Three months after BREDAA launched a one-hour program dubbed The Belize Music Hour, which showcased Belizean artists, sound, and culture on KPFK radio in April of 1986, the Pacifica management was so impressed they offered the producers a weekly slot on prime time and extended the show from one to two hours with a new and more in-depth format that included news, guests, music and live open phone public participation. By 1988 the Belize Caribbean Pulse weekly 2-hour radio magazine had emerged as one of the top-rated shows on KPFK 90.7FM Pacifica Radio in Southern California.
In February of 1989, the Belize Caribbean Pulse was featured in the Los Angeles Times top list of recommended radio programs listeners should tune into in the southland. The Pacifica foundation included 5 radio stations in Washington DC, NY City, Houston Texas, Berkeley, and Los Angeles CA.
As a listener-sponsored public radio, each show must meet its fund-raising goal, and BCP not only met its goal over a decade run but exceeded them. This is a measurement of the show’s effectiveness and growing audience popularity in a large and competitive market, no small feat for a program that centered around a tiny country that was relatively unknown.
This success is substantially credited to the heroic work of Bilal Morris, BREDAA’s designated public relations officer and representative at KPFK. BREDAA had dispatched two of its officers, Bilal Morris and Michael Branche, to lobby for a radio slot by getting elected and serving on its community board of directors. With the support of two of KPFK’s influential hosts with establishing shows, Ron Wilkins and Ken Carr, their initial mission was successful.
However, it was Morris who was responsible for directing and coordinating the production of the new show and who supervised the various hosts, guests, interviews, news reports, and a team of volunteers. He had the most difficult assignment in real-time and meeting specific deadlines on the radio project on a weekly basis while maintaining a high-quality finish product. Without Bilal Morris’s skill set, dedication, character, resourcefulness, and love of his people and country, none of this would have been possible. Many shows came and went on KPFK, but BCP survived over the years until outside nefarious intent began to affect the program.
Telling authentic history is not always kind, and the good, the bad, and ugly must be told. Therefore, it’s paramount we as black people tell our own story and write our own history.
While the success of the Belize Caribbean Pulse was great news for its producers and fundraising for Pacifica, the new broader attention it was receiving brought some intriguing individuals to take a closer look into the people that were behind the show and the organization BREDAA.
Sometime in the fall of 1988, while I was at the radio studio as a guest on BCP, a phone call came in from a mysterious person to the station’s private office line requesting to speak with me. I took the call off the air, and it was a male with an American accent and possibly middle aged on the other end of the line who stated he was extremely impressed and interested in our work and Belize. He claimed to be a researcher associated with a local university and requested a meeting but emphasized he just wanted to meet me only. I found that request to be rather strange and expressed that I am a part of an organization and cannot meet him alone without consultation with my peers.
After briefing the members about the phone call and the mysterious caller, they agreed we should meet but with a delegation of at least 3 members. The meeting was to be held in downtown Los Angeles. Still unsure who this individual was, I was accompanied to the clandestine meeting by Brother Edgar X Richardson, Bro Rudolf Bent, and Nuri Muhammad. Brother Shabazz, who would have most likely been a part of this team, had returned to Belize in late 1986 to represent the BREDAA agriculture pilot project in the village of More Tomorrow. Muhammad, who had recently relocated from Chicago, was not an officer or official member of BREDAA, but was beginning to show an increasing interest in the organization’s successful radio project.
We arrived at the location and discovered it was a Highrise office building in the business district section of downtown LA. We took the elevator to our rendezvous with the mystery man. Upon our arrival we encountered a middle-aged white American male dressed in business attire and who gave the alias “Rosenburg.” He guided us to a large conference room where there was a giant sized wall map of Belize on display. While located in the middle of a high-rise commercial building, oddly there was no one else visible. This was no ordinary map. With satellite imagery it displayed areas with the most fertile land, minerals, waterways, marine habitat, and potential oil deposits.
In the meeting it became evident that this individual was extremely knowledgeable about Belize and its mineral wealth in great detail. He was no novice and clearly a professional but in what field? He knew what area of the country and what kind of agriculture product would flourish, etc.
In our discussion, he probed without giving up much about himself or who he really worked for, looking to extract maximum information regarding our agenda for Belize. Clearly, he was trained in extricating information and debriefing techniques. We were cautious, suspicious, but intrigued. After about an hour or so he still never explicitly explained what his interest in Belize was and how BREDAA could possibly be of such concern to him. It appeared he wanted to know more about our work, as it specifically related to “land redistribution” and land rights.
This meeting also highlighted how critical the BREDAA agenda was in addressing land equity and a departure from dependency upon the colonial mercantile system of perennial importation of food products that can be locally produced for domestic consumption and international trade, as well as creating jobs at home. In the end, everybody must eat. In many ways, it also illuminated the short-sightedness of promoting tourism as a foundational industry rather than food production security.
In closing, we asked for a map like the one he displayed, but he sidestepped that request. The mysterious man claimed he wanted to work with us but remained evasive and gave ambiguous statements regarding objectives.
This was the 1980’s, and the Reagan administration was waging so-called drug wars and supporting counter-insurgency in Central America in places like Nicaragua and El Salvador and was active in Belize, Panama, and Guatemala. The U.S. administration violated international law by mining the harbor of Nicaragua, invaded and bombed Grenada and Panama City while supporting and financing illegal wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua. According to Nicaraguan representative Ray Hooker, his country was virtually under starvation from barbaric and painful U.S. sanctions.
It is relevant to mention that Pacifica Radio network, where BREDAA was a producer, is called “alternative radio” for a reason. Ninety-nine percent of Pacifica programming would be considered radical compared to what Belizeans are accustomed to hearing from so-called mainstream American media. It was also listener-sponsored and free from advertiser political correctness. Its radio content is considered anti-imperialist and sympathetic to the revolutionary struggles unfolding in the region and much of the developing world. Belize was the enigma in all of this where the international audience is a concern. Not much was known about where Belize stood regarding the political struggles in the Caribbean and Central America.
BREDAA had become a strong advocate against apartheid in South Africa and was airing content from people like Stokely Carmichael; Minister Louis Farrakhan; Ray Hooker, a Congress member of the Sandinista government; Caribbean novelist George Lamming; and others whose speeches were delivered in Belize that linked with the global struggle via what Assad Shoman and the Society for the Promotion of Education & Research (SPEAR) was doing at the time. SPEAR was doing some serious popular education outreach in Belize in the mid-’80s. It caught BREDAA’s attention, and a link was forged whereby they began sharing educational material with us which was used as content for the radio show.
While BREDAA’s leadership was made up of “activist Muslims,” Pan Africanist, nationalist, socialist, students, athletes, and artists who were vocal on the radio opposing U.S. policies in the Isthmus and advocating for agrarian reform and land redistribution in Belize where foreign and American interests make up most absentee landlords no doubt would place us on the radar.
The mood in the room remained cordial but cautiously awkward. There was no follow-up meeting and this shadowy character disappeared into the mist from which he emerged. Over the years various intriguing individuals surfaced around BREDAA’s activities and then dropped off the deep end.
President Ronald Reagan’s decade of the ’80s was no joke. It was an aggressive, militaristic and foreign interventionist administration and particularly active in Belize’s war ravaged immediate neighborhood of Central America. Additionally, students and community grassroots organizations were subject to monitoring, infiltration, and subversion.
We never heard from that mystery man again. However, we witnessed growing U.S. influence upon Belize’s foreign and public policy and structure of economic development that steered it away from authentic agrarian reform, land redistribution, agriculture as a central foundation to economic growth, and toward unpredictable “fun in the sun” tourism and finishing touch industries inside the country. It was plausible to conclude that this mysterious character likely represented the interests of those who dominate Belize’s land, hence natural resources and mineral wealth were on reconnaissance assignment. For BREDAA it was an indication of what was to come as we continued to make waves and exposed the skeleton of our dysfunctional anatomy.