Over the weekend I heard an interview on KREM Radio conducted by a Canadian scholar by the name of Anne S. Macpherson with a Belizean lady by the name of Elfreda Reyes. The interview, conducted in 1991 or 1992, was retrieved from the archives by the lady Ya Ya Marin Coleman, who is the chairlady of the UBAD Educational Foundation (UEF).
I hope the airing of the interview does not get me or any member of my family into any political trouble, because Miss Elfreda was very rough on the late Rt. Hon. George Price, almost defamatory. But, our announcers at KREM have that kind of freedom to make those kinds of decisions.
Gender has become a big issue in Belize over the last few years, and Ya Ya is a high-profile proponent of women’s rights, feminism, or whatever it is the process/campaign is all about. Recently there was a publication featuring so-called “Bembe Women” of Belize, and the late lady Elfreda Reyes was one of those so described, and, in fact, honored. (I believe the artist Katie Usher was the energy and brains behind the “Bembe Women” project.)
Elfreda was born in 1900 in colonial British Honduras, and I believe she was involved somehow and somewhat in the 1919 insurrection led by the ex-Servicemen who had returned from the World War I theater in the Middle East.
I really don’t know much about Miss Elfreda, but I did have some contact with her in January of 1969 when some of us who were later to form the United Black Association for Development (UBAD) on February 9, 1969, held a meeting with a few officials of the Belize remnants of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). The president of the Belize UNIA was a shoe repairer by the name of Percy Innis, who lived and worked on George Street. Amongst his officers were the Hon. Vivian Seay, the Hon. Cleopatra White (who were both prominent nurses), and I suppose Elfreda.
As I remember it, the upshot of the meeting was that the ladies of the UNIA, including Elfreda, rejected the black power teachings we were proposing, and that was the end of our plan to take over the Belize UNIA and radicalize it. (We were being encouraged and facilitated by the late Robert Livingston, who was the Secretary-General of the Belize UNIA. He became a founding officer of UBAD before migrating to New York City later in 1969.)
All this has been by way of introduction to a period in Belize’s history between 1957 and 1960 when there was a split between the People’s United Party (PUP) and the General Workers Union (GWU), the union upon which the PUP had been built in the late 1940s. (The general elections won by the PUP in 1954 and 1957 had been under the official name of “PUP/GWU.”) I think Elfreda was a major force in the GWU. And, for a few years, there was no difference between the PUP and the GWU.
Between 1950 and 1956, several leading PUP officials were also leading officials of the GWU. In the latter part of 1956, there was a power struggle in the PUP, and the result of that power struggle was that Leigh Richardson was replaced as PUP Leader by George Price.
Richardson and Philip Goldson broke with the PUP, and formed the Honduran Independence Party (HIP) in 1957, but Richardson soon left the colony to go to work as a journalist in Trinidad. Mr. Goldson formed an alliance with the National Party (NP) to establish the National Independence Party (NIP) in 1958, but at first he concentrated on his work as the owner and editor of The Belize Billboard, the daily which was the dominant newspaper in the colony and very hostile to the Guatemalan government led by President Ydigoras Fuentes. Mr. Goldson did not become the Leader of the NIP until late 1961, when the previous NIP Leader, Herbert Fuller, fell ill.
The issue of race in this country had become of political consequence before the 1956 power struggle in the PUP, because the British colonial authorities were pushing for their Caribbean possessions to form a West Indian Federation.
Those Belizeans who considered themselves Black began to accuse Mr. Price of seeking to Latinize the country, because he rejected the West Indian Federation concept, whereas other Belizeans who were Black were hostile to Federation because it was suggested that the Belize job market would be swamped by Jamaican and other West Indian workers. The issue of Federation divided Belize’s working- class Blacks.
You must understand that Great Britain was cruel to this country where its infrastructure was concerned. The capital city was a place where filthy open canal sewers criss-crossed the city. The forests for which African slaves had been imported to work centuries before were being depleted, and there was a lot of poverty in Belize. Money was coming in from Guatemala’s “Belize Office” to undermine the British. Alejandro Vernon recently claimed in this newspaper that it was $60,000 a month the PUP was receiving from Guatemalan sources.
And in her Macpherson interview, Elfreda Reyes charged that it had been suggested to her that she become one of the couriers who would go to Guatemala to bring back the money for Mr. Price’s PUP. At some point after that, then, Elfreda became a militant supporter of the Hon. Philip Goldson and the NIP.
In her interview with Ms. Macpherson, Elfreda claimed that Mr. Goldson was more in favor of women’s rights than Mr. Price, but it is for sure that Mr. Price’s PUP had many militant women supporters.
The history of this period in British Honduras/Belize has been practically obliterated. Our young Belizeans have very little idea who they are and how they got here. Like the people from Diego Garcia, our people have been dispersed. In the case of Diego Garcia, we know it was because the world superpower felt they needed the place for a military base to monitor Southeast Asia, North Korea, China, Russia, and so on. In Belize’s case, the jury is still out at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).The vast majority of us don’t know what is going on, because we have no idea how we got where we are. Just about the only thing we know right now is that we are broke and in deadly debt.
Let me end by giving you my idea of what happened between 1957 and 1960. The British expelled Mr. Price from London, and had the British Honduras Governor, Sir Colin Thornley, dramatically accuse Mr. Price on the government monopoly radio station of seeking to sell out Belize “lock, stock and barrel” to Guatemala. But the masses of the Belizean people stood with Mr. Price.
The British then charged Mr. Price with sedition in 1958. He won the case in the Supreme Court, defended by the late W. H. Courtenay.
Sometime between 1958 and 1960, however, the British decided to cut a deal with Mr. Price and end the hassling. This is what the 1960 MCC Garden means to me. So then, what’s it all about, Alfie? Self-government in 1964 and independence in 1981. By the end of the 1980s, it’s all about hard drugs and gang murders in the streets of the old capital.
There is a civil war which has been going on in Belize City’s Southside for decades. It is almost genocidal. Some very big people want the Southside for a cruise port with restaurants, shopping malls, and the like. The forestry days are over. Some Belizeans have to die. Many already have.