Though in pain and anguish I lie
I shall never die
‘cause I am AMANDALA: I am Freedom.
Though like ancient Illium
Damaged by Hellenic warriors: I shall never die,
‘cause I am AMANDALA: I am Justice.
Like Washington at Valley Forge
Bloodied but unbowed, I trudge on.
I shall never die
‘cause I am AMANDALA: I am Liberty.
Like Joan of Arc on the stake at Rouen
I shall never die: I shall live on,
‘cause I am AMANDALA: I am Power.
And yet like Ulysses of old
After many trials: I shall survive,
To return home: to my people; to my country,
‘cause I am AMANDALA: I am a Patriot.
(Signed) The Indian, Toledo District
AMANDALA No. 743, Friday, September 30, 1983
Before his assassination in 1961, Rafael Trujillo, the absolute dictator of the Dominican Republic, had been in a quarrel with the Roman Catholic Church. At one point in his historical novel, The Feast of the Goat, Mario Vargas Llosa, a Nobel Literature Prize Laureate from Peru, has one of Trujillo’s top aides quietly point out to him thusly, with respect to the Church: “They have not been beaten in two thousand years.”
The Roman Catholic Bishop in Belize, the Very Rev. Dorick Wright, has gone on the offensive recently against militant women’s movements and non-governmental organizations which are pushing birth control, abortion, condom use, and radical gender policies. My sources feel that the Bishop, who is a diabetic and experiencing serious vision problems, is being “wound up” by a couple aggressive and prominent members of the Catholic laity. But the Bishop has been coming on strong for some while, which is to say that his press releases the last few weeks are not out of character. We have to believe the Bishop knows fully and exactly well what he is doing.
Because the Roman Catholic Church is the largest religious denomination in Belize, hence in control of the most votes, and because the United States and the European Union are pushing all the agendas which the Catholic Bishop is attacking, the local politicians are walking on a tightrope, especially the ruling politicians who are responsible for ensuring that American and European aid packages keep on coming here.
It is in situations like these that one must appreciate the analytical and operational skills of successful politicians. One Deputy Leader of the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP), for instance, chose to side openly with the Bishop last week, but the chances are she would have been more circumspect if she were in a governing Cabinet, responsible, to repeat, for ensuring that American and European aid packages keep on coming here. The thing is, it is almost impossible to go wrong politically in Belize if one chooses to endorse any relevant position of the Catholic Church.
As the 21-year-old president of the United Black Association for Development (UBAD) in 1969, I entered into a conflict with the Roman Catholic Church in Belize. I was not a politician, and had no intention of entering electoral politics. That is why I could afford to do what I did – challenge the Church where the educational curriculum in its schools was concerned, with specific reference to African and Maya history.
In 1969, Belize was a self-governing British colony. We had been self-governing for five years, but full independence had been delayed, and in fact would go on being delayed for another twelve years. Looking back, I would say that one of the most colonial areas of Belizean life in 1969 was the school system.
You will never see a photograph of the security council in Belize, because there are representatives of the United Kingdom and the United States on that council, and Belize is supposed to be totally sovereign. Similarly, to the best of my knowledge, there has never been a photograph of the education council in Belize, one reason being that the big Christian churches are prominent on that council, and they are functionally independent of the government and people of Belize where their curricula are concerned. In other words, the representatives of foreign-established church organizations decide what is taught and what can be taught to the children of Belize. Straight up.
In the summer of 1968, I applied for a position which had become vacant at the Belize Teachers College. It was the first job I sought after returning from university. The job called for a Master’s degree, and I only had a Bachelor’s. But, I felt I could handle it. I don’t remember any details, except that there weren’t a lot of job vacancies around. And I had experienced a personal emergency which required me to begin earning money.
I remember being interviewed by the education bosses of Belize. These included the aforementioned representatives of the major churches and their schools, and officials from the Education Department. There were probably about fifteen people interviewing me. These were the people who were responsible for making sure Belizean children learned only what was “safe” for them to know.
I was, of course, turned down for the job. But two or three weeks later, Clive Gillett, the principal of Belize Technical College, came to offer me a post teaching English at his institution. The incumbent English teacher, Joey Belisle, had received a scholarship to do a degree at the University of the West Indies.
In several ways, the Belize Technical College was the exception to the education rule in Belize. Firstly, it was the only government high school, no religious affiliation. Secondly, it was science and technology committed, no liberal arts. Thirdly, my opinion was that it had a larger percentage of students from the Districts and villages than any other Belize City high school. Technical was special, unique. It was also the youngest high school, being only 17 years old in 1969.
Now this column is not about Technical. But I won’t apologize for straying: Technical was the most important Belizean education experiment in my lifetime, it was a sensational success, but it was never supported the way it should have been, the main reason being, to my mind, that Technical did not have a church supporting it. When I was diverted, I was trying to make the point that I saw the education council for myself in the summer of 1968. Because I was young and revolutionary, I was not intimidated the way I should have been.
Today, I am a senior citizen and responsible for businesses, not revolutionary organizations. After more than four decades of conflict, the Church and I entered a truce last year. Right now, I’m not about to get into any fight with Bishop Wright. He is a bigger man than I. Essentially, I reject the concept of birth control, as the Church does, but I’m not as hard line as the Church is on abortion and homosexuality. These are lifestyle choices and personal preferences, I think.
African and Maya history was a different matter, and it still is. If I had to fight the Church again on this issue, I would. It should be noted here and now that my personal perspectives are less important at this newspaper than they used to be. Amandala has become bigger than I. There are ideas and opinions being published here which I do not share. This is the real. Sometimes, I have to swallow and accept.
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.