In the late 1960’s, a little village from the Corozal District by the name of San Joaquin won senior football championships in the prestigious Belize City competition. This was an almost revolutionary accomplishment, because football is a lot about socio-economics, because Belize City had dominated the colony, and because districts more accomplished than Corozal in football, namely Cayo and Stann Creek, had tried to conquer Belize City football before, and had failed.
What had happened to make the San Joaquin victories possible was this. Around the time of self-government in 1964, a British company named Tate and Lyle, the world leader in sugar refining, invested in Belize. They built the modern Tower Hill sugar factory. The Libertad factory already existed, so both Corozal (Libertad) and Orange Walk (Tower Hill) then had their own factories, and sugar cane farming became a boom industry. It was the biggest thing Belize had seen. People from all over the country of Belize migrated to the sugar belt looking for work, and the areas around the factories became ethnic mixtures.
Corozal and Orange Walk had been isolated from the capital city from time immemorial, because the roads were very bad. What wealth existed in the colony before sugar, had been concentrated in the capital, whose demography was dominated by black Belizeans who had developed an attitude of superiority. Not only were black Belizeans a majority in the capital and in the country, they were the primary native allies of the real rulers, the British colonial masters.
Most of the Mestizo and Maya families which were the majority of the Corozal and Orange Walk populations had come into the colony as refugees after the Caste War began in the Yucatán in 1847. The Caste War lasted for most of the second half of the twentieth century, and the story of the war was buried, both in Belize and the Yucatán, because it was a dirty war, and the elite in both Belize and Yucatán had things they wanted to hide.
After the British brought in the West India Regiment to crush the Icaiche leader, Marcos Canul, in Orange Walk in 1872, the Mestizo and Maya masses in the North were subjugated by the British until Hon. George Price, whose mother was a Mestizo from Orange Walk, became the PUP leader in 1956. Things began to change.
The British and Mr. Price were in direct conflict until some time in 1959, when a kind of truce was apparently negotiated. Out of that truce came the MCC Grounds in 1960, and then the Tate and Lyle investment a couple years later. Corozal and Orange Walk experienced an economic boom, to repeat, and the logical result of this was massive gratitude to Mr. Price and the PUP. The PUP did not lose a single Northern seat in the House until 1984.
The liberation and rise of the Mestizo/Maya North in the 1960s provoked ethnic resentment in the black capital. There was a lot of ignorance in Belize back then. The British had designed things this way, so that they could keep ethnicities separate from, and suspicious of, each other. The history shows that the British did this all over their colonial empire. Divide the natives, and rule them.
Belize’s various ethnic groups have learned a lot about each other since the 1960s, even though there is still substantial ignorance. One point we want to make in this essay is this: the cane farmers in the sugar belt had been downtrodden before the PUP and the Tate and Lyle investment, and they were very proud of their new, hard-earned wealth and success. Just as the black capital had developed an “attitude” when they dominated the country in colonial days, now the North developed an “attitude” as the socio-economics of the old capital began to deteriorate.
The main point we want to make in this essay today is this: the Northern cane farmers’ present fight for a share of the revenues from bagasse is a Belizean fight. All of us Belizeans should be supporting the cane farmers in their struggle, and the cane farmers should be reaching out to the rest of the country for support.
The expansion and modernization of the Belizean sugar industry in the 1960s meant that the cane farmers raised their standard of living substantially higher than before. But there was always a tension between Tate & Lyle’s Belize Sugar Industries (BSI) and the roots cane farmers. In Belize City, we never saw or understood this. When First World companies invest in Third World counties, most of the cake is repatriated to the metropolitan nation. It is only the crumbs which remain in the native land.
Yes, in the beginning, the crumbs are more than the natives have seen before. And in the Belizean North, apart from that, the marijuana cultivation industry took off right after the sugar cane boom of the 1960s, and the two crops could grow side by side. The thing is, marijuana was illegal, and when the Americans targeted Belize’s weed fields, then sprayed our marijuana with paraquat in 1985, the rise and fall of sugar prices on the world market had already begun to make the economics of the North unstable, from time to time.
Some families became very wealthy in the North, off sugar cane and weed, and later some cocaine, but there are many poor cane farming families who struggle like other Belizeans. There were decades when it seemed to the rest of Belize that the North was on top of things compared to the rest of us. Whether that was so or not, it is for sure today that the cane farmers need the revenues from their bagasse. They deserve that.
Power to the people. Power to the cane farmers.