BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Feb. 20, 2020– On Monday, the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) released its 6-point agenda to combat government corruption and bring about good governance. The 6-point agenda was released under the theme, “Only the people can save the people.”
Those demands were backed up today with a massive demonstration which saw thousands of union members march through the streets of Belize City. The march culminated with a rally at the Memorial Park, where NTUCB executive members and union leaders addressed the nation.
Yesterday, the Ministry of Education issued a memorandum, signed by the Chief Education Officer, giving teachers the day off from school, so teachers were well represented at today’s protest. There was also a wide cross-section of Belizeans who turned up for the anti-corruption demonstration, including some parliamentarians and standard bearers of the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP).
The NTUCB rally kicked off following the singing of the National Anthem and the trade union’s song, “Solidarity Forever”.
Marvin Mora, the NTUCB’s president, opened the rally with the welcome remarks. Mora called the rally the people’s rally, giving special thanks to “the sea of green” — a huge crowd of BNTU members wearing green t-shirts.
Mora said, “We are not here to whip down any political party. Why we are here today is because they have lied to us. They have cheated us. Today is the beginning of a new day. This is a movement of the bosses — you are the boss, the collective are the boss.”
“We are not here to follow any party directives,” Mora declared, “We will take this fight anywhere we need to take this fight.”
“We have tried red, we have tried blue, and the results are still the same,” said Mora.
“If you are working and taking home a paycheck, and you are one paycheck away from poverty, this fight is for you,” he said.
“Today is the day when you start to lay down the foundation, so that those people begin to be accountable to you,” Mora stated, as he ended his welcome address.
Following his address, there were speeches by representatives of the other unions which joined the NTUCB’s demonstration..
Glen Lewis, the president of the Southern Workers Union, said, “Today is the day when we must introduce hygiene in the politics of Belize. For us to introduce hygiene in the politics of Belize, the quality of life must improve; the misery index must go down; poverty must go down; healthcare must uplift. This is what we stand for. We are not playing games anymore”.
“If we do not unite, we will be colonialized again,” Lewis said. “Our eyes are fixed on the Commerce Bight Port in Dangriga. On 29 February we will walk to the Commerce Bight Port to shed a light on the degradation of humanity in the south… We call on Belizeans to join with us,” he went on to say.
Ramerio Gongora , the president of the Belize Workers Union, spoke next. Gongora said, “Today is a day we must reflect on what has happened since 1981; only the people can save the people…unionists must be united.”
A solidarity message to the NTUCB was sent from the International Trade Union Congress (ITUC), and was read out loud at the rally. The ITUC represents 22 million workers worldwide, and their message was one of solidarity with the NTUCB’s “Only the people can save the people” stance. The ITUC congratulated the NTUCB for its courageous stance against corruption and urged the NTUCB to push on for the full implementation of the United Nations Conventions against Corruption (UNCAC), which is just and must be heeded, the solidarity letter said.
The Belize Communication Workers Union representative, Gary Yearwood, urged workers not to be afraid and let “the boss” intimidate them all. “We are the bosses,” he said.
“The people are the bosses, and today I stand proud to be on the right side of history, holding the elected leaders accountable” Yearwood declared.
Lorilee Westby, president of the Belize Water Services Workers Union, said that her members are 100 percent behind the NTUCB. “Mr. Prime Minister, it’s just a matter of time before you feel us,” Westby said.
An eloquent University of Belize Student Union representative (he was not introduced by name) also addressed the rally. The University of Belize did not allow its students to participate in the demonstration, although it had received the Ministry of Education memorandum, the student said.
“The university deployed its fear tactics to keep them on their soulless campus…corruption is a virus that must be killed today, before it infects the next generation,” the student declared.
The student said that he was also applauding the university’s student government leaders who staged a walkout and were heading to the rally. “I applaud them for their bravery for standing up to the university,” the student leader said.
President of the Belize Energy Workers Union, Natalie Novelo, then addressed the crowd and said,”Today, our energy has brought us here for another purpose… This is just the beginning; it is time to look beyond partisan politics.” Novelo reiterated the six-point set of demands of the NTUCB. “We have the power,” Novelo said.
Senator Mark Lizarraga was then invited to address the rally.
“Today, I would like to say thank you to the green machine. Teachers got yu back,” Senator Lizarraga said.
Another senator who addressed the crowd was Senator Osmany Salas, who said, “It is a sad time in our country when we have become the patrons of the politicians in our country. The absence of campaign finance reform is what led to the 3-day UDP leader.”
Indirectly referencing John Saldivar, Senator Salas referred to assertions that because there are no comprehensive programs in place, the less fortunate persons in the country have to go to the politicians to get help. “Now, it seems like it’s who has the most money can buy the elections. Politicians should be beholden to the people of Belize. We are in a time where politicians believe that they have to dip into the public purse to give handouts. We don’t need pro-poor strategies. We need anti-poor strategies,” he remarked.
“It is our duty to let the politicians know that we will not tolerate corruption,” Senator Salas said.
Public Service Union president, Gerald Henry, Jr., brought a greeting to the demonstrators from the president of the Association of Public Service Senior Managers, Sharon Fraser, who was unable to attend, Henry informed.
“Belize is a country filled with natural beauty and has been spoilt by the kind of corruption occurring in Belize,” Henry quoted Fraser as saying.
In the message that Fraser asked Henry to relay to the crowd, she remarked that “corruption starts at the highest levels and it carries its way to the lowest levels. That is why the people of Belize have to make a stand and demand good governance.”
Henry said, “Any of our messages have included that this is only the beginning. I believe that we are actually continuing what has been started many years ago, by men like Philip Goldson and Leigh Richardson, who went to jail fighting for Belize.”
Using an analogy of bees, Henry explained that the bees attack in great numbers when their hives are troubled, and like the bees, we must learn the power of great numbers. “We must make the politicians respect us because we are the bosses,” he said.
Senator Elena Smith, president of the Belize National Teachers Union, spoke next.
“I am so happy this afternoon to see our sea of green…today is a very special day. It brings me back to 2005 when we had to run from Jeffries and I fell in the drain, because my legs are too short,” Senator Smith said.
“I think It is time that we sanitized these people,” Senator Smith said. “It seems like this germ that we have is difficult to get rid of,” she further remarked.
Senator Smith said, “The issues are all about broken systems that we have in this nation. Our systems have been broken because persons that we have in control do not see the need to listen to us, to do things that are beneficial to us. It’s all about them. This is now time for us to show them that we run things in this country.”
Senator Smith went on to explain, “When the politicians pay your bills, they are suppressing you; when they give you their little handouts at election time, they are suppressing you. But corruption goes beyond that; corruption goes with how we issue licenses to our teachers.”
Senator Smith said that even before the memorandum was written, the “green machine” had about 30 buses ready. “So we don’t wait for a day to be given to us; we take our day,” she said.
Senator Smith added, “Members, this is the start of a revolution; it is just the beginning. So those of you who are here today, we want to keep you on the alert, so keep those green shirts clean.”
Citing the case of a man who went to jail for stealing a can of corned beef, Senator Smith said that small thieves go to jail, while big thieves go to the House. “It is time we take those small thieves out and put those big thieves where they belong. That is where they belong for raping this country,” she said.
“And those of you who want to get in, you better wheel and come again, because it is not going to be the usual thing. Change must come,” Senator Smith went on to say.
“They say only the people can save the people. I say only the people will save the people, one demonstration at a time, one strike at a time. We will save this country,” Senator Smith said as she concluded her presentation.
Evan “Mose” Hyde, the president of the Christian Workers Union (CWU) and the host of KREM’s WUB morning show, was the main guest speaker.
As Hyde began his presentation, word began spreading that “UB is here.”
Hyde invited the group of students who walked out in defiance of the university to join the rally. He invited someone from the group to speak, and the name “Abby” was mentioned.
Abby expressed thanks to everyone for standing up for the future of the youth, “because we are the future.”
Hyde said he was surprised that he was asked to be the guest speaker at the rally. “If I can’t get 100 members from CWU to come out, I nuh di hold no mike, but I am here because over 100 CWU members deh yah,” he said.
Hyde explained that the Sanctuary Bay scandal did not hurt the lawyers; it hurt the people who worked at the Atlantic Bank International — 60 of them lost their jobs. “They did not know that corruption would come to their door,” he said.
Hyde said his union “da Lazarus,” because things were not “running properly.” “Just some weeks ago, we became the union that got our own office, but we want the whole Belize know, when yu get yu house in order, things start to happen.”
“I had to boast a little, because I know where we come from. We da Lazarus, we come from the dead and we march today,” Hyde declared.
Hyde went on to say, “The people weh come pan the streets and walk today, they are the boss. Even the ones weh stay home, because they never get the message how fu act like boss. We da boss, we da owners. But we di look simple simple. Imagine you own wan bunch a houses all across the country. But ih no done deh. Imagine all the fancy things deh inna yu house. Imagine ih no done deh…Imagine that you hire wan bunch a boys to tek care a yu things and yu things start to go missing…When yu look out a road, yu si people inna yu things.
“Dat da the Simple Simon thing weh deh go on ya. Ah sound bex, but ah no bex, ah just revved up. Man teck weh yu thing and you no get bex. We da Simple Simon, but we da really and truly the bosses.”
Hyde added, “We used to own the Port, but now wan set a boy weh think they run the world, own it now. We used to own the place weh Ramada deh; we used to play football deh, but now we no own that. Just unno think ah di exaggerate… We can’t get back none a deh things weh we mi have.
“We no own San Pedro again, we used to own Caye Caulker, but we no own that again. We used to own wi passport…”
He then stated, “I wan unno feel weh unno done lose…we can’t get it back, unless we do the Ashcroft deal and pay more than four times.
“Now when yu sell that off to some neo-liberal who own the port weh no give a dam bout wi stevedores. Unno wan ah prove that dem no give a dam bout we.”
“Unno si we pan TV di quarrel. Wi staff write them from Novemeber 2018, cause we no have wan CBA from 2004, and not a word up to now, February 2020,” Hyde said.
“Well, we no wan write no more message, and we no wan write no more email, and we no wan send no more text messages. 30 years ago we had wan group weh send wan list, a demand like these,” he declared.
Hyde went on to say, “We have wan lot a issues weh we need fu correct…You si how far dem students come from. We can’t let down dem people deh. We can’t let down anybody inna Belize.”
“All a wi got we lee PUP and lee UDP feelings. Dem try mek wan thing weh NTUCNB seh no elections. NTUCB no gat no dummy…We know dat unno got elections pan unno mind, but we deh deal with den ya things now, right now. NTUCB teck wan long layoff, but we wan fight fi get it straight right now,” he said.