On the occasion of the passing of Dame Minita Gordon last Friday, a lady of surpassing dignity and decency, Belize’s first Governor-General and the first lady Governor-General in the British Commonwealth, it behooves me to express the opinion that the ruling People’s United Party (PUP), amidst all the hoopla and, to a substantial extent, controversy, of Belize’s Independence events in September of 1981, did a really poor job of publicizing the quality of their GG choice – Dame Minita.
Dame Minita was a Belizean of rare talent and accomplishment when the PUP named her Governor-General, but she was an unknown in Belize outside of education circles. Dame Minita did not come from the royal Creole elite. In fact, I believe she may have been the child of unmarried parents.
The PUP was loved amongst roots people in the party’s early decades precisely because of moves like naming a lady of humble birth to the exalted office of Governor-General, the GG being the representative in Commonwealth nations of the Queen of England, Elizabeth II.
At the time of Independence in 1981, very few of us Belizeans understood the limited nature of our political independence, so we really did not know what this Governor-General business was all about. Today, almost forty years later, we Belizeans have the feeling that the power of the Governor-General is almost unlimited, except that it is almost always merely ceremonial. In Belize, the Governor-General, whether Dame Minita or Sir Colville, has never done anything of a controversial nature, but the power is there. The Governor-General is Buckingham Palace.
The 1981 Independence constitution of Belize had called for the ruling party to name five Senators to the upper House; the Opposition would name two, and the Governor-General would name one.
It appears, however, that it had become the custom for the triumphant, ruling party to instruct the Governor-General whom that worthy should appoint as her Senator, so that in effect it was six Senators for the ruling party, and none for the GG.
In early July of 1993, Dame Minita named the publisher of this newspaper, yours truly, as her choice for the Senate. The circumstances of the situation were murky: those circumstances have never been discussed publicly in Belize. But, all the indications are that the newly elected United Democratic Party (UDP) government was totally incensed by my being named to the Senate. My sources told me that the UDP had already chosen a lady who would be the GG’s Senator, the ruling UDP’s sixth.
There was another huge controversy in the early days of that Esquivel UDP, narrowly elected to office on June 30, 1993, which involved the charge that the PUP’s Harry Courtenay, Winston Smiling and “Raindrops” Swan had conspired to pay two newly elected UDP area representatives – Cayo’s Salvador Fernandez and Dangriga’s Russell “Chiste” Garcia, to cross the floor and join the PUP. The UDP having won by a slim 16-13 margin in seats, such a conspiracy, if successful, would have had the effect of changing things to a 15-14 majority. The whole thing was astounding and preposterous, and again, the principals of both the UDP and the PUP have never spoken publicly of the matter, I mean in detail.
The question subsequent history has never answered is why was Dame Minita Gordon replaced in 1993 as Governor-General by Sir Colville Young, and how was the process negotiated and consummated. Remember, the British, I submit, would have had to be involved. The British High Commission would have had to be consulted. I rest this case.
Power to the people.