Younger readers will not be aware of all the drama which surrounded Belize’s attainment of political independence in 1981. Once British Honduras achieved the status of a self-governing colony in January of 1964, it had seemed that we Belizean people were on our way forward and upward. As the saying goes, forward ever, backward never. This was the vibes. None of us at the time could have foreseen what is happening today, where almost thirty-five years after we achieved our goal of independence, which had been the Holy Grail of those before us, we Belizeans would be staring dismemberment of our beloved Jewel straight in the face.
When Belize became self-governing, I was sixteen years old, and had just graduated from the high school section of St. John’s College, in December of 1963. My political views, mostly influenced by my mother, were those of Hon. Philip Goldson’s National Independence Party (NIP), in the sense that Guatemala’s President Ydigoras Fuentes and his threats to “recover Belice” had intimidated me, and I wanted a strong rejection of the Guatemalan claim.
Like most teenagers in the capital city, I wanted to go to the United States to experience its greatness for myself. I suppose this American dream would have been more important than my political opinions, because I never envisioned myself in the world of politics. In fact, more important to me than both my American dreams and my political feelings, was my mingling with the opposite sex. Chicks were where it was at, if you will allow me to be ungrammatical. Hormones are real.
I managed to reach America in August of 1965, and began a university course which lasted for three years and gave me first degree qualifications. In 1968 this was a big deal for a Belizean. There were only 30 or 35 Belizeans with first degrees at that time. While at Dartmouth, I had become revolutionary in my thinking; I had become black conscious. I considered myself a disciple of the late Malcolm X, having become a believer in his ideas after reading his autobiography in the winter of 1967.
For most serious American students, a first degree is only a stepping stone to graduate school in disciplines like law, business, medicine and so on. For me, not yet Evan X, the first degree was academic qualification for street revolution, which began a few months after I returned home in June of 1968.
Between February of 1970, when I was arrested and charged for seditious conspiracy, and the violent summer of 1972, a period during which I was president of the United Black Association for Development (UBAD) (which became the UBAD Party in August of 1970), I was in repeated confrontations with the ruling People’s United Party (PUP). Finally, in December of 1971, I actually ran as a Belize City Council candidate on an NIP/UBAD coalition ticket. That experience changed my political views, and my life, because, as a result of that electoral experience and my subsequent trip to New York City by way of Los Angeles, I began to realize that Mr. Goldson was just a poster boy for forces in New York and Belize which did not approve of my views, even though my UBAD organization was the PUP’s most active and dangerous enemy at the time.
To fast forward a bit, when those forces I referred to in the previous paragraph, in early 1973 began to organize what would become the United Democratic Party (UDP) in September of 1973, a process personally traumatic for myself began, and led to my becoming an ally of the PUP in early 1975. I became an important part of the PUP campaign which won the all–important general election victory of November 1979. The 1979 victory was “all-important,” because it may be viewed historically as a sine qua non for Belize’s 1981 independence.
In less than a year after that 1979 victory, however, when the United States finally indicated in late 1980 its acceptance of Belize’s independence during the final months of Jimmy Carter’s presidency, I began to move away from the PUP. My experiences in the weeks following the PUP’s defeat in the December 1977 Belize City Council election, made it clear that there was a powerful element in the PUP, led by Deputy Premier C. L. B. Rogers, which really did not care for me and my newspaper. At that time, my primary PUP allies, Said Musa and Assad Shoman, were only appointed PUP Senators: they did not win seats in the House of Representatives until the 1979 general election, which increased their power exponentially.
But the idea of independence still spooked me in late 1980, because I believed that the PUP would not tolerate Amandala once they had led Belize to independence. This was because of my aforementioned experiences with Deputy Premier, C. L. B. Rogers, in early 1978. I would say that I was right to be spooked: as soon as the PUP achieved independence, they came after this newspaper with two massive libel suits which were intended to crush us.
To a certain extent, that is an aside. The more important historical reality is that when the Heads of Agreement were released on Radio Belize in mid-March of 1981, the document divided Belizeans, inflamed Belizeans, and almost caused civil war here. Had the British Governor not declared a state of emergency on the afternoon of April 2, 1981, there would have been unprecedented bloodshed in Belize.
And yet, it was the Heads of Agreement which made independence possible for Belize. Throughout the 1970s, the British and the Americans had been pressuring Premier George Price and the PUP to cede land to Guatemala as a condition of, and prelude to, independence. The PUP general election victory in 1979, when the PUP was definitely not expected to win, convinced the Jimmy Carter government in the United States that Belize deserved to be independent. I believe it is safe to say that if the UDP had won in 1979, Belize would either not have become independent, or land cession would have been the price. Washington and London forced us to pay. In early 1981, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher said to Belize, all right, you can have your independence, but you absolutely must sign this Heads of Agreement. The PUP felt they had to bite the bullet, they so bit, and hell broke loose in Belize. This was how we entered independence on September 21, 1981.
Belize’s PUP leadership was gambling on the benefits of independence down the road. Belize did not have a defence guarantee, an intrinsically dangerous situation for us because of a historically hostile, much larger neighbor, but we were now an independent state in the United Nations, we enjoyed the overwhelming support of the nations of the world, and the canny British had promised to stay for an “appropriate period.” In 1981, Guatemala was a despised pariah state on planet earth, because the neo-European ruling classes of that republic and their military were continuing to butcher Guatemala’s Indigenous citizens with the excuse that they were fighting communism.
Just three years after independence, the UDP came to power for the first time. The UDP enjoyed all the perks of independence. They began to sell passports by the bucketfuls; they began to sell Belizean real estate to foreigners as it had never been sold before; they sprayed Belize’s pristine marijuana fields with the deadly chemical called paraquat; they went big time for tourism investments; and it was during that first UDP term of office that gang wars began in the streets of Belize City. We can justifiably ask two questions today of the 1984-1989 UDP: what did you do about national security and what did you do for Belizean youth?
Guatemala succeeded in ending its civil war in 1996, and since then the republics has embarked on a regional public relations campaign which has been startlingly successful. While the Guatemalans have been cleaning up their image for the last twenty years, Belize’s political leaders, both UDP and PUP, during that same period, became some of the most greedy and corrupt in the world, and Belizean youth increased their slaughtering of each other to the point where the statistics shouted, for all the world to hear, civil war! In other words, when Guatemala was ending its civil war, we Belizeans were beginning ours.
In Belize in 2016, in the absence of any accounting for our public funds and the absence of the constitutionally required Integrity Commission, it is obvious that there exists a privileged Belizean class which grows wealthier day by day. And there is an oppressed majority whose despair has reached the point of desperation. While Guatemala was trying to clean up its act, Belize began to become what Guatemala was trying to change – a nation corrupt, brutal, and divided.
When you talk to people from foreign countries who have come to Belize to live, one finds they don’t want to listen to you talking about slavery, colonialism, and white supremacy. What they are struck by is the greed and corruption they see amongst Belizean leaders and their politically-connected elite. It is difficult for me to respond to such Belizeans of foreign origin. The same thing that they are seeing, I am seeing. And you are seeing. Belize simply must begin to clean up its act. Otherwise, the region and the world will begin to think that Guatemala has to save Belize from itself. This is the catastrophe which we are bringing upon ourselves.
Power to the people. Remember Danny. Big up, Wil.