Please allow me to share these thoughts. It is difficult to imagine Belize without the legacy of the public meeting, the Flowers Bank 14, the Ex-Servicemen’s Riot, and Antonio Soberanis Gómez, the activist in the Belizean labor movement.
He founded the Labor and Unemployed Association in 1934 to demand poverty relief work and a minimum wage. He was jailed for sedition in 1935.
Clifford Betson (1897-1974), a strong and militant unionist with only a primary level education, was part of the contingent which on July 22 started the Ex-Servicemen Riot in Belize City in protest of the treatment experienced at the hands of the colonial authorities.
In 1934 he joined Antonio Soberanis’ Laborers and Unemployed Association to demand better wages. He also led a group called the Progressive Party, which campaigned for the increased representation of poor Belizeans.
As a member of the British Honduras Tradesmen and Workers Union in 1939, Betson went on to serve as president of his own General Workers Union (GWU) from 1944-1950. Through the GWU, Betson was able to achieve wage increases for its branches such as the Stann Creek Fruit Workers, Corozal Sugar Workers, the Belize Waterfront Workers, and the Punta Gorda Dock Workers.
In February 1947, after Betson organized a strike of 300 Belize Estate and Produce Company workers, the company capitulated and the sawmill workers won an increase in wages.
Cleopatra White M.B.E., J.P. (1898-1987), was a strong Methodist, a Black Cross nurse and a member of the United Negro Improvement Association. Cleopatra White was awarded the British Empire Medal in 1953. Her accomplishments include the formalizing, in 1943, of the training of public health nurses in Belize.
She displayed great community organizing skills. In the village of Roaring Creek in 1956, she organized a branch of the Red Cross and pioneered the idea of the village counseling, showing not only a keen interest in rural nursing but also a personal, genuine interest in the welfare of people regardless of race, color or creed.
As a permanent testimonial to one of Belize’s true patriots, the Cleopatra White Health Center in Belize City was named in her honor.
Henry C. Fairweather, M.B.E., J.P (1906-2002) —born on the 27th of June, 1906– was one of Belize’s first qualified land surveyors and town planners. He planned and rebuilt Corozal after Hurricane Janet in 1955 (along with Hon. Philip Goldson); surveyed the Belize-Guatemalan border in 1932 (along with James A. Waight); sited the new capital, Belmopan; surveyed the Hummingbird and Southern Highways, and is a founding patron of the Belize Audubon Society.
Henry Fairweather’s dream was independence based on agriculture and reforestation. He was forever sharing his knowledge by transferring his mahogany and other cultivation knowledge to poor communities in the Belize River Valley. He died on Monday, October 7, 2002.
What an inheritance it is that we seem to be forgetting! As African descendants born in Belize, we must truly reflect on these facts: 1) Without recognition of either the British or Spanish governments, the people of means on the land, free black men and women, the Baymen in Belize, started electing magistrates as early as 1738.
2) After the Treaty of Paris and with the following conditions re-affirmed in the 1783 Treaty of Versailles, Britain agreed to abandon British forts in Belize that protected the Baymen and gave Spain sovereignty over the soil, while Spain agreed that the Baymen could continue logging wood in present-day Belize. However, the Baymen never agreed to any of this.
3) After the 1783 Treaty of Versailles, the governor of British-controlled Jamaica sent a superintendent to control the settlers, but had his authority denied by the farmers and loggers.
Let’s ask ourselves why is it that we are not following these heroic examples to preserve our Belizean patrimony in 2019. Nationalism and patriotism is our force for UNITY in this decade of African descendants, 2015 to 2024.
The matter of reparative justice is one of jogging our memories to find the useful models we have used in the past, to repair our ills, rebuilding nationalism.
Long live Belize, one aim, one destiny!