The anti-British colonialism vibes of the nationalist revolution in Belize were also pro-American vibes. Belizeans who travelled to Panama to work during the 1930s/1940s had been struck by the grand nature of American planning and construction in Panama. The Americans did not do things in the cheap, niggardly way in which the British had always operated in Belize. Belizeans became impressed with America, and even more disappointed with Britain.
George Price’s boss in old Belize City, Bob Turton, sold his chicle to P. K. Wrigley in Chicago, and our sources say Mr. Turton and Mr. Price travelled together to New Orleans often, to transact banking business there or on their way to Chicago, where Wrigley’s chewing gum headquarters were located, or to New York City and Boston, where Mr. Turton was doing some of his mahogany business.
Mr. Turton’s chief business rival in British Honduras was the Belize Estate and Produce Company (BEC), and BEC was, of course, always favored by the British colonial establishment in Belize. Bob Turton, the illegitimate son of a British army officer and a Creole lady, had to quit school at the age of 9 and fend for himself. He became British Honduras’ second native multimillionaire, after Isaiah Morter, who had made his fortune in coconuts.
After World War II, the British were devaluing local currencies all over their colonial empire; after all, the colonies were expected to help pay British war expenses. A rebellious mood developed in Belize, the low-profile ringleader being Turton, who was doing the most business with the United States and had the most to lose from a devaluation of the Belize dollar, which stood on par with the U.S. dollar. The British made promises to appease the Belizeans, but then on December 31, 1949, John Bull struck: the Belize dollar became seventy cents on the U.S. dollar.
BEC had been advised what would happen, so that Turton, by comparison, lost much more money than BEC did. The old man was irate. Overall, Belizeans’ pride and pocketbooks had been grievously hurt. The People’s Committee was immediately formed to “bring back wi dalla,” and in September of 1950 its leaders established the People’s United Party (PUP).
When the nationalist rebellion against the British began, the masses of the Belizean people had no idea how magnificent the natural resources of Belize really were. We certainly knew nothing about petroleum deposits here. All Belizeans wanted to do was fight against devaluation’s deterioration in their standard of living, and keep on struggling for a better life.
The real point of this essay is that there was no point at which the leadership of the majority Creole population in Belize realized that an emergency situation was developing, involving the depletion of Belize’s hardwoods, which would threaten the core socio-economic stability of the Creoles and lead to the gang wars of the last quarter century.
The emergency solution to hard times was migration to the United States. For historical and other reasons, participating in agriculture was not a Creole option, even when it became clear in the 1960s that agriculture had replaced forestry as the country’s mainstay.
The Protestant Creole education system on the Southside remained locked in the traditional liberal arts/clerical mindset even as the Catholic Northside schools were venturing into business and other subjects which were considered experimental in the 1950s in the colony.
If a Creole crisis was not completely evident by the 1960s, it was plain for everyone to see by the 1980s. And today, all we can do is ask, with blank stares on our faces: what happened? The ball game changed, beloved, and we kept bringing the same gears to the game.
There was an elite Creole professional class, primarily attorneys, who became wealthy here in the last four decades, and there are powerful Creole political leaders in place. But the masses of the Creole people are in bad shape. The situation began to become an absolute emergency in the late 1980s.
The solution, we have always submitted, lies in immediate, radical restructuring of the education system. But the people who are our leaders were educated by that system, and they can see nothing fundamentally wrong with it. They have a bourgeois mentality. So, the question they keep asking is: why isn’t it working for you when it worked for me? Well, one reason is that there are only so many attorneys you can have in a country if your economy is to be productive and cutting-edge.
The British designed the education system in British Honduras to produce native clerks to run their government departments. When the ball game began to change with the depletion of the forests, no one really came to grips with modern economic realities. There was too much personality politics, and religion was more important than revolution.
My successful brothers and sisters, talk to me. I have no choice but to make this personal. When I set aside my bourgeois education and made a revolutionary commitment 45 years ago, many of you felt that I had gone mad. But, it was a case where circumstances had chosen me to take on a very difficult, perhaps impossible, assignment. In 1969 you absolutely could not see what I was seeing, because you were not experiencing the cruel realities of those who chose to support me, and because you yourselves had solid bourgeois opportunities. So then, you went on to make it happen for yourselves: meanwhile, what happened to your people? The struggle goes on.
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.