Next Friday May 29 marks the 43rd anniversary of an explosive night in the history of Belize. I’ve written about the events of May 29, 1972 several times before, but there has never been a public discussion of what happened. One of the reasons there has never been a public discussion of what happened is that less than a year after the events of May 1972, high level moves were being made to establish what became the United Democratic Party (UDP) in September of 1973. The events of May 29, 1972 suggested that the UBAD Party had become too powerful, and the traditional, consensus Opposition politicians had to take over the energy which UBAD had unleashed. UBAD, in a sense, had become too big for its own good.
The UBAD decision in August of 1970 to become a political party was probably a mistake, and I have taken full responsibility for it. One of the reasons it was a mistake was because a large percentage of UBAD supporters could not even vote, the voting age not being lowered from 21 to 18 until 1978. Another reason the UBAD decision to become a political party was a mistake was because UBAD was criticizing the church-state educational system and the white supremacist curricula of its schools. History has confirmed what common sense always suggested: you cannot criticize the churches and compete politically in Belize.
Even though UBAD had declared itself a political party in August 1970, the organization did not begin any kind of electoral mobilization until late 1971, when the Hon. Phillip Goldson of the Opposition National Independence Party (NIP), the only Opposition party with a seat in the House of Representatives, invited UBAD into a coalition to contest the December 1971 Belize City Council elections.
That December 1971 CitCo election would prove to be Mr. Goldson’s final election as Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. The following month, January of 1972, Mr. Goldson flew to London to begin studying law. His wife, Hadie, took their children to New York, where she began work as a law clerk.
In January of 1971, Charles X “Justice” Eagan had been sentenced to five years in jail. He had exerted a great influence on UBAD, especially after the February 1970 seditious conspiracy arrest of myself and Ismail Shabazz. The leadership vacuum created by Justice’s imprisonment was filled by Norman “Imamu” Fairweather, who returned to Belize from Brooklyn with his family in early 1971 and immediately became Secretary-General of UBAD.
A charismatic personality and natural leader who came from a top shelf Belizean family, Imamu, I believe, attracted young people from NIP backgrounds who may have been previously reluctant to associate with UBAD. In 1969 and 1970, the likelihood is that UBAD’s youth support had been more PUP in background than NIP, but it is impossible to speak categorically. Norman Fairweather added a lot of Opposition credibility to the UBAD Party, and during his prime time in UBAD, which was 1971 and 1972, UBAD was like a supreme council of Belize City youth. There were no gangs then, and no black-on-black violence. For Belize City youth back then, UBAD was bigger than PUP and NIP.
With Goldson’s departure to London, UBAD in early 1972 became the real Opposition to the People’s United Party (PUP) government. The PUP then embarked on several harassment initiatives against UBAD, and these provoked the UBAD explosion of May 29, 1972. That explosion took place in two stages. First, a street riot broke out as UBAD marched down Albert Street and up Regent Street, a riot which began in front of the old Guatemalan Consulate upstairs of the Romac’s building and was facilitated by the fact that night had fallen over the city. Neither the riot or the episodes which followed had been planned by the UBAD Party executive. UBAD should have dispersed after the Albert Street/Regent Street riot, but episodes of violence followed which had specific targets. Norman Fairweather was charged in the Supreme Court as the leader of the episodes. But a large segment of the UBAD Party emotionally supported those episodes, so Norman became an even bigger hero than he already had been.
After Imamu, Michael Hyde and Edwardo Burns were acquitted in the October 1972 session of the Supreme Court, the UBAD Party leadership slowly began to divide. The UBAD Party vice-president, who was an unabashed Norman fan, began to make direct attacks on myself. This atmosphere of dispute was how UBAD entered 1973, when the Rev. Gerald Fairweather, an Anglican priest, flew in from Brooklyn and set up the so-called Unity Congress, which was the precursor to the UDP.
The question today is, what has gone awry for black youth in the population center? I don’t think anyone can say that the problems of black youth today do not constitute a crisis. It is a crisis that began becoming evident as early as a quarter century ago. Over the years, there has clearly been an attempt, and a successful one, to obliterate Belizeans’ memory of the events of May 29, 1972. There had obviously been a power structure decision to obliterate Belizeans’ memory of the July 1919 episodes in the streets of Belize Town. The similarity between July of 1919 and May of 1972 is that these uprisings received almost total support from the Belizean masses in the population center.
The colonial power structure soon regained control of Belize Town after the 1919 Ex-Servicemen’s uprisings, but what happened after UBAD’s May 1972 uprising was that the Opposition politicians and their business supporters came together to organize a more serious challenge to Mr. Price’s PUP. Essentially, the new UDP politicians co-opted a section of the UBAD Party, as we would say. But the UBAD Party officials who supported the UDP were not respected or rewarded.
At the time, I thought the secondary episodes of May 29, 1972 were a strategic and tactical mistake, but the times were such that we had to close ranks immediately and support our UBAD heroes.
We are old men now. Four of the ten UBAD officers of 1972 have gone ahead of us. The significance of May 29, 1972 today lies not so much in the personalities, as in the circumstances of the uprising. Perhaps if we understood the May 1972 circumstances better, we would gain some insight into what is going on in the Southside today. I’m just saying.
Power to the people.