One of my aunts on my father’s side, Chrystel Hyde Straughan, has been working on a book for some years. I’ve reached the point where I am eagerly awaiting publication of her work, for the reason that I believe a great deal of the book will feature conversations with her father, James Bartlett Hyde. His discourse should throw valuable light on the Robert Sydney Turton business empire, and RST’s personal thinking. At least, I hope so. My grandfather worked for Mr. Turton for many years, often traveling to the Gulf Coasts of Mexico and the United States on business for him.
My grandfather’s father, Absalom Bartlett Hyde, born in 1853, was a blacksmith and machinist, and these skills became a family trademark. So that, Absalom Bartlett’s sons – Oliver Cromwell, Hughie, and their half-brother, James Bartlett, followed by Oliver Cromwell’s sons – Roland, Denham and Wallace, were all part of a Hyde machine and mechanic business on both sides of North Front Street, between Mapp and Douglas Jones Streets. The accountant and former PUP Cabinet Minister, Joe Coye, is the grandson of Oliver Cromwell Hyde, through Joe’s mother, while Joe Coye’s father, who owned the house and lot at the western corner of North Front Street and Douglas Jones, was yet another Bob Turton employee.
Mr. Turton’s most famous employee was, of course, the Right Honorable George Cadle Price, who grew up and lived a couple blocks down North Front Street, on Pickstock Street. Mr. Turton’s Belize City office was at the corner of North Front Street and Hyde’s Lane. So all these people – Mr. Turton, Mr. Price, the Hydes and the Coyes, were in almost daily contact with each other within a space of three small blocks in the old capital.
Mr. Price was Mr. Turton’s personal secretary, and took frequent business trips with him to United States cities like New Orleans, Chicago, New York, and Boston. Mr. Price was a man who knew how to keep his mouth shut. When he finally, near the end of his life, agreed to an authorized biography, he did not give a clear indication of when it was exactly that Mr. Turton began thinking nationalistic Belizean thoughts.
Bob Turton was the son of a British army officer and a Belize Creole woman. He and his mother were abandoned by their father, and he had to fend for himself in the tough city streets from the time he was nine years old. He detested Englishmen all his life. But Great Britain ruled the world when Mr. Turton began to build his businesses, and British Honduras was John Bull’s colony. Nationalistic Belizean thoughts would have been considered radical, worse seditious, in the 1930s.
Britain and France had come out of World War I (1914-1918) as the clear victors over Germany, but then Adolf Hitler and the Nazis began to rebuild Germany in the early 1930s. There was a significant business, industrial, and political element in the United States which was friendly with Hitler’s Germany and the fascist empire the Nazis were constructing.
When the British and their allies finally declared war on Hitler in September of 1939 after German aggressions in Eastern Europe, the Germans marched right into Paris and took over France in June of 1940, then began bombing the smithereens out of London. Their submarines, called “U-boats,” raised havoc in the Atlantic shipping lanes which linked Britain with their Caribbean possessions, the United States and Canada. It really did appear that it was Deutschland über alles (“Germany over all”), and there were members of elite settler families in Belize who actually began to supply fuel to the German submarines which were destroying British shipping. The United States, remember, because of the domestic pressure from that pro-Nazi element we mentioned in the previous paragraph, was staying out of the war. The tide did not begin to turn against Hitler until he invaded Russia in 1941. It was the Russians who stopped Hitler, not the British and not the Americans. (The United States did not enter World War II until the end of 1941.)
In Guatemala, meanwhile, there was a pro-German dictator in power named Jorge Ubico. Even the revolutionary Mexicans were friendly with Hitler’s Germany. This is how it was three quarters of a century ago.
But, the British, along with the Russians and the Americans, ended up as part of the winning team in World War II, in 1945. A little over four years later, the British devalued the Belize dollar and Robert Sydney Turton let loose his dogs. He had been thinking about it for some time, but we don’t know for how long.
Since the Hydes were foundation PUP because of their ties with Bob Turton, how do you account for yours truly’s story? Well, I was raised on Church Street with my mother’s side of the family, which is Methodist. When I was 7 years old, in 1954, we moved to the Hyde family yard on West Canal Street.
I had a unique and special relationship with my maternal grandfather, Wilfred “Bill” Belisle. I can distinctly recall four different occasions when he took me, a small child, along with him – just we two. Three of these were fishing expeditions, on one occasion of which we returned to the caye at night, and once he took me to the Colonial Band Association (CBA) building, where he was a member, at the corner of Prince and East Canal Streets. There was very little conversation between my grandfather, who died in 1957 when I was 10 years old, and myself. But, the vibes were good. These memories are forever.
After we moved to the canalside, I saw much less of him. And, I found out that my relationship with my paternal grandfather was the opposite of the one I had had with “Pa Bill.” I grew up thinking of myself as a Belisle more than a Hyde. My mom was a supporter of the anti-Guatemalan National Independence Party (NIP), so there is where I was.
Belize is a small place, and the family politics is complex and intense. The UDP Prime Minister’s mother and mine were first cousins, but my second son is a PUP official.
When the UBAD Party divided in early 1973, I had reached the point where, even though we were in serious conflict with the ruling PUP, I personally had doubts about the new UDP, because of its Liberal Party component.
One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that if you are in a dispute with one of the parties, the solution is not necessarily a matter of embracing the other party. Not only are things complex in Belize, there are a lot of secrets it will take you years to learn. In some cases, people have gone to their graves with secrets. This is Belize.