I was unemployed from then until June (1981) when I got a message from WPJ General Secretary Trevor Munroe that the People’s Revolutionary Government in Grenada wanted me to help develop their work in the media. I dropped everything and left for Grenada. Salary was not a question, terms of employment not an issue. The revolution called and I left. Revolution was something new. The youthfulness of the movement, even from a Jamaican perspective, was palpable. Both Maurice Bishop and Bernard Coard, the top leaders, were in their thirties. The next tier of leadership was largely in its early twenties. The existence of a radical state power without a powerful, reactionary opposition seemed almost unreal and intoxicating coming from the near-civil war trenches of Jamaica. There was much that was going on in the new situation that was positive. The work in education and the formulation of a new curriculum for primary and secondary students was rich and ahead of much of the Caribbean. The annual budget debate, carried out through popular discussions surrounding the economy that took place across the length and breadth of the island was rich and still provides a template for alternative approaches to a more participatory economic democracy. However, there was a darker side to all this.
– pgs. 268, 269, “Black Power Forty Years On – An Introspection, by Brian Meeks, in BLACK POWER IN THE CARIBBEAN, edited by Kate Quinn, University Press of Florida, 2014
For several years now I have not written about the United Black Association for Development (UBAD), which I led from mid-1969 until late 1974, when UBAD was dissolved. I was not the first Leader, and did not desire such office. But the first UBAD President left the scene three weeks after being elected, and has lived in the United States ever since. I was teaching English at the Belize Technical College at the time when I was moved up from First Vice-President. It was for sure that I would lose the teaching job, Technical being a government institution, once I became prominent in the controversial, black-conscious UBAD.
For decades, there were public voices which would say that they were tired of hearing about UBAD from me. I understood their position, but I was the only one who was there at the beginning, in February of 1969, and there at the end, in November of 1974.
A lot has changed in Belize since the UBAD days, probably the most significant change being the fact that the black majority population of the country has dwindled to a marginalized minority. At the same time, for me what jumps out from the UBAD days is the fact that between 1971 and 1972 there was a total unity in the streets of Belize City among black youth, and that was because of their respect for the leadership of UBAD, which included young (twenties, thirties) representatives of both ruling People’s United Party (PUP) and Opposition National Independence Party (NIP) families.
As an elder, I have to view the genocidal black-on-black violence of the last quarter century plus as catastrophic, and heartbreaking. But, the national government which has ruled Belize since early 2008 may well be described as a black-dominated government. Ironically, many NIP personalities back there in the 1960s and 1970s based their dislike of PUP Leader, Rt. Hon. George Price, on their view of him as “Latin.”
It will be important for historians to pinpoint that the formation of today’s ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) in September of 1973 featured a dramatic and unforeseen split in the ten-member leadership of the UBAD Party earlier that year, that split leading inexorably to the November 1974 dissolution of the organization.
One of the things you have to understand about UBAD is that there was no financing of the party from anywhere except small time fund raising in the streets. Yes, the organization, which became a political party in August of 1970, had a lot of street swagger, and massive popularity, but the fact that there was no financing in UBAD made the organization vulnerable from within.
Between 1971 and 1972, there was an extraordinary collusion between myself and UBAD Secretary-General Norman Fairweather. I describe the collusion as extraordinary, because there was no doubt that Norman Fairweather had been the unquestioned leader/hero of us black youth in the early/middle 1960s when he returned from Jamaica. The possibilities for tension in UBAD between him and myself, as President, were huge, and eventually our partnership succumbed to massive pressure from above and outside.
In a revolutionary black organization, a leadership split can be violent. We saw that in Grenada, when two very good friends, Maurice Bishop and Bernard Coard, were driven apart by pressure from outside, and terrible violence became, in retrospect, inevitable. The great Bishop was killed, senselessly. It is so sad what happened in Grenada.
In Belize, UBAD divided down the middle, four officers supporting me, the President, and four officers supporting Norman, the Secretary.
Before I proceed, let me say here that the political career of my second son, Cordel, the area representative for the PUP in Lake Independence since 1998 (except for the 2012-2015 term) has little to do with UBAD. Lake Independence didn’t become a political constituency until 1984. It may be said that the PUP base in Lake is derived from a large swath of the PUP’s Mesopotamia supporters, who were brought over from Lindy Rogers’ Mesop to bolster Harry Courtenay’s bid for re-election in Collet (which basically included Lake at the time) in 1979.
I want to end with a story from October of 1972, when UBAD was celebrating a Supreme Court victory on the North Front Street verandah of the old Riverside Hall. Norman; my late younger brother, Michael; and Edwardo Burns had been acquitted of several serious charges, including arson, in the Supreme Court earlier that day. In my presence, Michael Finnegan, who was a UBAD member at the time, said as follows: “Norman da wahn betta leader than Evan.”
Of course I was hurt. I was a young guy, 25, at the time, and leading UBAD from the age of 21 had been major stress. Looking back, I can see where Finnegan was right, from several perspectives. For instance, Norman was a more practical person than I. And there were practical, survival considerations which were confronting UBAD. As you know, Evan X Hyde is a writer, and writers are not known to be practical.
I tell you this story because, at some point, I would like for the Hon. Finnegan to tell me what it is that has been achieved where black youth in our home city are concerned. You know I very seldom criticize Hon. Finnegan, because I respect his personal accomplishments highly. But, in November of 2019 we’re not talking about personal accomplishments when we look at the black-on-black carnage around us. What went wrong? We’re not even going to ask who is to blame. We black folk are at the bottom of the barrel, but basically we were at the bottom of the barrel between 1969 and 1974. The one thing was, at that time we had love for each other. Or, at least it seemed that way.
Power to the people.