We can say this for Said Musa’s People’s United Party (PUP) administrations (1998-2008) in their early years, that there were attempts made to enlighten the Belizean people, most notably through the African and Indigenous history project, but also through initiatives at the University of Belize (UB) level.
We can’t say the same thing for the Dean Barrow United Democratic Party (UDP) administrations since 2008. The University of Belize no longer does anything creative, has not done anything creative for years, when it comes to education and community participation. And at graduation time in the various secondary and tertiary institutions of learning, almost all the guest speakers are UDP political leaders and affiliates: the fare they offer is bland and self-congratulatory. Cutting edge issues are not addressed by Belize’s academics.
With 5,000 Cubans stranded in Costa Rica, trying to reach the United States, and the matter becoming somewhat of a Central American humanitarian crisis (see Adele Ramos’ story on page 2 of last weekend’s issue of Amandala), Belize’s national university could have contributed substantially to educating the Belizean people about the background and nature of this matter.
The Europeans first entered the Caribbean in 1492, of course, with the first of the voyages of Christopher Columbus, and subsequently they began competing among themselves for regional hegemony. The warring Europeans were mainly the British, the French, the Spanish, and the Dutch. It is because of these past wars in our region amongst the Europeans that we speak Spanish in Cuba and the Dominican Republic, English in Jamaica and Belize, French in Haiti and Martinique, and Dutch in Curacao and Aruba. The common denominator among all these Caribbean territories speaking different languages, is the fact that their populations have a large percentage of people of African descent. This is because all the Europeans brought millions of African slaves into the Caribbean to work for and enrich them and their mother countries. This was also the case in the southern states of the United States of America, where the European migrants there grew cotton instead of the sugar cane grown in the Caribbean.
The racism in the Caribbean and in the southern states of the United States was extreme: black African people did all the work and white Europeans made all the money. There were two game-changing revolutions in the Caribbean. The first was the Haitian Revolution between1791 and 1804, and the second was the Cuban Revolution, which brought Fidel Castro to power in 1959. In between these two Caribbean revolutions, there were two World Wars (1914-1918 and 1939–1945) when the Europeans fought amongst themselves for world hegemony.
The declaration of a black republic in Haiti in 1804 by former African slaves who had, in turn, defeated French, Spanish, and British armies, alarmed all the European slaveowners in the rest of the Caribbean and in the southern American states. They increased their vigilance and tightened the repression on their slaves, and they dedicated themselves to isolating the Haitians to ensure the black republic’s poverty.
The two World Wars in the first half of the twentieth century created some opportunities for black people in the Caribbean, because the Europeans, especially the British and the French, needed assistance in their military campaigns. In World War II, and the Korean War which followed a few years later, the United States began to involve black Americans in its army, navy, and air force. But racial segregation remained in effect in the southern American states, and racial discrimination was widespread, the order of the day, in the United States. Black Americans began a civil rights struggle in 1955 following the Rosa Parks bus incident in Montgomery, Alabama. And it was when that civil rights struggle was really heating up that Castro’s Revolution triumphed in Cuba, just 90 miles away from segregationist Florida, and declared Cuba a communist state.
For different reasons, including ideological and racial ones, it was important for the United States, which was undoubtedly the most powerful nation in the Western Hemisphere and probably in the world, to crush the Cuban Revolution. The U.S. sponsored the unsuccessful Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in April of 1961, and when that failed, actually came close to a catastrophic nuclear war with Russia in October of 1962 when Cuba installed Russian missiles in order to strengthen the island’s defences.
For this newspaper, the important thing to note about the Cuban Revolution has always been that the clear majority of black and brown Cubans support the Castro government, whereas the vast majority of those who have fled to the United States are what may be described as white Cubans. This is a crucial topic which would best be studied and discussed at the level of our national university. You cannot get away from race in this region. You especially cannot get away from race in Belize’s situation, because the power structure in Guatemala is visibly white, while their ruling classes have always considered Belize’s to be a black population. There are racial realities here which have existential implications for Belize.
The race issue is a delicate one in Belize, and the main reason is that the established, official power structure has always refused to talk about it, even though it is clear that extremely serious immigration decisions have been made in Belize since self-government in 1964.
In 1968 the United States of America publicly presented Washington’s blueprint for Belize’s future. This was what we know as the Webster Proposals. At their core, the Seventeen Webster Proposals represented the wishes of a white supremacist state, the superpower United States of America, for another white supremacist state, the Central American republic of Guatemala, with respect to the black British colony of Belize. Black Belize, in the American blueprint, should become white supremacist Guatemala’s satellite state.
Since the time of Webster’s Proposals, Belize succeeded in achieving independence in 1981 with all our territory intact. At that specific point in time, the white Guatemalan government and military, which were one and the same in 1981, were locked in a racist civil war against their Indigenous Guatemalan majority. A complicating factor in the Guatemalan civil war, which lasted from 1966 to 1996 but may have actually begun as early as 1960, was always the ideological influence of Cuba, just a few hundred miles northeast of Guatemala across Belize and the Caribbean. And, the intriguing thing about Castro’s Cuba, if you consider the island from the ethnic perspective and you compare it to Guatemala, is that Castro’s Cuba is a black Cuba.
Power to the people.