This May 24 was always one of those strange colonial holidays, it seemed and seems to me. I think today they say it is Commonwealth Day, but back in my youth it may have been the Queen’s Birthday, or something like that. The long and short of it is that we British subjects in British Honduras were given a day off and told to celebrate. Straight up.
In my youth, there always used to be a big horse race in Orange Walk on May 24. I never attended any of these events, but they must have been special. You see, back in those days the richest man in Belize, after Bob Turton died in 1955, was Mr. Santiago Castillo, a native of Orange Walk who owned the famous Louisiana Farm. Mr. Castillo, who became rich importing foodstuffs, in the first instance, was a horse racing fan.
Incidentally, congratulations to the people of Orange Walk on their performance so far in the coronavirus episode.
In our street history, we mostly think of Orange Walk as the place where the British turned back the Icaiche Maya in 1872 when they killed the Icaiche leader, Marcos Canul. But the reality is that there are several prominent, powerful, traditional families in Orange Walk which were (and are) very pro-British in their thinking, it seems to me.
Do you know that England’s Queen Victoria visited Mexico in the 1890s during the rule of Porfirio Diaz in that republic? What was that all about?
By definition, a colony exists in order to enrich the mother country, the colonial masters. Much of the anti-colonial militancy of the pre-independence working class Belizean has faded away. Some of that is because so many workers migrated to America, but corrupt Belizean politicians have become the target of our frustration, replacing the Englishman.
During the time of the British, Belize was a fabulously rich piece of real estate, which it still is, but we Belizeans were poor, because all the wealth was being exported to England. Bob Turton, the illegitimate son of an English army officer, hated the situation. He financed anti-colonialism. PUP Belizeans thought we would inherit the territory from the British when we became independent. We did finally achieve independence, but where are we now, Cherie? Still poor. Something didn’t go right.
May 24 – public and bank holiday. To celebrate what?
It is interesting to speculate if and how our history would have been different, or at least the history of the People’s United Party (PUP), if Bob Turton had not died at the relatively young age of 78 in 1955. Rt. Hon. George Price was Mr. Turton’s personal secretary in the early 1940s, and was instructed to enter the politics of British Honduras by his boss.
But even though one presumes the very anti-British Mr. Turton was the most substantial financier of the PUP before he died, Mr. Price was not the PUP Leader during the Turton era. The PUP Leader was Leigh Richardson. That means Turton wanted Richardson there. The year following Mr. Turton’s death, Mr. Price overthrew Richardson as PUP Leader. One of the big issues was West Indian Federation, but we always have to check with Hector Silva on these matters from the 1950s.
Again, and in closing, May 24 – public and bank holiday in the independent nation of Belize. To celebrate what, really?