Most creative and aspiring creative writers dream of writing a major work of fiction, something which would shed new, original light on the strange and unpredictable absurdity of life. In that sense, my career must be considered a failure, because I ended up confined in Belizean journalism and, by extension, the hurly burly of party politics.
Growing up in Belize in the 1950s, my heroes were my maternal grandfather, who died in 1957, and my maternal second uncle, who died around 2007 or so. My association with these men mostly took place at Spanish Caye, which is about nine miles south southeast of Belize City. And that association was focused on the world of boats and fishing.
Back in the 1950s and going into the 1960s, Belize was a place, at least the miles between the city and the caye, which was dominated by sailboats. There is great nostalgia associated for me with recollections of the various sailboats, their captains and crews, and the reality of how completely subject we were to the wind when we wished to move here and move there.
Take the weather patterns of those day, which featured the prevailing southeasters most of the time, though every now and then, when there was a storm in the night, you would wake up in the morning to what we used to call the “land wind,” blowing strongly from the direction of the coast of the colony, which was about four miles or so west, I would say, from the caye. There were unique, memorable smells associated with the “land wind” which were different from those of the southeaster.
In any case, the land wind would invariably fall calm around ten a.m. or so, whereupon, if you were in a sailboat, you were in for a problem. In the early afternoon, if you had become careless and become becalmed when the land wind fell, you would be rescued by the return of the southeaster.
The the point I want to make with all this is that in that sea life of my youth, where most of the boats were sailing craft, there were times when you had to spend a long time on sea with a few other people while you waited for some breeze. In the world of the sailboat and my youth, silence was golden. No one wanted to be becalmed in a sailboat with someone who kept running his mouth, so if you were a young boy who wanted to be included in fishing and other sailing trips with adults, you learned to keep your mouth shut in their company. Straight up.
Storytelling was a much prized talent, but storytelling was for nighttime at the caye when we had to make our own entertainment before bedtime. There was no television back in those days, and the government radio station in British Honduras/Belize was boring. Inside the sailboat, you did not talk people’s business. This was the code: this was the culture.
Party politics in Belize was a different culture from the maritime culture of my youth. Journalism in Belize was a different culture from the maritime culture of my youth. In Belizean journalism and politics, people do a lot of gossiping about other people. Over the decades since my entry into public life, I recall incidents where I chose not to call names because this was not the culture in which I had been raised. But there were times, looking back, I feel I was a fool not to have let it all hang out, as it is said.
I want to talk today about a campaign that was waged by the United Democratic Party (UDP) newspaper during the four years I was chairman of the University of Belize (UB), from August of 2000, when the university was founded, until late 2004, if I remember correctly.
The campaign against the new UB was vicious, weekly, and relentless. It mostly took the form of Guardian editorials. The two Guardian editors during that period were Dale Trujeque, and afterwards Herbie Panton, who is now an attorney.
I don’t have a relationship with Panton, except to bid him the time of the day when I see him, but I knew Dale Trujeque from the time he was a child selling newspapers under the jurisdiction of his older brother (Jose?).
I can remember that the UDP’s anti-UB campaign was so mean that the University’s President, Dr. Angel Cal, at one time made a kind of desperate solicitation to the Guardian to see if he could get the newspaper to calm down.
Personally, I wracked my brain to try to figure out what this was all about. I knew that I was in conflict with Cabinet Minister Ralph Fonseca, who controlled the university’s (and the nation’s) finances, and I knew that Ralph’s views and my views were almost diametrically opposed. Dr. Cal and people like Dr. Dorian Barrow and Dr. Louis Zabaneh knew that Ralph was the absolute PUP powerhouse, so they were his allies. The most I could come up with in my baby brains to explain the Guardian savagery was that perhaps Ralph had cut a deal with the UDP’s Michael Finnegan, with whom he was close friends from their days working together at Bowen and Bowen, to slaughter me and the university at the Guardian.
Well, the years went by, and Dale Trujeque ended up in trade union activities at the then Belize Telecommunications Limited (BTL), he went on to become a UDP personality, and he, as we pointed out, became their newspaper editor. More years went by, and Dale Trujeque was elected President of the Christian Workers Union (CWU), but after some time he resigned and prepared to move to the United States to live.
At some point shortly before he left Belize, he visited me on Partridge Street, and we chatted about his older brother, about the old newspaper times, and about this and that. I asked him about his time at the UDP newspaper, and if he remembered all the hatchet jobs on the University of Belize. Dale told me that those editorials were sent already packaged to him, and his understanding was that the source was Denys Barrow, the younger brother of Dean Barrow, who had become UDP Leader in 1998 replacing Rt. Hon. Dr. Manuel Esquivel.
Well, you know, Belize is this very small place. My father, Charles B. Hyde, is Denys Barrow’s godfather. So Denys and I are what they call “godbrothers.” He is a very sociable guy, and popular with all and sundry. But politics is politics, and Denys’ loyalty to his older brother is well known in political circles. The Barrows had decided X’s UB required hatcheting. Enter Denys Arthur.
The late Dr. Leroy Taegar, Bill Lindo, and myself had major, serious plans for the national university when I took over as Chairman of the University College of Belize (UCB) in late 1999. In fact, it was Dr. Taegar who was supposed to become the Chairman, because I was scared of putting myself up for any kind of election. But, with Prime Minister Said Musa’s support, I am sure, I was elected Chairman of (UCB) in October/November of 1999.
I did not know that earlier that year the ruling PUP Cabinet had tabled a paper which was about amalgamating five institutions – UCB, Belize Teachers College, the Bliss School of Nursing, Belize Technical College, and the Belize College of Agriculture – to form one national university, UB, by August of 2000. They say, you know, be careful what you wish for: you just might get it.
The University of Belize formation process was already in place when I became UCB Chairman, and I soon began swimming in one tub of hot water after the other. The key thing is this: the UDP’s UCB was focused on business and tourism hospitality. Taegar’s, Lindo’s and Hyde’s UB would go in the direction of science, technology, and national self-reliance, precisely, I suppose, where BELCAST was supposed to go two decades before.
All of us know there are things which are seriously wrong with Belize’s system of education. But, it must be that there are very powerful institutions and people in place who want things to remain the same, to remain as they have been during the course of my lifetime. This is a discussion which the big people do not allow to be held in Belize. And so, we muddle on from day to day: we have muddled on from year to year, and from decade to decade. When will we seek to unleash the brilliance of our youth, as our northeastern island neighbors have done so spectacularly?
Power to the people.