It may be the greatest cliché ever, but in unity there is strength. The teachers of Belize have proven this truism once again over the course of the last week. The ruling United Democratic Party (UDP), embarrassed by the unity/strength of the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU) during the teachers’ October strike last year and the subsequent dispute over strike pay, had succeeded in forcing Belize’s school managements and principals to take the Ministry of Education’s side in the matter of whether Belize’s schools should open on Tuesday, January 3, or Monday, January 9, 2017. Holding firm on a matter of dignity and principle, the BNTU, however, quietly had it their way on Monday, January 9, 2017.
For months, the UDP’s leaders have been using all their political power to divide the teachers along party lines, and clearly the ruling party has succeeded to a certain extent. The UDP has framed the standoffs between the BNTU and the Government of Belize in political terms, and has appealed for teachers with loyalty to the UDP to defy the BNTU’s directives. The UDP has been arguing for months that the BNTU is in the service of the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP), that the national and branch leaderships of the BNTU want to overthrow the government, and BNTU President Luke Palacio has been singled out for special invective and opprobrium.
The Government of Belize has also used the financial weapons at its disposal to threaten the teachers with salary punishments while rewarding those teachers who did not support their union with financial favors. Under the circumstances, it is surprising that the BNTU has been able to stand so strong. The secret is the internal democracy and unity of the BNTU. In their recent disputes with the Government of Belize, going back to the October strike, another factor in the teachers’ success has been the support they have had from Belize’s parents, who have had to put up with a number of inconveniences.
Before we continue with this essay, we want to consider an aspect of the BNTU’s situation as they celebrate, for lack of a better word, their early January school-opening victory. One of the most important decisions the commanders of guerrilla forces have to make when they are in conflict with conventional armies is when and how to retreat after a guerrilla victory. The nature of the guerrilla force is such that it cannot fight toe-to-toe with the conventional army because the conventional army, by definition, is much larger, much better equipped, and much better supplied. The BNTU may be compared to a guerrilla force in its skirmishes with the Government of Belize, because the Government of Belize is much more powerful than the BNTU in every respect, except where the support of the Belizean people is concerned. The BNTU cannot continue its campaign indefinitely. Belmopan will wear the teachers down. And, it is not as if the teachers do not know this.
The UDP strategy of branding the BNTU as an instrument of the PUP has failed. Had the BNTU been an instrument of the PUP, then the Opposition would have taken advantage of the fact that the Government of Belize has been embarrassed by the teachers, by mounting PUP offensives against the UDP administration. We do not see where the PUP has been able to frighten the UDP over the course of the months of BNTU wrangling with Belmopan.
What will the UDP do now? The Barrow administration cannot admit publicly that there is a bonding between the teachers and parents of Belize which has enabled the BNTU successes, because such an admission would raise doubts about the present condition of the electoral mandate which the UDP received from the Belizean people on November 4, 2015.
The UDP will no doubt continue to claim that the militancy of the teachers represents a PUP attempt to “grab power,” to use the words of the UDP Housing Minister. The truth of the matter is that the Belizean people are the prisoners of a disrespectful constitution which dictates to us that once we elect a government, we have to put up with them for five years, no matter what. The people of Belize, most indications are, are angry with this administration. But constitutionally, there is nothing to be done.
Popular disaffection with Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s government is peaking at a time when Belize’s woes in the area of public finances are troubling to the point of becoming frightening. Politically, the Barrow administration needs popular support more now than at any point since November 4, 2015. But the arrogance which Belize’s incumbent political leadership consistently displays, most prominently in their disagreements with the teachers, is one which is fed and sustained by their constitutional invulnerability. Governments which are near bankruptcy but enjoy constitutional invulnerability tend to become heavy handed.
The way the Anglo-American imperialists designed it, we natives are to run to the PUP from the UDP, then from the UDP to the PUP, and back and forth and forth and back, ad infinitum. Provoked over the last two years by the naked and repeated aggression coming from both Guatemalan civilians in the Chiquibul and the Guatemalan military on the Sarstoon, the people of Belize have quietly reached a level of political sophistication where they understand the reality of the PUDP trap. The teachers, unwittingly we suppose, have introduced a new element into Belize’s democracy. We referred to that element in last weekend’s editorial as “existential politics.”
What do we mean by existential politics? We mean that when the humble teachers of Belize decided to travel to Jalacte in Toledo and then march to the Benque border, they were saying that they had been forced out of the PUDP box by the threats to Belize’s existence. The teachers, in case you forget or did not properly appreciate, thereafter forced the Government of Belize with their October strike to accept basic national demands for good governance. This was a monumental achievement, but, amongst Belizeans, it was an understated one.
The think tanks of the Anglo-American imperialists who are supporting Guatemala with that republic’s claim to Belize will not, however, overlook these existential political developments in which the teachers have taken center stage. The Anglo-American imperialists know well that unity is strength, and they are fearful that the successes of the teachers will infect the national Belizean psyche, from Benque to Half Moon and from the Hondo to the Sarstoon. Yes, we said “Sarstoon.”
If the Belizean people can work towards the unity the teachers have displayed, then all things Belizeans are possible. There is one glaring area of weakness in Guatemala: the Guatemalans are not a united people. We know that division has also been an area of weakness for us Belizeans. But, whereas there is a history and a bigotry in Guatemala which make unity between their European oligarchy and their Indigenous masses next to impossible, that is not the case in Belize. We Belizeans have a history we can build on. What we absolutely must dedicate ourselves to eradicating, is bigotry.
Unity is strength, Belizeans. Give glory to unity. Seek unity. Cherish unity. Strengthen up, Belize.
Power to the people.