We speak of the concept of democracy as if it represents a Holy Grail, as if it is something which should solve our problems as a people. As Belize’s socio-economic problems have persisted, and indeed grown worse, through our 32 years of political independence, serious citizens of high intellectual capacity have focused on the precise nature of our “parliamentary democracy” in the quest for a better kind of government (“governance”, as they say), or in the search for changes which would reform the present system, make it a better system for all concerned.
The Government of Belize which was elected to office in August of 1998 was expected to be a government of logic and progressive thinking. PUP Leader Said Musa had put together a group of qualified minds to surround and advise him, and many of these qualified minds became Cabinet Ministers in his first administration. Because of the aura of intellectual freedom surrounding the first Musa administration, a so-called “reform movement” was organized in “civil society” to discuss how we were governed. The movement featured people like Godwin Hulse, Francis Gegg, Patrick Rogers, and several more.
Sometime in 1996, twenty two years after the formal dissolution of the United Black Association for Development (UBAD) in late 1974, a group of us had established the UBAD Educational Foundation (UEF). The founders of UEF included former UBAD officers, such as myself, Wilfred Nicholas, Sr., Ismail Shabazz, Lillette “Nzinga” Barkley-Waite, and Edgar X Richardson. One of the UEF founders was a man who had never been a UBAD officer, Dr. Leroy Taegar, but he quickly became the foremost intellect in UEF, a guru, and UEF’s most important spokesman.
The urgent reason for the formal organization of UEF in 1996 was to establish a legitimate, authentic organization to represent the Creole people in the newly formed Central American Black Organization (CABO). The Garifuna people of Belize were being represented in CABO by their National Garifuna Council (NGC), led by Augustine Flores at the time, and it appeared that Mr. Flores’ first inclination was to have a new National Kriol Council (NKC), led by Silvana Woods, represent the Creoles in CABO. In other words, UEF had to be organized when it was organized.
I suppose I should have attended at least one of the meetings of the reform movement I referred to in the second paragraph of this column, but I never did. From the beginning of the reform movement, UEF was represented by Edgar X Richardson. I think the then UEF chairlady, Nzinga Barkley-Waite, may have attended reform movement meetings. What intrigues me today is that, to the best of my knowledge, Leroy Taegar never became a voice in the new reform movement, as he properly should have. I am at a loss, and am totally willing to be enlightened on this matter.
Anyway, “democracy” is a system of movement in which the people are supposed to be the rulers, and what “the people” really means is THE MAJORITY of the people, as expressed in free and fair elections in which adult electors vote for their leadership choices. Elections enter the picture because it would be awfully clumsy if one tried to bring the people together for every single decision, so as to obtain a majority vote for each and every issue. So then, democracy in Belize involves national elections every five years in which we give everyday, constitutional power over us to the political party which gains the majority of the seats in free and fair elections.
What happened with the first Musa administration, which had inspired so much hope in progressive Belizeans on its ascension to power, was that the leadership had been compromised from before they were elected by the wealthy people who had financed the PUP’s 1998 general election campaign. Pure democracy is historically compromised in Belize because the expensive nature of political campaigning means that the political parties have to sell their souls to the money people. “One man, one vote” is an empty slogan: the reality on the ground is “big money, many votes.”
In our editorial last weekend, we spoke of the fact that Belize’s “strategic location” essentially blinded us to the reality of our development potential. Our short term opportunities impressed us more than the long term necessity for human and resource development.
In conversation with my father recently, he said something which threw some light on the career fate of Cornelius Patrick “Pat” Cacho, a brilliant and nationalist development economist in the years leading up to self-government in 1964. Mr. Cacho left Belize in the mid-1960s to become a successful economist at the World Bank, but a piece of his heart is still in Belize. My dad mentioned the name of a PUP Cabinet Minister from those years whom I knew to have been a board member of James Brodie and Company, Limited, one of Belize’s most powerful merchant houses.
The prominent merchant houses in Belize were never interested in any kind of real development for Belize, because such development had to feature agriculture and agri-industries. The wealth of these merchant houses had been made and was being made off importing foodstuffs from abroad. So then, inside the early PUP leadership was a representative of interests which were, on business principle, directly opposed to the most fundamental form of Belizean development.
Democracy in Belize is a rule of the money, not a rule of the people. We have seen that time and time again since 1961. When the British granted us “one man, one vote” in 1954, however, this was a time when the Belizean people had the utmost faith in the democratic process, and that process allowed them to vote resoundingly for the PUP in the historic national election of April 1954. By 1964, however, when self-government was granted to Belize, the forces of money had begun to “restore order” in Belize, so to speak.
As I wrote this Sunday morning, I began to feel that the period between 1954 and 1964 was an extraordinarily important decade for us Belizeans, and there is no one who has ever written about it from the perspective of the senior civil servants. I respectfully call on Mr. Cacho to use modern technology to give us some insight into this period.
Mr. Pat Cacho is a man from my father’s generation. I always held him in big respect, one reason being that he was a Garifuna of self-assertive pride in a time, five and six decades ago, when successful Garifuna people were more defensive than he.
There is nothing like the written word, the published word, to ensure that our ideas are preserved for future generations to consider. The written word is dangerous to oppressors, which is why the Spanish priests tried to burn as many of the Maya books as they could. The written word connects the past with the future, and enables those of us in the present to inform those who will come after us. In so doing, we empower Belize’s future generations in a way which assures national authenticity in our information base.
Power to the people.