The anti-colonial struggle in Belize began not with the devaluation of the Belizean dollar on 31st December, 1949, or even the day after when the People’s Committee was formed, but on an October day in 1934 when, for the first time, the working class masses of the Colony went into open revolt against the Colonial government. The disorders and strikes of 1934-35 were at heart labour disturbances – the result of poverty, unemployment and imperial neglect, but the leaders of these disturbances not only attacked the economic policy of the Colonial Office (if it can be said to have had one with regard to Belize), but also the political relevance of Crown Colony government. In as much as they questioned the actions of the Governor and his colonial officials, the protest was partly political and in this light Antonio Soberanis, the leader of the Labour and Unemployed Association, can be regarded as the father of Belizean nationalism.
( – from an essay entitled ANTONIO SOBERANIS AND THE 1934-35 DISTURBANCES IN BELIZE, by Peter Ashdown, pg. 194 of READINGS IN BELIZEAN HISTORY – Second Edition, published by St. John’s College)
His (Price’s) intervention in the stoning of Courtenay’s house was not well received by Tony Soberanis, who accosted Price at the Battlefield. It was this incident that convinced Price that the Soberanis agenda and his were divergent and that Soberanis could not continue to be a part of the People’s Committee. His unbridled militancy would do the movement more harm than good.
( – pg. 77, GEORGE PRICE: A Life Revealed, by Godfrey P. Smith, Ian Randle Publishers, 2011)
There are reasons why every empire known in human history has ended up falling. One of the reasons for this historical truth is that there have always been those in the ranks of those oppressed by empires who have chosen to resist oppression. Most of us human beings consider those who resist oppression to be heroes.
You cannot chose to accommodate empire and to appease oppression, and at the same time seek to portray yourself as some kind of hero. Accommodation is accommodation and appeasement is appeasement. These two impostors always insist on wearing the garments of intelligence. It is because we are intelligent, the argument goes, that we are supposed to accommodate and appease.
There is a perversity in human nature, nevertheless, which provokes some of us to “fight the power”, to borrow the words of Public Enemy. It is not intelligent to “fight the power.” It is a safer, hence more intelligent choice by far, for one to accommodate and appease. Accommodation and appeasement are supposed to assure survival. In history, nevertheless, there have always been human beings who have asked themselves the question: what kind of life is a man to accept as constituting living? For instance, does life as a shackled slave constitute an acceptable form of living?
At a certain point in history, in 1834 in the case of the British Empire, the imperialists who ruled the settlement of Belize decided that those Belizeans whom they had enslaved should be made free. That process of theoretical liberation was completed in 1838.
Six decades later, the power structure in Belize, imperial British in nature, aided and abetted by local accommodationists and appeasers, began a Centenary celebration to mark an occasion wherein slaves in Belize supposedly celebrated the reality of their enslavement by fighting in support of their masters against invaders from the Yucatan. Since 1898, these celebrations of slavery have been held every year. The celebrations of slavery, interestingly enough, were not held before 1898.
Slavery was succeeded by British colonialism. In 1862, we Belizeans became “British subjects,” and some of us gloried in our designation as subjects of the greatest empire then ever known to man – the British Empire. Those of us Belizeans who were accommodationists and appeasers embraced the express status of inferiors – “British subjects.”
The two most important incidents of resistance to British imperialism in Belize occurred in July of 1919 and in October of 1934. In 1919, an ex-serviceman by the name of “H. H. Vernon” led his compatriots in an uprising which was supported by the general citizenry of Belize Town. Belizean history has chosen to exalt another ex-serviceman, Samuel Haynes, to hero status for negotiating the peace with the colonial masters after two days of insurgency rule. Haynes was unquestionably a man of magnificent gifts and abilities, but he did not lead the rebellion. H. H. Vernon led the rebellion, and he should therefore have been accorded hero status.
Belizean historians have not given Antonio Soberanis, the leader of the 1934 resistance, his proper respect. Belizean historians have chosen to focus on the leaders of the People’s United Party (PUP) anti-colonial movement in 1950, especially George Price and Philip Goldson, and these two have been officially declared, and rightly so, national heroes.
Before we come to 2017 in Belize, let us explain that the fundamental choices between resistance and accommodation/appeasement are always the choices offered to oppressed human beings. In the 1870s, the Lakota Sioux in the Black Hills of South Dakota had leaders who represented the different choices. Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull argued for resistance: Red Cloud, on the other hand, spoke for accommodation with white Washington. In the 1970s in Rhodesia, Robert Mugabe chose the militant’s path of guerrilla resistance to white supremacy. Joshua Nkomo favored the path of negotiation and accommodation.
In these matters, none of us can say who is right and who is wrong. Historically, there are many resistors who have gone down in flames. Likewise, many negotiators and accommodators have seen their people through to various forms of survival and gradual progress.
In the Judeo-Christian world inhabited by Belizeans, undoubtedly the greatest Biblical hero is David, because he slew the giant Goliath. Were David to have been the giant and Goliath the puny youth, then David’s victory would hardly have been so glorious. But, as we know, Goliath was the giant and David the puny youth. We propose to you that the choice David made to fight Goliath was not an intelligent choice: it was an absolutely heroic choice.
In Belize over the past few years there have been many attempts by the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) to portray the one Wil Maheia as an agitator or provocateur. We think, however, that most Belizeans view Wil Maheia as a patriot who has brought the matter of Guatemalan aggression, especially in the Sarstoon River area, to our national attention. Even if Wil Maheia is an agitator or provocateur, the fact of the matter is that he has shown consistent, unwavering courage in the defence of our native land. The possibility is great that history will consider Wil Maheia a Belizean national hero. If we are to judge by what happened to H. H. Vernon and Antonio Soberanis, however, then we know that there are no guarantees that Wil Maheia will receive his due.
What we can say with no hesitation, however, is that Belize’s Minister of Foreign Affairs is now attempting to have his cake and eat it too. He has for years been hammering on the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as Belize’s safe and intelligent option. Presumably because his discourses have been criticized and sometimes condemned by the Belizean masses, he has of late sought to cast himself in a heroic light because of an arrest in connection with one of the anti-Seventeen Proposals demonstrations in 1968. Mr. Elrington was a teenager at the time. We respect his resistance to Washington in 1968. The problem is that Mr. Elrington in 1968 was convinced that it was George Price he was resisting: he believed that the national hero was a traitor. But history has established that it was Washington which was responsible for the Seventeen Proposals, just as it is Washington which is now leading the 2017 charge for Belize to go to the ICJ. Jump high, jump low, Mr. Sedi, you are now firmly in the Washington camp you were inadvertently resisting in 1968.
You need to do some real reading, Mr. Sedi. Once you do this, you will understand that Wil Maheia is a hero and you are an appeaser. As we have said before, there are always the two choices oppressed people have to choose between – the choice between resistance and appeasement. The Belizean people will decide between Maheia’s way and Elrington’s way. As for us at this newspaper, needless to say, we are drawn to Wil Maheia’s way.
Power to the people.