Michael Ashcroft first came to British Honduras (Belize) as a seven year old English child in late 1953, the year when Queen Elizabeth II was crowned.
His father was a British civil servant who was assigned the post of principal auditor in B.H., the only British possession on the Central American mainland. The Ashcrofts spent three years here before leaving for another assignment.
The Ashcroft family lived in the exclusive Memorial Park neighbourhood, now more commonly known as the Marine Parade area. This was just a stone’s throw from St. Catherine’s Academy and the convent of the Sisters of Mercy who run SCA, and the United States Consulate. These two institutions were right next to each other, the Sisters of Mercy to the northeast of the Consulate.
St. Catherine’s Academy, a secondary school for girls/young ladies, had a primary school section which was officially called St. Catherine’s Elementary School, I believe, but we in the rest of Belize City’s Roman Catholic schools knew the school as “Convent.” Michael Anthony Ashcroft went to school at “Convent” during his three years here.
“Convent” was an exclusive, elitist primary school, and I do not know any dark-skinned person who attended that school. The classmate from Belize Elementary who made contact with Michael Ashcroft some years later was one John Waight, who was a year ahead of me when I attended St. John’s College between 1959 and 1963.
John Waight was the older son of Mr. James Waight and his wife, Lydia Price Waight, who was a sister of the Rt. Hon. George Cadle Price, the most powerful politician in Belize when his nephew, John Waight, and I were attending S.J.C.
John Waight’s father was the head of department at Lands and Survey. John had an older sister named Ellen, a younger sister named Irene, and two younger brothers, James and Joe.
I don’t recall John Waight playing any kind of sports while he was at S.J.C., and I don’t recall “Convent” participating in any of the primary school competitions of my childhood, such as football and radio quiz programs. This was not only an elitist institution: it was isolationist.
Here is what Michael Ashcroft wrote in his autobiography, DIRTY POLITICS, DIRTY TIMES, published in 2006. “Weekends were spent on boat trips to the Northern Cayes, exploring the rain forest close to Belize’s disputed border with Guatemala or snorkeling on the 185 miles of coral reef that runs from north to south some six miles off the mainland.”
There is absolutely nothing in Michael Ashcroft’s autobiography, which describes his three years of living in British Honduras as a child, from 1953 to 1956, which indicates that he ever toured Belize City’s Southside, which was the center of life in the capital city in those days, or had any roots Southside friends.
Ashcroft describes Barry Bowen as an “old schoolfriend,” but it is not clear if they were in the same class. The Bowen family home back then was on Southern Foreshore at its corner with King Street. So, strictly speaking, one may describe the late Barry as a Southside acquaintance of Mr. Ashcroft’s.
John Waight’s family lived on Regent Street, I believe, but Southern Foreshore and Regent Street, though located on the Southside, were exclusive neighborhoods.
In late April of 1954, there was a tense, almost explosive national election in British Honduras wherein the anti-colonial People’s United Party/General Workers Union (PUP/GWU) coalition fought for political power against the pro-British National Party (NP). It was the first election in British Honduras wherein there was universal adult suffrage. The roots PUP/GWU won big. There was no mention of that election in Lord Ashcroft’s autobiography. He was living in a different world, you see.
Yes, he was only a child, but so was I in 1954. Living at the corner of Regent Street West and West Canal, I remember the PUP/GWU celebrating that victory marching over Bolton Bridge. I remember the late Lizan Grey waving an American flag – the stars and stripes.
There was no mention in the Lord’s autobiography of Ludwig Lightburn, basketball at the old Holy Redeemer Parish Hall, football at Edwards Park, the Baron Bliss Harbor Regatta, mahogany logs chained together in the Haulover Creek, or Christmas bramming.
Michael Anthony Ashcroft, who is a year older than I, lived in a different Belize from the one I lived in. My point is that the Belize he keeps repeating he loved and loves so much, is not the Belize our native generations knew.
Over the course of my life, I have watched some Southside Belizeans move upwards financially from poverty. This is, in some cases, the result of success in electoral politics. The legal profession has also been a gateway to financial success for a few Southside Belizeans. Born and raised on the Southside, once such Belizeans achieve success, they move out from the Southside to the Northside and to the “suburbs,” and begin to live lives of elitism and isolationism. But, they have a residual memory of the Southside Belize City of the 1950s and 1960s, which was the center of Belizean life.
Michael Ashcroft never had a Southside experience. His video fling with Michael Finnegan a few years ago in the Mesopotamia area was “jokes.” For Lord Ashcroft, roots Belizeans are faceless nonentities for him to experiment with and exploit.
Now remember this, that we live in a world where capitalism rules. Capitalism emphasizes competition and acquisitive energy. This is the world where Lord Michael has excelled, and it is now the case that the masses of us Belizeans have become his business and legal victims.
I would like for Lord Ashcroft to stop telling us how much he loves us, because he did not experience Belize when he was a child. There is nothing sinful in the Lord’s behaving in a predatory manner in his business dealings with us Belizeans. Capitalism is a rough and cruel game. The winners are people who know how to get away with things, so to speak. So, it is appropriate to congratulate Lord Michael.
But, the time has come for us Belizeans to learn how to protect ourselves. If not, dog eat wi supper. Some may say, our supper has already been eaten. And the leading canine diner has been the one who loves us so. It would be almost funny if it were not so bitter a reality.