Editorial — 17 May 2017
Religion, politics and Technical

   In 1534, King Henry VIII separated the English Church from Rome. Between 1536 and 1540, Henry engaged in the Dissolution of the Monasteries, which controlled much of the richest land. He disbanded monasteries, priories, convents and friaries in England, Wales, and Ireland, appropriated their incomes, disposed of their assets, and provided pensions for the former residents. The properties were sold to pay for the wars, Bernard argues.

   UNIVERSITY OF BELIZE LAND TRANSFER PROGRESS REPORT (Nov. 31, 2002) (Updated, Dec. 17, 2002) (Updated Jan. 15, 2003) (Updated Feb. 28, 2003) (Updated May 12, 2003)

File No. LS 8315

Location: Former Belize Technical College

Size: 6.554 acres

Survey requested by Commissioner to facilitate transfer. Survey completed and authenticated. Awaiting transfer. May have to transfer all land under UB Act together. Update of 17/12/02. Processing complete, awaiting Minister’s signature for title to be issued. Update of 15/01/03: Still awaiting title. Update of 28/02/03: TITLE RECEIVED, PLACED IN SAFE AT UB BELMOPAN.

   In the meantime, deep down, I will explore how the three great Abrahamic religions of our battered world, despite all the past and present tensions between them, come together at the story of this most amazing man – this Jesus of Nazareth. Whether we are Jews, Christians, or Muslims, we share either a faith followed by him, or, a faith built on him, or a faith that venerates him.
– pg. 8, THE ISLAMIC JESUS: How the King of the Jews Became a Prophet of the Muslims, by Mustafa Akyol, St. Martin’s Press, 2017

When the Belize Technical College was opened in 1952, it was a revolutionary initiative in Belize, because it was a non-religious secondary institution operated by the Government of British Honduras. The other secondary schools in the colony were St. John’s College/St. Catherine’s Academy; St. Michael’s College/St. Hilda’s College; and Wesley College, run by the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Methodist Churches, respectively.

It is important to note that the Anglican Church is one and the same, where leadership is concerned, with the United Kingdom of Great Britain. The monarch of England, in the present case Queen Elizabeth II, is the head of the Church of England. In other words, since 1534 the British do not allow for a difference between their religion and their politics.

Probably the most striking aspect of the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain by the Thirteen Colonies of the United States in 1776 was that the Americans called for the absolute separation of the Church from the State, and that constitutional provision has been maintained until the present day. Religion and politics are separated in the governance of the United States, but the overwhelmingly Christian beliefs of the American people have a considerable impact on America’s foreign policy, such that the new American President, Donald J. Trump, has been declaring “radical Islam” to be America’s greatest enemy.

Religious beliefs have been historically involved with wars between nations because religion has tended to enter the political realm. In the case of the brutal, murderous Spanish conquistadors in the sixteenth century, they argued, where their primary motivation was concerned, that they seriously wanted to bring the Indigenous peoples of the so-called New World into the Christian faith. Islam became inextricably linked with the Ottoman Empire. And, as we pointed out previously, after 1534 the British people saw their beloved England and their religion as one and the same thing.

In many cases, Christian nations have gone to war with other Christian nations, because of political and economic differences between their leaderships. For centuries after Henry VIII declared himself head of the Church of England, the English waged wars with the Spanish, whose monarchs gave their religious loyalty to the Roman Catholic Pope of Rome. When the English and the French waged wars with each other in the Middle Ages and as late as the Napoleonic era, they both swore their belief in Christian principles. And, most famously and most recently, when the British and the Germans led the two bloody World Wars of the first half of the twentieth century against each other, they both called on the same Christian God and Christian Messiah when they were killing each other.

Jesus Christ, of course, condemned violence and called for peace and love amongst human beings. But, when religion becomes involved with domestic politics and international relations, things become confused, and words appear to change their meaning.

Let’s return to the humble matter of Technical. In retrospect, it is so fascinating, probably also ironic, that this revolutionary decision in secondary education here was made by our British colonial masters in the early, most militant years of the anti-colonial People’s United Party (PUP). This visionary British decision, the opening of Technical, proved a phenomenal success as quickly as within a decade, arguably.

The curricula of the religious high schools concentrated on the liberal arts, one reason being that the religious missionaries were hoping for clerical vocations amongst the young natives they were educating. The purpose of the religious high schools was not to train our young people in skills and trades which would contribute to the industrial, productive development of Belize. Focused on precisely that, Belize Technical College filled a huge vacuum, and the freedom from religious oppression on the Technical campus allowed for an environment where students and teachers voluntarily worked into the night in pursuance of scientific knowledge and technical skills.

Freedom from religion oppression contributed to something else, which was an atmosphere of intellectual and political free thinking. So it was that when Belize’s most dangerous political crisis ever, the Heads of Agreement, erupted in March of 1981, Belize Technical College students led the Belize City student protest. Technical students took to the streets, closed the other high schools in the old capital, and thus earned the ire of the ruling PUP politicians.

One has to assume that PUP leaders ascribed some of the blame for the Technical insurgency to the faculty and administrators of the institution. The charismatic student who became the poster girl of the Technical uprising, Soccorro Bobadilla, was known to come from a Freetown Road family which was considered supportive of Manuel Esquivel, the United Democratic Party (UDP) standard bearer in the Freetown constituency who had challenged PUP Premier George Price in the 1979 general election. Years later, the Technical principal of the Bobadilla time, Owen Morrison, became the UDP Freetown candidate in the 1993 general election.

With all the UDP vibes around Technical, it was surprising that the UDP government which came to power in 1984 under the aforementioned Esquivel, did nothing special for the school. In the larger Christian atmosphere of Belize’s higher education, Technical may have become something of a sore thumb. We don’t talk about these things in Belize, but we should.

Neither PUP or UDP governments supported the Belize Technical College the way they should have. In addition, Technical alumni did not organize themselves in such a way as to defend and promote the institution. As taxpaying Belizeans, and fully cognizant of Technical’s status as a government asset, perhaps Technical alumni took certain things for granted, specifically the Belizean state’s financial support.

The attack on Technical that was made by the ruling PUP in 1999 came under the guise of a promised upgrade to a full-fledged engineering department of the new University of Belize. That promise was not fulfilled. And, we would dare to suggest that a major aspect of Technical’s amalgamation into UB had to do with the incredibly valuable real estate which the Technical campus, smack dab in the middle of Belize’s commercial, financial, and educational center, represented. The intent of interested Cabinet Ministers was to share up the Technical real estate. That intent was foiled by the UB chairman. But, that is another story for another time.

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