“One thing leads to another thing …”
– Jah Art
Box 55, West Davenport
New York, 13860
March 23, 1978
I know my silence and delay in replying totally misrepresents the relief and pleasure I felt when I got your letter. In fact, when Spider Mwowo told me someone had informed him that you were still around and kicking in Belize, I was ecstatic. And I know this sounds corny, but the point is several people had told me that they had “heard” through the grapevine (some rotten ones, now it turns out) that you had been imprisoned and then two years ago one of these students from Dartmouth I run into at a conference said he had heard you were dead! This latter news was a shocker but with my usual optimism I had my fingers crossed in the sure hope that since you were too young to be wasted you would turn up somewhere one of these days.
Guy – The African!
The Police Department and Ministry decided to send Kremandala a message on Monday morning by sending their Gang Suppression Unit (GSU), an armed paramilitary group, to violate the privacy of our yard, which houses Amandala, KREM Radio, KREM Television, and the African and Indian (Indigenous) Library.
The pretext for the attack was that the GSU had a warrant for a fiery political activist named Raymond Rivers, whom they had seen/heard on the KREM Radio/Television morning talk show. The GSU could have waited at the gate until their target finished the show, they could have covered the back of our yard to make sure he did not scale the fence, and then they would have been sure of their target. But, it was not really Raymond Rivers that they sought. The bosses of the GSU wanted to violate and embarrass Kremandala, which they did.
During and after the incident, I felt proud of our employees. They are professionals with various qualifications and experience, and the security forces are not supposed to disturb our employees in their work the way they did Monday morning unless they have a very good excuse.
When I was 23 years old, in July of 1970, I was tried in the No. 2 Supreme Court on a charge of seditious conspiracy. My co-defendant was the late Ismail Omar Shabazz, whom I had met in late 1968, and who had been one of the founding officers, along with myself and eight others, of the United Black Association for Development (UBAD) in February 1969.
Shabazz and I were defended, pro bono, by Assad Shoman and Said Musa. The prosecuting Crown Counsel was John Avilez. And the presiding Judge was one Charles Ross.
Shabazz and I had been charged with seditious conspiracy because of a headline story in this newspaper, which was a four-page mimeographed publication and just six months old at the time.
Belize was a self-governing British colony in July of 1970. The ruling People’s United Party (PUP) held 17 of the 18 seats in the House of Representatives. The judiciary was supposed to be independent, then as now, but the Attorney General, V. H. Courtenay, was an elected PUP area representative and a member of Premier George Price’s Cabinet.
The Chief Justice at the time was one Sir Clifford de Lisle Innis, whose name was mentioned in the offending article – Games Old People Play, which was essentially satiric comment on an election petition case being heard before the Chief Justice in the No. 1 Supreme Court. A defeated candidate for the NIPDM coalition in the December 1969 general election, the late Henry Fairweather, had hired the young attorney, Edward Laing, to protest against his defeat in the Freetown constituency by Premier George Price. The case appeared ridiculous to me, because there was no way, in my opinion, the court would begin to unravel a government which had won 17 of 18 seats in free and fair elections.
I suppose it was possible for the Chief Justice himself to have summoned the Attorney General and instructed him to begin criminal proceedings against myself and Shabazz. The judiciary was supposed to be independent, and British Honduras was a self-governing British colony. The charge sheet for Evan X Hyde and Ismail Shabazz said that they had brought the administration of justice into disrepute.
I tend to believe, however, that the decision to arrest me and Shabazz arose in the Cabinet, and two members of that 1970 Cabinet are still alive – Fred Hunter (Belize Rural North) and Hector Silva (Cayo North).
The point of today’s column is that Shabazz and I had huge popular support during our trial, and there was a great celebration in Regent Street and surrounds after our acquittal the night of July 7, 1970.
Four years after the sedition trial, I ran as the only UBAD Party candidate (Collet) in the October 1974 general election. I received a total of 89 votes, which represented 4.1 percent of the total votes cast in Collet. Big up, Edilia. Big up, Christobal. Big up, the late Pearlina.
Most times roots people feel powerless in Belize, but those of you who supported us in 1970 were defending a young newspaper which had become the leading newspaper in Belize by 1981. Your solidarity through the years made us attractive as allies to the ruling PUP in 1975, and in 1977 three of their Cabinet Ministers became business partners in Amandala, a relationship which lasted until early 1981.
Belize is a troubled parliamentary democracy, but a parliamentary democracy nonetheless. At the end of the day, it was the oligarchical power structure here, in whose employ the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) politicians operate, who sent the GSU into our yard. They would never, ever do that to our Northside competitors: you know that, roots. Kremandala is a different kettle of fish: we speak truth to power. We speak for the people who began publicly defending us 47 years ago. We speak for those people, for their children, and for their grandchildren.
On Monday morning, Amandala was not in any kind of position to respond physically to the GSU invasion. There is a way we can send a message to the ruling party and the oligarchical power structure, however. Remember now, it is the ruling party and their oligarchical backers who organized and supported Monday morning’s attack.
At the top of the column, I have reproduced the opening lines of a 1978 letter to me from a Dartmouth classmate (now deceased) whom I loved and cherished. A native of Malawi who graduated from Dartmouth the same year I did – 1968, Guy Mhone was in exile in upstate New York in 1978. He had already completed his Ph.D. at Syracuse University in economics and was teaching. He had married, fathered a daughter, and his wife was expecting again. In his 1978 letter, Guy refers to the “process of my ‘bourgeoisfication’ in the country (U.S.).” He went on, “All these developments, however, do not fool me! I am for all practical purposes temporarily constrained to continue my existence in this fashion, but my resolve and determination, although currently on the theoretical plane only, have grown finer and deeper.”
Guy Mhone was a revolutionary who could not return home to Malawi because he would have been jailed and/or killed. There were people who had spirited him out of Malawi to save him when he was a student leader in 1965. Malawi was being led at the time by one Hastings Kamuzu Banda, who was one of those treacherous black African leaders who were collaborating with South African apartheid during the time when Nelson Mandela was imprisoned.
Mhone eventually made his way to Robert Mugabe’s revolutionary Zimbabwe in the 1980s, and then moved to Johannesburg, South Africa, after one of his heroes, Nelson Mandela, was freed from prison and won the South African presidency in the early 1990s. Mhone became one of Africa’s greatest economists.
I bring up Guy Mhone’s name to let you know that as we were completing our studies at Dartmouth 49 years ago, I vowed that no one would keep me out of my own country, as Kamuzu Banda was doing to Guy. If I was immature or excessive, or both, on my return home, let it be known that there were roots Belizeans who understood then and who understand now, the nature of the Kremandala struggle.
I send this message to the ruling UDP loud and clear. None of you will run us out of Partridge Street. This was a lowdown thing you did on Monday morning. Our response will be in accordance with the constitutional rights we have fought for in the land of Belize as citizens of a sovereign nation-state. Soon, you will get the sense.
Power to the people.