It is not just coincidence, or mere happenstance, that Belize’s two most important stories in politics and economics are presently unfolding in Orange Walk Town. These stories have to do with the confrontation between the Vega and Cervantes families in politics, and, in economics, the bold and cynical attempt by BSI/ASR to smash the power of the cane farmers as organized in their association of cañeros. The headlines belong to Orange Walk because Orange Walk is big time.
Economic power has been moving to the North ever since the building of the Tower Hill sugar factory in Orange Walk and accompanying investments in the sugar cane industry by Tate & Lyle, a multinational corporation of British origin. These significant developments were taking place around 1963, 1964.
The People’s United Party (PUP) had won all 18 seats in the March 1961 general election, the first held under a modern Ministerial constitution. The relationship between the British and the George Price-led PUP had begun to change in 1959, 1960. The two sides had been very antagonistic in 1957, when the British sent Mr. Price home from London “in disgrace,” and in 1958, when the British colonial government charged Mr. Price with sedition and tried him in the Supreme Court of British Honduras. Defended by the late W. H. Courtenay, the patriarch of Belize’s oldest and most successful law firm, Mr. Price was acquitted by a “jury of his peers.”
Mr. Courtenay, the highest ranking native in the hierarchy of the Anglican Church in Belize, had been an early leader of the National Party (NP), which was a pro-colonial political party founded in 1951 with the primary purpose of fighting the anti-colonial PUP. (It should be noted that the Queen of England, as all monarchs of England since the sixteenth century, is the head of the Anglican Church.) As Mr. Price and the British began to seek rapprochement in 1959, some kind of deal was cut between Mr. Price and Mr. Courtenay, a deal which featured Mr. Courtenay’s becoming our first Speaker of the House following the 1961 general election.
Probably the most roots revolutionary of the area representatives elected under the PUP banner in 1961 was Jesus Ken of Corozal South, a man who was descended from a leading family of the Santa Cruz Maya of the southeastern Yucatán, the bravos who had fought so bitterly against Mérida and the ladino power structure of the Yucatán. Ken was wildly popular in the villages of Corozal, but he was sacrificed in 1964 by Mr. Price, and the speculation of history is that he may have been sacrificed to facilitate the Tate & Lyle deal with the British.
Be that as it may, when the Tower Hill factory came on stream in Orange Walk, the Libertad sugar factory was still going great guns in Corozal, and hundreds, perhaps thousands of workers began streaming to the two Northern Districts from the four other districts – Belize, Cayo, Stann Creek, and Toledo. Prominent young Belize City football personalities like Winston “Fry” Michael and Rudolph “Pas” Ellis, and the great Billy Gill from Stann Creek, made dramatic moves to Orange Walk, where they acquired cane fields and became major players in the sugar game. I know that Michael and Ellis were Belize Technical College graduates who had acquired the science skills the new Tower Hill factory was demanding, but I do not know anything biographical about Billy Gill, except that he was one of the greatest footballers I ever saw.
When I was a child growing up in Belize (In the days of British Honduras, what we know as “Belize City” today was just plain “Belize.”), there was an arrogance in Belize City based on a clear superiority in size, population, and power. British Honduras was a bigoted colony dominated by Europeans, merchants, contractors, and churchmen. Formal society here did not pay attention to local sports. Amongst the working classes, however, British Honduras was a macho place, and the most macho of all sports was boxing. All the great boxers, except for Simon Lucas, were coming out of Belize City. Belizean boxers excelled in Panama and the United States. In football, the second most macho of local sports, no challenge to the capital came from Corozal and Orange Walk. The first challenges came from Cayo and Stann Creek in the 1950s. This changed after Tate & Lyle and Tower Hill. The first challenge from the North came from the Corozal village of San Joaquin in the late 1960s. This was a dramatically successful challenge. Orange Walk would not follow until the latter part of the 1970s.
Before I proceed, let me say that it may well be argued that cross country cycling was really British Honduras’ most macho sport. But it was a kind of one-day event. There is a Sosa who won the Holy Saturday Crosscountry in the late 1930s. One of my friends, Ignacio “Nacho” Sosa, has told me that this was his uncle. This is a story that is of interest to me, because all the other Crosscountry champions, from the beginning in 1928, were Belize City Creoles.
Let us proceed, and conclude. The point I’m making is that Belize City was arrogant when I was growing up, just as New York City, the financial capital of the United States, is arrogant. Tate & Lyle, Tower Hill, and the sugar industry began the change you can see today. Today, Orange Walk Town is a powerhouse in the nation-state of Belize where business and finance, politics, and prestige are concerned. This was not the case in 1964.