“In the Belizean context, some of those who professed to be socialist in fact turned out to be enemies of the workers, as witnessed more recently by that singular political incursion on the executive body of the Teachers Union which led to the undermining of the people’s protest in March of 2005 but nevertheless resulted in the electoral defeat of the Musa administration.”
– David Gibson, pg. 40, Amandala, Sunday, December 9, 2012
There is a very important article by David Gibson on page 40 of last weekend’s Amandala. In honoring the memory of his deceased colleague, “comrade and friend,” David Price, Mr. Gibson has commented publicly for the first time on a couple notable events in Belize’s modern history. One is the 1975 reform initiative on the Belize City waterfront organized by the aforementioned Gibson and Price, and the second is the Assad Shoman initiative in February of 2005 in support of the Said Musa government.
All indications were that there was substantial intellectual ferment on the campuses of the University of the West Indies (UWI) during the 1970s. It may be said that such ferment began with the work of the Guyanese historian, Walter Rodney, on the UWI’s Mona, Jamaica campus in the late 1960s. There was, in fact, a landmark rebellion on the Jamaica campus when the Hugh Shearer government refused to allow Rodney back into Jamaica for the 1968/1969 school year.
Around the same time when the pro-Rodney rebellion took place in Kingston in late 1968, the Mexican military and police slaughtered hundreds of Mexican students in Mexico City just before the opening of the 1968 Olympics there. 1968 was an unprecedented year in the history of international student protest. In Belize, our mini-version of Jamaica and Mexico involved the organizing in late 1968 of a demonstration to begin on New Year’s night – January 1, 1969. The lead organizers were Assad Shoman and Said Musa, and the target was an American propaganda movie extolling the United States war effort in Vietnam.
Shoman and Musa were British-trained attorneys who were at the time travelling magistrates in the employ of the Government of Belize. In 1968/1969, university graduates in Belize were few, and they had an unbroken tradition of segregated elitism. The New Year’s night demonstration of 1969 was the first time Belizean graduates had ever taken to the streets. The leaders, to repeat, were Shoman and Musa, and the issue was the Vietnam War.
A couple years afterwards, Shoman and Musa were terminated from their government posts, and they went into private law practice. Shoman, it appears, quickly began a political involvement with the ruling People’s United Party (PUP), but Musa did not declare himself publicly until 1974, when he became the PUP’s Fort George division candidate in the October 1974 general elections. Shoman ran for the PUP in Cayo North in those elections, and both of them lost. But, they were then appointed Senators by the victorious PUP, and Shoman took over a Belmopan office which focused on internationalization of the Belize’s right to self-determination, territorial integrity, and political independence.
Apart from Shoman and Musa, David Gibson and David Price were the only two leftist intellectuals in Belize who ever tried to do anything progressive where Belize’s socio-economics was concerned. Gibson and Price failed on the waterfront, and immediately retreated into quiet graduate life.
Shoman and Musa went on to win seats and become PUP Ministers in the 1979-84 PUP government. They both lost their seats in 1984, whereupon Shoman retired from electoral politics and became de facto leader of the Society for the Promotion of Education and Research (SPEAR). Said Musa continued to practice law, remained a PUP official, but at some point abandoned socialism and became a neo-liberal capitalist.
The Belizean left has never publicly indicted Mr. Musa for this, or even frowned upon Shoman’s 2005 activities on the Musa administration’s behalf, and all I can surmise is that these two’s exploits during the 1970s were so high profile, even spectacular, that no other Belizean intellectual has ever dared to utter a word of criticism. The above statement may be hyperbolic, but I am trying to make a point.
David Price’s taking on the chairmanship of the commission of inquiry into the Development Finance Corporation (DFC) in 2006 was a highly significant move. The power structure has fought mightily, and successfully I dare say, to sweep this inquiry’s findings under the rug, one of the reasons being that the DFC commission of inquiry was a specific demand of the trade unions in Belize, and the fact that the Musa administration was forced to accede to that demand was a reflection of how powerful the unions had become, again.
Remember, the trade unions in Belize had been militant and powerful during the late 1970s, but the Americans had insisted on Belize’s union leadership’s being crippled before we became independent in 1981. Belize had not seen a trade union resurgence in the post-independence era until 2005 and 2006. This is merely an opinion, and I will welcome advice and/or disagreement on that score.
The purpose of this column is not to criticize Mr. Musa. I have already done this, specifically, a couple months ago. And, after all, everybody is entitled to change his views. What I want to do is spark some historical opinions from the left. I know they are out there, and it is for sure that their voices are informed, intelligent, and relevant.
The neo-liberal and privatization era which followed the fall of Russian communism and the Berlin Wall around 1989, has essentially come to an end in the Third World. It is only the state which can protect planet earth and the oppressed masses from the rapacious rich. I am not an ideologue. For me, this is just common sense. The rich make it their business to avoid paying taxes. How is the state to provide vital services for the poor if the rich, especially foreign predators, refuse to contribute?
We need to hear from the left. David Gibson did not say that much last weekend, but everything he said was valuable. Mr. Gibson was not talking about party politics: he was talking about people. That is what we think we are about back here on Partridge.
Power to the people.