The importance of the first change of government in Belize in 1984 is that we Belizeans came to understand then that there is such a thing as a power circle in The Jewel which is not bound by party politics. The UDP turned out to be very much like the PUP. In other words, the people who make the big decisions in this country are not dyed-in-the-wool PUP or UDP, although they may come from families which totally appear to be such.
In Guatemala, they speak of twenty massively powerful families, of European origin basically, which call the shots. And in El Salvador, years ago, the number of their powerhouse families was fourteen. Just saying. In Belize, there are some families which have run things in the self-government and independence eras.
The history of party politics in British Honduras, I submit, actually began with a trade union called the General Workers Union (GWU) around 1943 or 1944. It was led by one Clifford Betson, and Henry Middleton was the General Secretary. The GWU was basically taken over by Jesuit-trained graduates of St. John’s College around the time when the PUP was formed in 1950. People like Mr. Price, Nick Pollard, and others had been elected to power in the GWU executive before the PUP was formed. Although the PUP won general elections in 1954 and 1957 under the PUP/GWU title, after 1957 little was heard of the GWU, which essentially became the Christian Workers Union (CWU) under PUP control in the early 1960s.
Fiddling around in my personal archives, I came across some material which had been sent to me by the Honorable Nadia Cattouse many years ago. I believe the material in the quotations which follow is derived from the Catholic Encyclopedia.
”The territory long known as British Honduras was originally part of the Spanish claim, but in the first part of the seventeenth century was settled by English adventurers, mostly of the buccaneering type, without even pretence of legal right. Later the English claimed possession by prescription, and because of Spanish military inferiority, carried the claim. Naturally, there were few, if any, Catholics among the early settlers. Hence the territory for many years was under no especial ecclesiastical jurisdiction; only towards the end of the eighteenth century was it considered as roughly included in the Vicariate of Trinidad. In 1836 it was named as part of the new Vicariate of Jamaica, with the Very Rev. Benito Fernandez, a Franciscan, as first Vicar Apostolic. In 1848 the mission received its first notable influx of Catholics, seven thousand of whom, driven from Yucatan by Indian outbreaks, took refuge in British Honduras. Some Jesuits, passing through the colony in 1850, were asked by those Catholics to have priests sent to them, and as a result of their representations, the Vicar Apostolic of Jamaica came in person, with him two Jesuit missionaries, who built the first Catholic church in 1851.”
”At length in 1893, in response to the general desire of the Catholics of the territory, British Honduras was made a vicariate, and the prefect Apostolic appointed vicar Apostolic. He was consecrated on 16 April of that year, in Belize, under the title of Bishop of Eurea. Bishop di Pietro labored in his office with great energy and zeal. Under him, missionary work in the vicariate received a new impetus. At the erection of the vicariate there were nine priests in the mission; the Catholic population was about 12,000, with 1,819 children in the Catholic schools. A few months after his consecration, the mission was removed from the care of the English province of the Society of Jesus and attached to the Missouri province. More priests came to labor, and new residences were opened. Ten years previously, in January, 1883, some Sisters of Mercy had come to Belize from New Orleans, and had opened a convent for girls, which still exists, with an attendance of about one hundred. A select school for boys had been begun in 1887 by Rev. Cassian Gillett, an English Jesuit, to be replaced nine years later by the present St. John Berchman’s College, established in 1896 with sixty-one pupils. Both convent and college accommodate a small number of boarding scholars, and were intended to serve as means of higher education in the surrounding republics. In May, 1898, the Sisters of the Holy Family (colored) were brought from New Orleans and began teaching in Stann Creek, the chief village of the Carib district.”
By the time yours truly graduated from SJC Sixth Form in 1965, after 13 years in the Catholic school system, the Roman Catholics had climbed to the top of the education ladder in Belize, it seemed to me, although Belize Technical College, the only government high school, was coming on strong.
By the time I left Belize to attend university in the U.S., I had this strong sense that information had been withheld from me with respect to the Caste War, even though it was fairly clear that it was the Caste War, which began in 1847, which had, in retrospect, spurred the rise of the Catholic Church in British Honduras.
As an opinionated teenager in 1965, that strong sense of being made a fool of, began my journey to rebellion, which led to two Supreme Court trials and several in Magistrate’s Court in the 1970s in Belize.
While the Catholics were rising to the top in education, Rt. Hon. George Price, who had pursued a priestly vocation for several years, became the highly popular Leader of the highly popular PUP in 1956. It was not until a couple of wealthy Catholic merchants, Santiago Castillo and Ismael Gomez, broke with Mr. Price in the latter part of the 1960s, that the PUP began to experience real opposition.
Today in Belize, the Evangelical churches, who were not a factor back when I was growing up, are vocal and increasingly muscular.
But, I believe it is an internationally-linked cartel which now calls the shots in Belize. Open your eyes, beloved.