The colonial law, as enforced in British Honduras during my childhood and youth, did not glorify private property amongst us natives. What I mean is, it was the understanding of us natives that one had to be careful in the use of force to protect one’s property. At the same time, those of us who were students knew that in London in Dickens’ England there had been cases where children had been hanged for petty theft. One had to wonder, therefore, if the law in the “motherland” was enforced differently from the law in the colony, or if it was different when native stole from master as opposed to when native stole from native.
The concept of private property is the very foundation of the philosophy of capitalism which dominates so-called Western democracies. From my readings in British history, I can remember that there was this distinct period when common lands began to be privatized. Usually, this meant that the king or one of his so-called nobles grabbed land which had been public property for himself. This was a time of what is referred to as “feudalism.” The coming of private land and private property signaled the beginning of capitalism.
The rhetoric coming out of the United Democratic Party (UDP) government since their attorneys appeared to concede victory to the Toledo Maya in the communal lands case, appears to be saying that this matter is not settled yet, that a lot of things have to be clarified. I am not surprised by the administration’s hedging because, we live in one of the Western democracies, our development philosophy in Belize is a capitalist one, and private property is the very foundation of capitalism.
Capitalism begins with the premise that human beings are fundamentally selfish and greedy creatures, and capitalism has proven historically that great energies and creativities are released when human beings are allowed to accumulate as much as they can for their individual selves. Historically, there have also been serious evils unleashed by unfettered capitalism, such as slavery, imperialism, genocide, and colonialism, but proponents of capitalism argue that the benefits of capitalism, such as soaring economic growth and scientific/technological progress, outweigh the evils historically linked to capitalism.
Proponents of capitalism are also, by definition, enemies of socialism and communism, which are philosophies which want for human beings to work together in unity for common goals. The proponents of capitalism say that this kind of vision is idealistic, unrealistic, and that such societies cannot compete with capitalist ones where growth and power are concerned. The jury is still out on the matter, one reason being that the two greatest economic successes of the twentieth century were, arguably, Russia and China, which became communist after revolutions in 1917 and 1949, respectively. Russia’s communism appeared to collapse in 1989, while China’s economy is being described by some experts as actually a state capitalism. On the other hand, the classic capitalist Western democracies of the European Union have substantial socialist components where matters like health and education are concerned. So, the argument between capitalism and socialism continues on the world stage.
At the base of the sociological pyramid in the time of British Honduras, there was a majority African population which was communal in sentiment. Isaiah Morter, the first native millionaire, was, of course, a significant exception here, because it must have been that he accepted capitalist principles in order to succeed so fabulously. The minority mulatto population had a bit of a separatist attitude, in that, they accepted all British/European values, and these values included emphasis on individual achievement. I’m only trying to give you a general sense of how traditional Creole society operated here before the nationalist revolution began in 1950.
The case of Clevie and Salo was an important one. Clevie was a famous, skilful, exceptional burglar, whose physical fitness was legendary. Salo Sedacey was a machinist who had made a success of his business. Clevie got into his house one night, I believe this would have been on West Collet Canal, and Salo shot him. In the first place, very, very few Belizeans had guns and gun licenses in those days of the late 1950’s. In the second place, the understanding of us natives was that you simply were not allowed to do that, that is, shoot someone trying to steal your private property.
In fact, colonial law was very strict about using deadly force, even in self-defence. There was the case in the early 1940s of Sydney Middleton, who was hanged for shooting Dinsdale Lord to death, and this was a case that bothered Smokey Joe all his life, because he considered it self-defence. As a young boy at the time of the Salo and Clevie incident, I think I expected Sedacey to be disciplined. If the book had been thrown at him, I would not have been surprised. I’m trying to give you a sense of how the law operated, or appeared to operate in colonial days. I believe Salo got off very lightly, but I stand to be corrected. For sure, Clevie had not been mortally wounded. Still, in those days it usually appeared that the defender of private property had to be very careful in his use of force.
Things have changed. Today, there are many thousands of licensed handguns in Belize, and they are automatic weapons, which means they can shoot multiple projectiles in split seconds. The atmosphere in Belize is much, much more violent than in colonial days. Belize has also become a place where selfishness and greed are accepted, and individual wealth is admired, much more so than in my youth.
In closing, I think there is a fundamental contradiction in a capitalism which passes itself off as Christian, and that contradiction is that one man can have far more than he needs, and those around him who are in need are not entitled to any kind of assistance from him. This is contrary to the teachings of Christ, as I understand those teachings. But capitalism has worked, and will continue working as long as there are enough human beings to be victimized for other human beings to become crazy wealthy. And, whether you like it or not, you must be told this, that for the last five hundred years the victims have mostly looked like you and me. You cannot deny that. So then, the question is: whose fault is that?
Power to the people.