A couple weeks ago we had described the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU) as an irresistible force and the Government of Belize as the immoveable object. In the Wednesday evening national radio and television newscasts this week, the immoveable object delivered a devastating blow to the momentum of the irresistible force. It was hours before a critical series of rallies by the striking teachers of Belize in the cities and towns of the nation scheduled for Thursday morning, October 7. In comments to the Belizean media on Wednesday after a meeting with the Prime Minister of Belize, Rt. Hon. Dean O. Barrow, the Papal Nuncio for Belize and El Salvador, Archbishop Leon Kalenga Badikebele, said everything the United Democratic Party (UDP) propagandists had been saying and everything the Government of Belize wanted to hear. The children belonged in school. The teachers should end the strike and return to the negotiating table. It was the Opposition which should be taking the initiatives the teachers of Belize had been taking.
Archbishop Kalenga Badikebele’s media discourse had the overall effect, it appears to this newspaper, of undermining the credibility of the ailing Roman Catholic Bishop of Belize, Most Rev. Dorick Wright, and bringing his future administrative status into doubt. This was greeted with glee by the Barrow administration, because Bishop Wright has been a public thorn in their government’s side, beginning with and featuring Bishop Wright’s hard line on the homosexuality liberation issue, and including support for the Belize Territorial Volunteers at the Sarstoon River. The Section 53 matter was an area where Belmopan was under pressure from its Washington allies to empower the LGBT community (lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders) in Belize.
Presently, the Roman Catholic teachers, of the three largest religious school denominations, have been the most solidly in support of BNTU leadership. In Belize’s school system, the Roman Catholic Church controls the most schools. Under the leadership of Bishop Wright, the Catholic congregations had already taken issue with the Barrow government on the homosexuality liberation issue, whereas the Anglican Church and the Methodist Mission leaderships have been accommodating and friendly to the Barrow administration on this score. There has been a rift in the growing evangelical congregations, wherein a minority group, controlled by the Government of Belize, have seized political power and disenfranchised the majority congregations which had sided with Bishop Wright on the Section 53 issue.
The point is that the Papal Nuncio on Wednesday attacked the teachers where their union was strongest, their Roman Catholic section, and this just hours before, to repeat, the teachers were organizing to embark on their most ambitious offensive in the current dispute with the Government of Belize. The Prime Minister, and the Minister of Education/Deputy Prime Minister, Patrick Faber, could not have wished for a better gift on Wednesday.
If, in the face of the Papal Nuncio’s broadside, the teachers are successful in their rallies on Thursday, it would be perhaps the BNTU’s greatest victory ever. The key to the fight between the BNTU and GOB was always the perspective of Belize’s parents. Whichever of the two sides Belize’s parents turned against once they became frustrated about their children being out of school, that side would be in big trouble. Until the Papal Nuncio’s statement, parental support for the teachers had been holding steady.
What we are writing here in the pre-dawn of Thursday will have no effect on the BNTU rallies scheduled for four or five hours from how. This editorial will not hit the streets until early Friday morning, October 7, when Thursday’s battle will have already been decided.
In the old days, it would have been impossible to recover in less than a day from the Archbishop’s statements. But 2016 is the age of this incredible social media, which may give the teachers a glimmer of hope. In addition, it should be noted that the teachers have invited the public to participate in their rallies in the cities and towns. This opens the door on Thursday for politically motivated citizens to replace some of the internal union support which the BNTU may lose on Thursday because of the Papal Nuncio’s intervention in the name of Rome.
The Thursday rallies may well be decisive in this dispute. The Papal Nuncio’s statements provide an excuse for a large section of the teachers to return to the classrooms. And, after all, the children have to return to school. On the other hand, if the teachers are not moved by the Archbishop and proceed to display strength and solidarity on Thursday, then Mr. Barrow and Mr. Faber will have to, as the deejays say, wheel and come again.
The fact of the matter is that Mr. Faber is in a lose-lose situation. Mr. Barrow can console himself with the fact that he is in waiting for retirement. The problem for Mr. Faber is that even if he defeats the teachers in 2016, he has to face them in 2020 at the polls. King Pyrrhus, it is historically said, won the battle but ended up losing the war. Read between the lines, Hon. Patrick.
Power to the people.