inside or outside of the UDP said anything. It was downhill for the MCC from then, until last year.
I’m trying to say something to you like this. Beginning in 1974, the voters of Belize City, especially on the Southside, began to move away from the PUP to the UDP. The question is now: what do we have to show for it? I would say, eeny meeny, miny mo. Jack s—t.
There are bigger factors involved here than PUDP party politics and musical chairs. Younger generations of Belizeans will not understand how massive December 1984 was in a psychological sense. The majority of Belizeans wanted desperately to see a change of government, if only to see what it felt like. The PUP had been in power for too long, and a change had to come.
The change was only symbolic, however, a matter of colors, from blue to red. What did not change was international white supremacy and the greed of their predatory investment capital. Our Belizean reality is that decisions are made in foreign capitals and then sent to Belize for implementation. We Belizeans do not control our destiny.
The one thing we know about the Barracks is that it existed in 1919, when our Ex-servicemen revolted. On the western side of the Barracks were clubs for the British expatriates. On the southern side of the expats was the Newtown Club, where the Creole native elite did their relaxing. From their clubs, the colonial and native upper classes watched horse races and athletic competitions on the Barracks green in front of them.
(The Pickwick Club used to be on North Front Street by the riverside, on the southern side of the present Musa law office/Image Factory. The Pickwick featured those Mestizos who were becoming a business elite.)
Roots Creoles swam in the Caribbean Sea in front of the Barracks green, played cricket games on weekends on the green against the expats and the native elite, and trained for various sports on the green. At the time the UDP sold the Barracks to Ramada, weekday evenings used to feature pickup football games on the green.
Hurricane Greta in 1978 seriously damaged the old wooden Newtown Club building. It was never repaired. I don’t know if the Pickwick had already moved to where the expat clubs used to be. The days of the big time Creole mahogany contractors were over by then, so the Newtown Club members were attorneys, high ranking public officers, and their guests.
In a foreign capital somewhere, some people around a table decided that the economy of Belize would now feature tourism, with the Belizean forests having been depleted. Instructions were sent to the new UDP Prime Minister, Esquivel, and the Barracks became the Ramada. In 1998, new instructions were sent, to the new PUP Prime Minister, Musa, and the Ramada became the Princess. Instructions specifically for the MCC were later sent to the new Belize City Mayor, Moya, in the third millennium. But, after serious damage had been done, those instructions entered a kind of limbo. Some of the Belize City people finally began to realize that we were digging our own grave. Presently, here is where the matter stands.