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Thursday, October 22, 2020
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From The Publisher

When they captured Melos, for example, Athenian soldiers slaughtered all the adult males and sent the women and children into slavery – a violation of the rules of combat that Greeks had observed for centuries. This episode is immortalized in Thucydides’s Melian Dialogue, where the Athenian ambassador captured the essence of realpolitik. “We shall not trouble you with specious pretenses – either how we have a right to our empire because we overthrew the Mede, or are now attacking you because of the wrong you have done us,” he explained. Instead, “You know as well as we do that right is a question that only has meaning in relations between equals in power. In the real world, the strong do what they will and the weak suffer what they must.”
– pg. 38, DESTINED FOR WAR, by Graham Allison, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2017

Next year June will mark fifty years since I returned from college in America. It is difficult for me to imagine that there could be any other place on planet earth which has changed so much over that half century as Belize has. Even our name has changed. In 1968, we were still “British Honduras.”

I missed my home every day of the three years I was away. To this day, I read eagerly any material published here between 1965 and 1968, and whenever people start to talk about the sports, music, politics and personalities in my home while I was away, I always listen attentively.

I would say that Belize reached a high point of socio-political confidence between 1965 and 1968, but my perspective would be very much confined to Belize City, still the capital back then. Between ’65 and ’68, our road system was still quite primitive. City people didn’t travel much to the Districts. And, the capital city was still, overall, privileged. All the same, I know for sure that confidence was growing fast in the sugar cane belt of the Corozal and Orange Walk Districts, following the expansion and modernization of the sugar industry.

To return to the primitive state of our roads back then, I remember, for instance, as late as maybe November of 1970 when Galento X Neal and I rode to Corozal Town on a motorcycle, through the old Maskall Road and all the white marl from there to Corozal. It must have taken us five or six hours from Belize City to Corozal Town, and what was that trip all about? We had heard that there was an African teaching at the Corozal high school who had gotten into trouble. When Galento and I reached Corozal Town, Misheck Mawema, for that is who he was, had already left the scene. It was not until a few years ago that Alfred Haylock, a Corozaleño visiting from California (we’d met at the Corozal Town home of a mutual friend – Raul Daniels), told me that Mawema, a macho Rhodesian, had slapped Fr. William Messmer, S. J. If that had indeed been the case, it would have made eminent sense for Misheck to leave the Corozal scene.

In the summer holiday months of 1964, our second-year Sixth Form class at St. John’s College went to visit Punta Gorda Town at the invitation of the brothers Vance and Lennox Vernon, and Marion Paolino. (Incidentally, I always remind readers that it was that summer of 1964 that the Belize summer holidays were changed from April and May to July and August.) On that trip, I met Justice Adolph Lucas during a basketball game. More than four decades later, Justice Lucas told me that he had been the tall P. G. youth who was giving our Belize City squad a bunch of trouble. The point I want to make is that we went to P. G. by boat, Heron H. The trip took from morning till night, but it would also have taken all day by road, and the road would have been much more uncomfortable, rough, Jack.

As late as 1969 and 1970, when UBAD would visit Stann Creek Town often, the Hummingbird section of the road going south was an absolute adventure, especially because of the hills around Miles 25, 26, 27, on the Hummingbird. They called this “Di Gap.” People would be travelling in old trucks and buses those days. UBAD’s vehicles were downright ancient.

The thing is, when we from Belize City left to go to any of the District towns by road, it was somewhat of an adventure, hence enjoyable, for us. But Belizeans from the District towns who had to leave home to come to the capital city for school, business, medical or other serious business, would not have seen their road trips as pleasant outings. At least, I don’t think so.

I remember between 1972 and 1973, UBAD was supporting a football team named Diamond A, which was managed by a UBAD member – Michael Myvett, later “Finnegan.” The team began to fall apart after a couple games (couple stars left for the States through the back), so Finnegan and coach “Pomo” Usher made contact with several star players on San Ignacio’s Mighty Avengers, including Pappy Smith, Pelis Neal, Arturo Azueta, Speedy Henry, and two or three others. The Avengers would catch a Sunday morning bus in Cayo for 3:30 games on Sunday afternoon in the MCC Garden, and after the games we would drive them back to San Ignacio in a Land Rover which Norman Fairweather, one of our officers, had bought from Carleton Russell. That was hours and hours to Cayo on rough road in the night, and hours and hours back. But, we were young.

My column became caught up in road trips of the Sixties, but I started out trying to explain that I had this biased Belize City perspective, because it wasn’t easy to travel. During the earlier 1960s, football teams from the Cayo and Stann Creek Districts had dared to enter the prestigious Belize City competition a few times. It was hard on these District teams because of the road travel. The first District team to conquer Belize City was San Joaquin, and that historic conquest occurred during my years in the United States. Belize City used to be superior to the Districts in everything except football, with the original Queen’s Park Rangers from the Pomona Valley enjoying a vaunted reputation in the early and middle 1950s, though they never played in a Belize City tournament. San Joaquin’s Belize City championships, then, to repeat, were historic.

At the very same time San Joaquin, a village from Corozal’s sugar cane belt, conquered Belize City football, however, our heavily Belize City-based national ladies softball team had begun to conquer regionally. Belize began beating Jamaica, then The Bahamas and Bermuda, in ladies softball, and finally we conquered the whole of Central America and the Caribbean in 1974 – the Golden Girls! Listen, in 1978, Margaret Usher pitched Belize to victory over the awesome United States, with Glenda Ellis hitting the game-winning double. The Belize ladies used to be that good!

Probably the most important thing which has changed here over the last half century is our population demographic. Between 1965 and 1968, black Belizeans were a clear majority, we rejected the Guatemalan claim, and we felt confident in ourselves. In retrospect, however, we can see that our confidence was probably misplaced.

Let me take you back a decade or so before my sojourn in America. Before Hurricane Hattie, my paternal grandmother and her daughters had a cleaning lady downstairs of us at #3 West Canal Street whom we called “Miss Doris.” She was delicate, light-skinned, and was convinced that her eyes were blue. One of my aunts would mischievously get under Miss Doris’ skin by insisting that Miss Doris’ eyes were actually grey, not really blue. Miss Doris would become hurt and angry: having blue eyes was a really big deal for her. Anyway, there was a period when Miss Doris began to say that she had dreamed that twelve American millionaires were coming to Belize. I don’t know if Miss Doris’ eyes were really blue or grey, as my aunt claimed, but I know Miss Doris predicted, before any of us ever thought of it, that the United States would come to Belize. This was in the late 1950s.

America coming to Belize was the most dramatic change of all in The Jewel. First, America allowed Belizeans to enter the United States after Hurricane Hattie in 1961, and then the Americans started coming to Belize big time – investors, tourists, missionaries, gangsters, whatever, whatever. This is not to say that they had not begun to come before Hattie. Remember Emory King, Taft Moody, Ned Davis, Will Wiley, Vic Stadter, and so on?

And, now we know, nothing was so game-changing as when the Americans sent their television in 1982. American cable television turned everything upside down. Soon, nothing that we had here or produced here was good enough for us Belizeans. It had to have an American finish, an international finish. Still, there was one thing they never told you about America when you were leaving Belize to go there: the United States is the most violent country in the world. The Americans love guns and violence for guns’ and violence’ sake. Which among you can deny that? When you go to America, you have to start thinking violently if you want to survive. That’s how I saw it back then, and three and a half decades ago America landed in Belize with all its violent baggage.

Wherever I drift in my thoughts about Belize, these days I usually end up with the claim. None of us Belizeans knew that Catalan, one of Spain’s richest provinces, never wanted to be a part of the Spanish Republic. When you look at the map and see the names of countries, you would never realize how many groups or tribes or sectors of these countries really wish they were independent of the nation-state. In the case of us Belizeans, we always knew for damn sure that we didn’t want to be a part of Guatemala. We Belizeans don’t have to become a part of Guatemala before we realize we don’t want that. We know it right now: we knew it from forever.

But, Belize has changed mightily in fifty years. We’re not the same people any more. And the people who are leading the charge to the ICJ for partition are the same Baymen’s Clan which celebrates the Battle of St. George’s Caye. How you figure? Where do the Mennonites and the Chinese and the Hindus stand in this existential matter? Inquiring minds want to know.

Before that, the diaspora better get the sense. You’re either in this or you’re out there somewhere waltzing north of the border. The bell has rung in Belize. This is going to be rough. Only the strong survive.

Power to the people.

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