“On 30 May 1969, Curacao’s capital, Willemstad, was in flames. A labor conflict that erupted into a revolt ended with the deployment of Dutch marines to restore order. Once the smoke had cleared, part of the historical city lay in ruins. The long-term consequences of this revolt were to be far-reaching.”
“A few individuals, like the progressive priest Amado Romer, had warned of a possible outburst. Yet despite such warnings and recurrent demonstrations organized by the Vitó group, the revolt of 30 May came as a complete surprise to almost everyone on the island. The local government seemed to believe that a gradual improvement of the economic situation would resolve the discord, and hence tended to downplay its significance. In the Netherlands, only a few were concerned with the Caribbean parts of the kingdom at all and even those had no idea what was brewing. Even the Antillean and Dutch security forces were taken completely off their guard by the revolt.”
“Thee Amigo identified the cause of the outburst as ‘the festering feeling of uncertainty (…) of the ordinary man, the – misplaced or otherwise – realization that he is no more than a ball being tossed around by the lucrative arbitrariness of impersonal powers, which keep on growing as he becomes disproportionately smaller.’”
– pgs. 243, 244, BLACK POWER IN THE CARIBBEAN, Kate Quinn, University Press of Florida, 2014, excerpts from an essay by Gert Oostindie entitled Black Power, Popular Revolt, and Decolonization in the Dutch Caribbean
A London university professor named Kate Quinn has recently published a collection of essays she has titled BLACK POWER IN THE CARIBBEAN (University Press of Florida). On reading the essay about the May 30, 1969 uprising/explosion on the island of Curacao in the Netherland Antilles, the thing that struck me was that the authorities there did not see it coming.
In Belize City, there are untold numbers of paid agents and informers mingling with the population who are reporting back to the Belize Ministry of National Security and the UDP Cabinet. Then, there are also operatives who keep the major and interested foreign embassies, such as the Americans and the British and the Mexicans and the Guatemalans, informed about the state of affairs on the ground in the old capital and the nation proper.
During the time of UBAD between 1969 and 1973, it was easy for the power structure here to pinpoint that organization as one to be infiltrated and destabilized, because socio-economic discontent was gathering at that specific locus. But there is no such organization in 2014 Belize as UBAD, where credibility and street organization are concerned. So then, if you are the power structure, where do you look for trouble today?
The hot, sweltering months of Belize’s weather are approaching, and there is a great deal of anger amongst the Belizean people. But, the Belize City power structure has benefited for the last quarter century from the neighborhood divisions along gang lines which have prevented the volatile youth element from acting in concert on any issue.
Between 2005 and 2007, a substantial amount of instability entered Belize’s socio-politics. The problem was open, massive corruption in the PUP government which had been re-elected in March of 2003. Irregularities in the handling of Social Security Board funds which were exposed in late July of 2004, sparked a challenge to the Cabinet status quo by 7 Ministers of Government in early August. Within a couple weeks, the disaffection spread to civil society, and the Opposition UDP was able to revive its sagging street fortunes.
By January of 2005, the trade unions had entered the fray big time, and the Said Musa PUP government was forced to make concessions in order to prevent an insurgency. Commissions of inquiry into the Social Security Board and the Development Finance Corporation were authorized.
I don’t remember the specifics of subsequent demonstrations which I believe peaked in 2007, except that controversies surrounding the Belize Telecommunications Limited (BTL) and possibly the private Universal Hospital were involved. The point I wish to emphasize is that the tertiary level students began to march in the old capital, they had confrontations with the police on Belcan Bridge late one evening, and that Belcan Bridge conflagration then spread with amazing speed to the downtown commercial section of Belize City as night was falling.
The ruling UDP has been beset with all kinds of scandals for more than a year now, and the Belizean people have grown more and more dissatisfied. But the Opposition PUP, unlike the case with the UDP in 2005 and 2007, have been either unable or unwilling to translate the anger of the Belizean people into street mobilization. In the present situation, the “bridging” between the PUP and the ad hoc COLA group which recently took place for purposes of COLA’s private prosecution of Elvin Penner, the UDP’s Cayo Northeast area representative, is noteworthy.
A PUP executive member, the attorney Kareem Musa, has become the COLA lawyer in the Penner matter. This is what we are referring to as “bridging.”
I use the term ad hoc to describe COLA because it is a group which has not really drafted a constitution or prepared a statement of philosophy. COLA takes public positions on specific local and national issues as they arise, from time to time.
There is a status quo in Belize wherein an elite group are making money while the masses of the people are doing the best they can: the elite group are, naturally, happy with the way things are, while the masses of the people are always praying for some kind of change to bring them better luck. This is the source of the ever-present potential for instability in the economic system which we have in Belize.
Where the elite are concerned, the role of the two major political parties is to alternate political power between themselves while always preserving the economic system we inherited from our colonial masters. Presently the PUP are unhappy, but if they were to come to power tomorrow, they would immediately become happy. It would then be the UDP’s turn to become unhappy and begin to find fault with this and find fault with that.
So then, in Belize in April 2014 there is a limit to how much upheaval the PUP would want: just enough upheaval to get them returned to power would be fine for them.
At the base of the socio-economic pyramid, however, the appetite of the masses for upheaval is almost insatiable. It is the masses’ voracious appetite for upheaval which always concerns the elite.
The interests of the PUP and the interests of COLA are not the same. This is a marriage of convenience. As the heat and humidity rise and the choking dust swirls, socio-political sparks will fly around the city. Because they know that the fuel for upheaval is there, because that fuel is always there, the elite will worry. At the base, however, because they have nothing to lose, all the masses seek is change, no matter the danger, no matter the cost.
Power to the people.