Whenever one examines the present socio-political reality of Belize, it behooves one to consider the historical context of the settlement of Belize’s birth, and the fact that it was and is an anomaly – the only English-speaking territory on the Central American mainland.
The relevant countries immediately around us – Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, were all imperial outposts of Roman Catholic Spain. Nicaragua is a bit of an exception to the first named three, because there is an English-speaking area in Nicaragua, which is called Bluefields, and the British played a significant role on Nicaragua’s Atlantic coast centuries ago. The story of British collaboration with Nicaragua’s Mosquito people has not been explained in sufficient detail in Belize. Britain controlled the Bay Islands – Roatán, Utila, etc., which eventually reverted to the sovereignty of the Republic of Honduras. And Great Britain interfered in the politics of Guatemala (and Central America) during the 1820s and 1830s when Central America was in violent turmoil.
England and Spain had started a seemingly perpetual wrangling three centuries before, in the 1520s, when the English king, Henry VIII, wanted to divorce his Spanish wife/queen, Catherine of Aragon. Both England and Spain were Roman Catholic at the time. When the Pope of Rome said no to his divorce plans, Henry VIII broke away from Rome and established the Anglican Church, with himself as head of both state and church. England and Spain first became enemies, then, because of religion, then they became mortal enemies because of the territories and treasures in the “New World” which had been “discovered” by Christopher Columbus in 1492.
English pirates who preyed on Spanish shipping leaving the ports of Vera Cruz (Mexico) and Havana (Cuba) for Spain began to take refuge inside the Belize Barrier Reef around 1638, some historians say. Then these pirates began to cut logwood and ship it to England for sale. They bought African slaves from Jamaica to help cut the logwood. The settlement of Belize was born in territory which had been occupied by the Maya for many centuries, but which fell under a general Spanish hegemony after Columbus was followed by the rampaging Hernán Cortés.
From 1638 to 1847, the Maya and the Roman Catholic Mestizo element, it may be argued, were virtually invisible in the settlement of Belize. The Caste War which began in Mexico’s Yucatán to the immediate north of Belize in 1847, however, resulted in thousands of Maya and Mestizo refugees settling in the Corozal and Orange Walk Districts, where the Roman Catholic religion soon became predominant.
Today, it is safe to say that the majority of the population of Belize are of Maya and Mestizo origin, and that the largest religion in Belize is Roman Catholicism. In a sense, and for argument’s sake, we can say that Belize has reverted to Spanish “rule” after almost four centuries of British control. But, the official language remains English. The great importance of this has to do with our judicial system. If the official language of Belize were ever changed to Spanish, a lot of people would have to go to CARICOM looking for work. Just saying.
Rt. Hon. George C. Price, in presenting Belize’s case regionally and internationally for political independence, always argued that Belize fulfilled all the requirements of nationhood. It is clear to me in 2014, however, that Belize’s nationhood is a fragile one. Ours is a nationhood which requires immediate and well-conceived strengthening. There are divisions amongst the people of Belize which were not addressed, were actually encouraged, by British colonialism. The system of British colonialism was a white supremacist one, from the get-go, and that system fed off ethnic, cultural, religious, and geographical differences in the Belizean population. It is precisely these differences which have to be addressed by any truly nationalistic government of Belize.
Last week, the media story goes, the Carnival season began in Belize. Carnival proper takes place in September, which used to be the month when Belizeans held patriotic celebrations. Carnival has nothing to do with nationalism: it was introduced here in the middle 1970s as a first step towards American hedonism. (It was followed a few years later by American television.) Today in Belize, Carnival and September are primarily about “having fun.” This is the Belizean mantra in 2014, in a nation, mind you, whose territory is claimed by a macho republic just west of us which has a notoriously militaristic tradition.
When I was the Governor-General’s appointment in the Senate between 1993 and 1998 (and that’s a whole long story in itself), the Leader of Government Business in the Senate was an attorney who is now a high-ranking UDP Cabinet Minister. During a budget debate in the Senate one year, I spoke about the need for African and Indian (Indigenous) history to be taught in Belize’s schools. I remember distinctly the Hon. Senator rose in response and said, “The people don’t want it.” He was passionate, and he was categorical.
My thesis, then and now, would be that if the people don’t want it, as this Belizean leader has asserted, then there is something wrong with the Belizean people. That something wrong was induced and inculcated by something evil, which was British colonialism. There are, however, some Anglophiles sitting in the House of Representatives, and they present a problem for any real Belizean nationalist. The Anglophiles look like Belizeans and they talk like Belizeans, but in their hearts they are British. Yes, they are. The record of their deeds in pursuance of their Anglophile agenda is a long-standing record. Their condition has become a chronic one. This is sad.
Power to the people.