The late Dr. Leroy Taegar and I spent a lot of time together in the early months of 1982. This was because he was coaching a senior basketball team I had put together named Geritol.
Geritol is a story that deserves telling all on its own, but not today. Let me, however, just set the table. Col. George Lovell, for instance, played on that team. So did Wilfred “Chickiblue” Nicholas, later a big time superstar but only a rookie that season. Geritol was an earlier version of the Raiders, except that Geritol did not have the height to go with our team speed. We couldn’t clean glass all that well. In order to ignite the fast break, we were forced to press and trap on a full court basis. The referees did not like the kind of exertion this forced upon them, so they made foul calls to slow down our game.
There was major politics involved in that 1982 season, which was played at both Henry Young’s Bird”s Isle and the brand new Civic Center court the ruling People’s United Party (PUP) had imported from the United States. Basketball had moved from the St. Ignatius court to Bird’s Isle for the 1976 season, and the sport had increased in popularity at the Island. But Henry Young was a known, prominent supporter of the United Democratic Party (UDP). Not only that, the Bird’s Isle court was inadequate in size and other facilities, so the Civic Center Court was a necessary upgrade which basketball’s no. l superstar, Clinton “Pulu” Lightburn, had called for and supported.
Belize basketball’s most powerful politician at the time, Wilton “Cama” Cumberbatch, however, was a business associate and ally of Henry Young’s, so he lobbied the basketball community to fight for Bird’s Isle, with the argument that basketball owed some loyalty to Henry. A compromise was eventually reached – some games at Bird’s Isle, others at the Civic.
Remember now, 1982 was the year after the Heads of Agreement (March), the state of emergency (April), and political independence (September) in 1981. The PUP had never lost a national election, while the Opposition UDP was being led by Dr. Theodore Aranda, who was Dangriga-based and experiencing difficulty attracting financing. In the latter part of 1982, Aranda was either forced out of UDP leadership or chose to resign. Take your pick.
In 1982, Leroy Taegar began to explain to me that the United States Defence Department had bought out Belize, while emphasizing that the days of the so-called Creoles were coming to an end here. Leroy spoke often of “the big boys,” and he would tell me that these people were not in a hurry: they could afford to wait 50, 100 years to achieve their objectives. This is a very important concept to understand.
I listened to Leroy, but I didn’t want to hear the stuff he was articulating. Today, everything he was saying makes sense. The key is the Seventeen Proposals of 1968. At the time, we “Belize Creole” thought we had made a big fuss and driven home our nationalistic point when we rioted in the streets of Belize City. But, the Seventeen Proposals have remained the blueprint for American foreign policy with respect to Belize. Washington was not in a hurry. Thirteen years later, the State Department brought back the Seventeen Proposals in the form of the Heads of Agreement. Again, “Belize Creole” raised a fuss. Twenty one years after that, “the big boys” sent us the Ramphal/Reichler package. By this time, which was 2002, the days of the Belizean Creoles were over, and there was a little noise, but no real fuss. Ramphal/Reichler was merely the third millennium version of the Seventeen Proposals.
In Central America, Guatemala represents a capitalist, neoliberal ideal where America’s foreign policy experts are concerned. If Guatemala does not absorb Belize, then Belize will represent a populist, societist experiment to tempt the Indigenous masses of Guatemala’s Petén where systemic change is concerned. In 1954, the Americans forced Jacobo Arbenz to flee from the presidential palace in Guatemala City because he represented a populist, socialist vision with respect to land reform. Between 1960 and 1996, Guatemala’s right wing rulers murdered almost a quarter million of their Indigenous peoples in order to maintain the capitalist, neoliberal status quo which had been re-established after Arbenz’s overthrow.
The dilemma for Belizeans, especially those in the American diaspora, is that we are absolutely pro-American in our thinking. It is difficult for us to be otherwise. American foreign policy is pro-Guatemalan. It is difficult for it to be otherwise. If you are pro-American, then at the end of the day you are pro-Guatemalan. Think about it.
The Right Honorable George C. Price was a populist and a socialist, if we are to speak relatively. The shining example of his socio-economic philosophy was the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA), which Mr. Price’s PUP established 55 years ago, even before Belize achieved self-government in 1964.
The problem was that Mr. Price could not establish socialist organizations like the BSCFA in Belize City and in the South. All I can say, by way of offering an explanation, is that the rest of Belize was different from the Corozal and Orange Walk Districts. A lot of opposition to Mr. Price’s PUP in the 1960s came from the mostly Creole civil servants, as organized in the Public Service Union (PSU). Most of the public officers lived in Belize City, the population center then and now. (What has changed since then is that most of the government departments moved to Belmopan in 1970.) The working classes of Belize City, such as those at the BEC sawmill, on the waterfront, and the various self-employed, supported the PUP.
The interesting thing is that when the cultural UBAD emerged in 1969, the bulk of its early support came from city youth from working class families, mostly lumpenproletariat, who felt alienated from the PUP. In 1970, 10 years after establishing the BSCFA, the PUP arrested the two most important UBAD leaders and charged them with sedition. It had to be the case that the PUP felt threatened, in some way, by the UBAD. The question then has to be, with respect to such a feeling: why?
The PUP was unable to create a populist, socialist program in Belize City similar to the BSCFA. The economics of the capital were different from those of the Corozal and Orange Walk Districts. Perhaps more important, the people in the capital were different. They were not looking for land to farm. By and large, I guess, they wanted to go to America. The days of the Creoles are over in Belize. It is indeed as Leroy Taegar spoke 33 years ago.
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.