When my high school class at St. John’s College (SJC) graduated in December of 1963, our version of a graduation prom ended up as a house party at Eddie Lizama’s home on Vernon Street (between Mosul and East Collet Canal) in Belize City. I suppose there must have been record player music. A few of us took our dates to Eddie’s home, and what we ate for prom were “dungas,” which were basically panades stuck between Creole bread halves. We’re talking about the mighty SJC now, you understand. How did this feeble joke become the 1963 prom?
In that last year before British Honduras’ school holidays changed in the summer of 1964, you still did four and a half years of high school, and took your Cambridge “O” Level exams at the end of the half year. When you finished your fourth year in April, say, you would come back for a half year from June to December. I’m explaining this in order to point out that our class had a class president from fourth form, before we went to “fifth.” His name was Roger Brian Anthony Silva, now deceased. We called him “Mousie.”
I really can’t say what the nature or history of our student government was at Jesuit SJC in those pre-self-government days. I don’t know if the lower classes had student officers, or if it was only fourth and “fifth” forms. I’m not even sure if Mousie had been democratically elected. Honest. I know he was the student who seemed most interested in student government. Perhaps he was the only such student in our class.
Anyway, as we’re heading to Cambridge exams and graduation in December, Mousie begins to hold meetings on weekdays after classes to make decisions about the 1963 prom. Back in those days, regular classes at SJC finished at 3:10 in the afternoons (mayhap still do), and most students, at least in my circle, were always looking to bolt for the gym to play basketball as soon as classes ended. So even though Mousie was a serious, earnest fellow, his meetings were not really popular events.
After a while, and especially in retrospect, it seemed that Mousie was intent on trying to achieve unanimity of purpose with respect to the prom. There were maybe 36 or 37 of us in the class, and I remember that one time as many as 33 of us voted together on some prom decision or the other. We’re talking about more than fifty years ago, you know, but my recollection is that Mousie ended up taking that vote back to the floor, apparently seeking that most elusive butterfly called unanimity.
One of the problems in the class where the prom was concerned was that there were two brothers in the class whose parents were seriously poor. I don’t know if they would have come to the prom no matter how modest the expense was, but they had to sit in the meetings. I guess they were not hypocritical enough to vote for something in which they would not participate.
Eventually, time ran out on the class of ’63. We could not achieve the kind of unanimity which Mousie must have desired. That’s all I can say. Mousie was a good guy, but leadership is judged by results. Be real. Plus, there are times when leaders have to be tough. We speak of tough love. What the hell was Mousie thinking?
I was 16 when I sat in that class. I was the undisputed leader of the class in academics, plus I had become a family leader on the sea two years previously, when I had been made a sailboat captain. But only one of my classmates was younger than I, so I deferred to the age and experience of the rest. I was not interested in student government, and Mousie had been a popular choice for president. So, I sat there and watched the travesty unfold.
A little over five years later, I was made president of the United Black Association for Development (UBAD). I was the youngest member of the executive. Mousie’s mistake was the one mistake I never, ever made. I never sought false consensus or impossible unanimity. I had learned watching Mousie struggle.
Belize is clearly entering a difficult financial period, which will precipitate additional social and political problems. I will not sit in the class of 2017 and listen to foolishness, as I did in 1963. In the words of the Memphis Grizzlies’ Zack Randolph, “This is big boy’s game.” Don’t get the wrong impression. I’m not the leader of any organized group of Belizeans. But, I will say anything which I need to say.
There will be political leaders, and those around them, who may take any criticism I may offer as being personal in nature. That is not my intention. I respect the structure of our political system, which depends on regular, free, and fair elections for public office. Over the years in Belize’s democratic elections, an inordinate prominence has been given to the two major political parties – the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) and the People’s United Party (PUP). As long as Belize’s political system remains first-past-the-post, then the smaller parties will be of little account. (This newspaper has proposed proportional representation as a more democratic political system.)
The enemies of Belize have targeted our young people for distraction, not to mention destruction. Their strategy has been successful. We agree with Nuri Akbar, however, that at some point soon our young people must step to the fore. Until such time, Belize is very fortunate to have the organized militancy of our teachers to carry the load. We cannot, however, expect the teachers to carry on like this indefinitely. We have a country at stake here.
I will have you know that there are many issues on which I consult with other people. There is one issue, however, on which I will speak categorically here. The “peaceful, constructive revolution” of Mr. Price was replaced after 1984 by Glenn Godfrey and Ralph Fonseca, with the support of Said Musa. This took place under the party leadership of Mr. Price, so it is not as if we can consider the aforementioned troika as having betrayed Mr. Price. The period between 1984 and 1996 requires careful study and analysis by PUP scholars and strategists.
On the Southside of Belize City, the UDP is consolidated. They view the institution of Kremandala, of which I am chairman, as their enemy. I saw the UDP take the same position after June 30 of 1993, so I have not been caught off guard.
There are absurdities in Belizean politics. (Please allow us to use “absurdities” instead of the perhaps more apropos, “incongruities.”) One such absurdity, arguably the greatest absurdity of all, is that the UDP official who is closest to Prime Minister Dean Barrow, and the PUP official who is closest to the former Prime Minister, Said Musa, are the most bosom of friends.
Power to the people.