This newspaper played a significant role in the successful effort by the People’s United Party to hold on to power in the 1979 general election. That PUP victory, by a 13-5 margin in seats over the Opposition United Democratic Party (UDP), represents the political statement which clinched independence for Belize, in that it apparently convinced the United States of America that the people of Belize were committed, inexorably committed to an independence which had been delayed since self-government in 1964.
Younger generations of Belizeans have no idea what the political landscape was like here between 1974 and 1979. Between 1961 and 1969, the PUP had won 51 of the 54 seats contested in the 1961, 1965, and 1969 general elections. To a certain extent, the Leader of the Opposition National Independence Party (NIP), Hon. Philip Goldson, represented a one-man army, and even though he was truly heroic, there were prominent Belizeans opposed to the PUP who began to become disillusioned with him. These individuals, including some who were based in New York City, actually believed that the PUP could be defeated, at a time when the blue appeared to be a total juggernaut.
I have said to you that after the British sent Hon. George Price, PUP Leader, home from London in disgrace in 1957, then arrested and tried him for sedition in the Supreme Court of British Honduras in 1958, it appears that they decided to reach some kind of a rapprochement with Mr. Price and the PUP sometime in 1959. The evidence for such an opinion is the British gift of the MCC Grounds to PUP-led Belize in 1960. The very important alliance between Mr. Price and the prestigious, pro-British attorney, W. H. Courtenay, who had been the Leader of the anti-PUP National Party (NP) in 1951, but who defended Mr. Price at the sedition trial and then became Belize’s first House Speaker in 1961, also suggests such a rapprochement.
Whatever, the case, the 1960s in Belize, which included self-government in 1964, was a time of euphoria for the PUP masses. Mr. Price and the PUP’s roots struggle appeared to have been vindicated by the consolidated nature of PUP power, and the underdog sacrifices of the Belizean masses during the 1950s appeared to have been worth the pain. The British had agreed to take Belize to independence.
Mr. Goldson, an early hero of the anti-colonial PUP who was even jailed by the British in 1951, had become the owner of Belize’s leading newspaper, the daily Belize Billboard, after he left the PUP in 1956. Mr. Goldson was doing so well financially with the Billboard that he sent his wife, Hadie, to London to study law in 1961. (Mr. and Mrs. Goldson had six children.)
As was pointed out in our editorial on Tuesday, the first general elections won by the PUP were in coalition with the General Workers Union (GWU) from 1951 to 1957. The PUP, after setting the GWU aside, remained a root, workers party into the 1960s and 1970s. The NIP also had substantial support from workers, but the NIP workers were clerical ones, members of the Public Service Union (PSU). Generally speaking, Belizeans who supported the NIP came from families which had been more successful under colonialism than PUP families.
Still, compared to today’s PUP and UDP, the PUP and the NIP in the 1960s were not dogmatically capitalist. They both wanted foreign investment, but both Mr. Price and Mr. Goldson were dedicated to workers’ rights and the necessity for trade unions. Mr. Price and Mr. Goldson were basically Rerum Novarum supporters.
Perhaps the first dramatic, organized move by the business, capitalist element in British Honduras to increase and express its socio-political power took place in 1967 with the launching of The Chamber Reporter, the Chamber of Commerce publication which soon became what we know today as The Reporter. Employing modern, offset printing technology for the first time in Belize’s newspaper history, the Chamber Reporter quickly challenged the dominance of the Billboard.
Now 1967 also happened to be the year when the British-trained attorneys, Assad Shoman and Said Musa, Belizeans of Palestinian descent, returned home to Belize. They were given the government posts of “travelling magistrates,” which enabled them to make strategic contacts in the Districts and build political networks.
At what point Mr. Price began to entertain some socialist ideas, I cannot say. What I can say is that it was inexplicable to me when Mr. Goldson was challenged for NIP leadership by Mr. Dean Lindo, who had been trained as an economist in New York and as an attorney in London. That challenge took place around May of 1969, shortly after the United Black Association for Development (UBAD) had come on the scene. Defeated by Mr. Goldson, Mr. Lindo resigned from the NIP and formed his own party – the People’s Development Movement (PDM). When Mr. Price called an early general election in November of that year, the NIP and the PDM immediately formed an alliance, but their NIPDM was badly beaten, 17-1, in December of 1969.
By the end of 1971, Mr. Goldson was forced, because of desperate political and financial circumstances, into a Belize City Council election coalition with the UBAD, and early in 1972 he made an almost radical decision to go to London to study law. Mrs. Goldson took their children to New York, where she worked as a legal clerk.
In 1972, during the height of UBAD popularity, the so-called Liberal Party was formed, which featured Harry Lawrence, Paul Rodriguez, Manuel Esquivel, Net Vasquez, and Curl Thompson as leaders. To the best of my knowledge, the Liberal Party never held one of the outdoor public meetings which were a feature of political campaigning back then, but in early 1973 the Liberal Party became a member of the Unity Congress, which formed the UDP in September of 1973. The Unity Congress included the NIP, the PDM, and the Liberal Party. (The UBAD Party divided down the middle over the Unity Congress issue; no UBAD official ever held office in the UDP.)
At least three Liberal Party stalwarts became UDP general election candidates when the UDP ran in its first general election in October of 1974. These were Harry Lawrence in Belize Rural South, Paul Rodriguez in Pickstock, and Curl Thompson in Mesopotamia. All three lost, Rodriguez narrowly, but just ten weeks later, the UDP defeated the PUP, 6-3, in December 1974 Belize City Council elections. It was the first time in its history that the PUP had lost the City Council.
Right wing elements in the PUP soon began to grumble about the presence of Shoman and Musa as PUP 1974 general election candidates in Cayo North and Fort George, respectively. At the time, the two were considered at least socialist, if not outright communist. And Mr. Price had made them Senators in his new government. (The PUP won 12-6 in the 1974 general election, but the UDP came within 17 votes of throwing the House into a 9-9 tie.) Around this time, I’m not sure exactly when, an aggressive anti-communist organization emerged out of the Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber being essentially represented in the UDP by leaders of the Liberal Party faction.
Well, from 1974 to 1979 the new UDP went from strength to strength. The traditional supporters of the NIP remained completely loyal: all they wanted to do was defeat the PUP. The fact that at the decision-making levels of the new UDP there was a cadre of neoliberal, pro-business thinkers meant nothing to the UDP (formerly NIP) base. It did mean something to American foreign policy officials and to American investors and companies. These knew that Belize under the UDP would be as wide open for them as Guatemala under the generals or Chile under Pinochet. Donations flooded into the UDP from at home and abroad. Had it not been for an early 1979 power struggle inside their leadership sparked by the Jim Jones controversy, the UDP would have probably come to power in 1979. What would have happened to independence in such a scenario is anybody’s guess.
Just a year after that surprise PUP victory of 1979, this newspaper began to experience problems with the new government. These problems culminated in an open break after the announcement of the Heads of Agreement in March of 1981. At this newspaper, then, we began fighting against the very government for which we had fought so hard in the 1979 general election. And so, this newspaper went on to play an important role in the December 1984 UDP victory which marked Belize’s first change of government in the modern political era.
Power to the people! Remember Danny Conorquie! Fight for Belize!