For within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his Court, and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be feared, and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life
Were brass impregnable, and humored thus
Comes at the last and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and farewell King!
(RICHARD II, Act III, scene ii, lines 160-170)
There is a point in all men’s lives when they become irrelevant. This, on an average, happens earlier in men’s lives than ever before, because post-modern life has become dominated by so much technology and so much velocity. We are left behind earlier than ever before. In British Honduras in the 1960s, we had a Mayor of Belize City who was way up in his eighties, perhaps even nineties. That was the famous “Boss Fred” Westby, who also represented the Albert constituency in the House of Representatives from 1961 to 1965. Back then, life was slow and “oh so mellow,” as the song says. Things have changed: you can’t have geriatric people running things, or even making decisions. Old people are out of touch with the real deal, the daily deal.
As Rt. Hon. George Price fought to achieve independence in the 1970’s, there was growing stress on him. British Honduras had attained self-government in 1964, and was expected to move on apace to political independence. There was a spoke in the wheel, however, and that was the Guatemalan claim to the colony. The solution to this claim which was offered by the United States Government, through the attorney Bethuel Webster, sparked unprecedented street uprisings in our capital city in 1966 and 1968. (“Unprecedented” is used in the context of our post-World War II generations.)
The rise of UBAD in 1969 was substantially related to anxiety about the Guatemalan claim, and it created a major problem for the ruling People’s United Party (PUP), because UBAD had gained control of Belize City streets by 1972. From the time of its foundation in 1950, the PUP had absolutely controlled the streets of the old capital. This changed in 1972.
A new Opposition amalgamation originally called the Unity Congress, but which became the United Democratic Party (UDP) in September of 1973, took advantage of the new Belize City street paradigm, incorporating important leadership elements of UBAD, which splintered as a result of differences over its relationship with the said Unity Congress.
The UDP then went on to win six seats in the 1974 general elections. The previous Opposition parties had won a total of only three seats in the three general elections (1961, 1965, and 1969) held before. Not only that, in 1974 the UDP actually came within 17 votes of winning three more seats and throwing the 18-member House of Representatives into a 9-9 deadlock.
For the first time in its history, the PUP was now threatened electorally. Remember, the PUP was the “party of independence”: independence was the centerpiece of Mr. Price’s program and discourse. The perfidious British were in a position after 1974 where they could say to Mr. Price that Belize’s voters were hedging their bets on independence.
UDP momentum and confidence grew rapidly after the October 1974 general elections. In December of that same year, they won Belize City Council elections for the first time, by a 6-3 margin, a stunning blow for the PUP. In December of 1977, the UDP went on to win a landslide City Council victory, and after that most political observers expected the UDP to triumph in the general elections scheduled for 1979. Had they done so, Belize’s history would have been different: independence would have been delayed indefinitely.
Instead, the PUP managed to win by a decisive 13-5 margin in the 1979 elections. My point is that the years between 1974 and 1979 were arguably the most stressful years Mr. Price had ever experienced politically.
The year of Belize’s independence, 1981, was the worst socio-political year in Belizean history. That year, following the announcement of the Heads of Agreement, the country was on the brink of civil war when the British Governor declared a state of emergency on April 2.
After independence on September 21, 1981, Mr. Price’s political problems did not vanish. The PUP lost Town Board elections in December of 1981. The party was openly split by philosophical divisions in 1983, lost another landslide Belize City Council election in December of that year, and then, dramatically, lost national power for the first time in the December 1984 general elections.
Mr. Price was in his mid-sixties when he lost political power in 1984. That did not seem old at the time. The struggle for independence had been a stressful one in the 1970s, nevertheless. Mr. Price did take his defeat in 1984 with unexpected equanimity. It was as if he felt, perhaps, that there were no more worlds to conquer.
Shortly after the PUP returned to national power in September of 1989, it began to dawn on insiders that this was not the same Mr. Price. Either that, or circumstances had changed inside and/or outside of the PUP. It was Glenn Godfrey, Said Musa, and Ralph Fonseca who began to run the government. It was they who decided to call early elections in June of 1993. And, it was they who decided to force out Mr. Price as PUP Leader in 1996. That was a shock. Yes, the man was in his seventies, but there had never been a Belizean politician as powerful and popular as Mr. Price.
On a micro level, similar dramas play out and will play out in each of our human lives. Father Time is an enemy no one has ever defeated. This is as the Almighty designed it. “This, too, shall pass.” And so, we consider those who have concentrated exclusively on material things: it is they who will have the hardest time making the inevitable transition to irrelevancy. I do not seek to extol poverty; I make no apology for defeat. I merely say that life is a journey, not a destination. And it is, always, as it was once said: once a man, twice a child.