For younger Belizeans, this Christmas/New Year’s holiday season is mostly a time of revelry, but for us older folk, the season is more a period of reflection. Out of my reflections so far, I sat down to pen the following thoughts.
In my lifetime, there has emerged a dominant elite in Belize which we consider native, even though the patriarchs of some of these families may have been immigrant in origin. When the nationalist movement began here in 1950, there were no identifiably powerful families in the Corozal and Orange Walk Districts, apart from Perez-Schofield. There were no such families in the Toledo or Cayo Districts, although Wahib Habet was very big in the West. In the Stann Creek District, people like the Sharps and the Bowmans were big and becoming bigger in citrus, but this was taking place in the Pomona Valley, which was an exclusive, almost separatist enclave. In the capital city, the powerhouse was the Belize Estate and Produce Company, challenged by Bob Turton, and then you had the big stores – Brodies, Harley’s, and Nord’s.
I was a toddler in 1950. The socio-economic picture of the colony, British Honduras, which I am presenting to you, is not based on academic research, and so I accept and welcome criticism and dissent.
By a “powerful Belizean family” in the present day context, I would say this is a family which can “comfortably” owe the banks a hundred, two hundred, or three hundred million Belize dollars. I would say, as we approach the end of 2012, there would be several such families in every District of Belize, except perhaps Toledo, which is, ironically, the wealthiest District in Belize where natural resources are concerned.
In my lifetime, a group which has become quietly and spectacularly wealthy is the Mennonites, the group which dominates food production in Belize. I have no idea how the Mennonites are structured. I assume there are families which are at the top of the Mennonite pyramid.
When I became 21, the legal age of Belizean adulthood back in 1968, I was a canalside child who had my foot in the door, so to speak, because I had a good education. If I had worked hard and behaved myself, I might have become rich and comfortable. Between 1966 and 1968 while in university in America, however, I had developed ideas which would not be acceptable to the Belizean power structure. To make things worse, these “unacceptable” ideas were precisely what provided the inspiration for the career I intended to pursue – creative writing.
Belize’s power structure, through their political and religious representatives and surrogates, quickly spotted and identified my aberrant beliefs and behavior, and their political and religious representatives began to turn the screws on me. I fought back, with the support of the people, and I succeeded in surviving and remaining free.
As time went along, however, the power structure began to get the upper hand. With their immense resources, they groomed and supported personalities who looked like me and sounded like me, but who were in their employ and following their instructions, not in the service of the people. The people began to become confused and divided, and their confusion and division contributed to my beginning to stumble. The reality was that Belize was controlled by a two-party system, owned by the power structure, and if you were outside of that system, you didn’t count for much in the public sector.
At the end of 1977, thirty five years ago, I entered the private sector in order to fulfill my family responsibilities and make what contributions I could to the economic upliftment of the people. In order to succeed in the private sector in Belize, I had to sacrifice my creative writing career and become a journalist. That was the bottom line. As a journalist, I became reasonably acceptable to the power structure, apparently, and this is how I find myself where I am today.
19 years ago, my family was invited into the political power structure, wherein we were represented by my second son, Cordel. We were not invited because we had become part of the financial elite, but because our family enjoyed a lot of credibility amongst the Belizean people.
8 years ago my youngest daughter was married to Mark Espat, who was a Cabinet Minister and a member of a rich and powerful family, though not one of the elite. Shortly after that marriage, Cordel, who was also a Cabinet Minister, and Mark became partners in a “G-7” initiative which sought to make financial reforms in the PUP government. Primarily because of G-7, Mark was fired from Cabinet in late 2004. He was a sacrifice. Cordel resigned from Cabinet in protest and in solidarity.
From that time, Cordel Hyde and Mark Espat became like a joint entity. Through various ups and downs, their positions were the same until late last year, when, after 11 days as Interim PUP Leader, Mark Espat decided not to accept the substantive post on a permanent basis.
As you readers know, I have never dared to speak for Mark and/or Cordel. These were successful electoral politicians, and I have no expertise in the field of electoral politics. The record, from 1971 to 1977, shows that in black and white.
A number of things happened as 2012 began. Cordel’s son, Cory, became seriously ill in New York City, and Cordel gave up his Lake Independence candidacy to be at his side. Shortly after that, Mark gave up his Albert candidacy in circumstances which appeared more rancorous than those in Cordel’s case.
In general elections back in March of this year, with Cordel still in New York, the ruling UDP were returned to office by a narrow margin. The line which the PUP took in their post-election propaganda was to blame Mark and Cordel, who were branded as traitors.
At what point, Mark and Cordel began to go in different directions, I cannot say. It is for sure that soon after the general elections, Mark was hired by the Dean Barrow government to head the team re-negotiating the 2007 “superbond.” This hiring added fuel to the PUP propaganda fire, into which Cordel was always thrown for immolation. Mark and Cordel, remember, had been a joint entity from December of 2004.
Cordel returned to Belize in late April of this year, but then Cory suffered a relapse, and he had to return to New York City. Myself, I was in Guatemala and Arizona for most of May and June, attending to prostate problems.
Cordel has never announced publicly that he is seeking to become the PUP Lake Independence candidate in the next general elections, whenever those are held, but this is the sense I got from him about three months ago, after Cory’s death. PUP executive leadership has been consistently hostile to him, but my understanding is that the traditional PUP Lake I committee is solidly behind him.
PUP propaganda to the contrary, Mark Espat has told me in the last couple weeks that he is only a private consultant in the employ of the UDP government, and he has insisted he is not a UDP politician. But, I have to say that Cordel and Mark are going in different directions because this is how it appears to me.
In this essay, I have tried to give you an idea of how Belize is ruled, and I have tried to give you a picture of how my children and I reached here. Consider the big people in the nation-state, and you can see for yourself that we Kremandala have become bigger since 1977, but we are still small. As small as we are, nevertheless, we have always had a feeling of strength, because of the faith which you have in us. We always want to justify that faith. Happy New Year 2013, brethren and sistren.
Power to the people.