A few years ago I was in a conversation with Senator Henry Gordon, and I said to him, well maybe it’s about time we had another black summit, to look at the real. Henry’s response was that the first black summit, held in September of 2003, had not accomplished anything. He stopped me in my tracks. Cold.
There was a lot of work put into that first, and only, Belize Black Summit, you know. Several months of planning, involving leaders of the UBAD Educational Foundation (UEF) and Dr. Ted Aranda’s World Garifuna Organization (WGO) went into the summit. I guess, looking back, we must have ended up with some feel good moments, but not much more. Still, just putting together the summit was an accomplishment in itself, unprecedented.
Some people say that if you don’t have anything encouraging to say, maybe you shouldn’t say anything at all. I don’t have anything encouraging to say right here, but it’s my job to tell it like it is.
There is no doubt that the vast majority of the young gangsters who have been arbitrarily confined since last week Tuesday’s state of emergency on the Southside of Belize City, are black youth. You and I don’t have to ask to see them and to check their DNA: the conclusion is automatic, because you and I know what time it is.
The majority of prisoners in Her Majesty’s Prison were always of African descent, from time immemorial, but the majority of the population in British Honduras was always black, from the time of slavery. So that, the existence of a majority black prison population used to be altogether logical.
Today, it is striking, and it has been striking for two or three decades now, that the vast majority of the prisoners at the Kolbe penitentiary on the Hattieville-Boom road are black, because the black population in Belize became a minority more than three decades ago, and has been shrinking in percentage ever since.
What this reality would say to any sociologist is that there must be serious humanitarian problems in the base black community here, and so two questions would be: why was it so difficult to organize the first, and only, black summit, in the first place, and secondly, why is there absolutely no energy today in the direction of analyzing the problems with a view to finding the solutions.
Back in 1969 when some of us organized the UBAD movement, the most frequent argument of those who opposed us, white supremacists and collaborators with white supremacy, was that Belize did not have any such problems, that we were importing this black consciousness/black power business from the United States. Okay. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that those who tried to beat us down were right, that there was no kind of race problem in Belize in 1969. It is for sure there is some kind of race problem in Belize today, with the stark evidence being the disproportionate percentage of black prison inmates.
When UBAD divided in1973, and half of its leadership supported the formation of the new United Democratic Party (UDP), Belizeans were naïve socio-politically. What I mean is that back then almost all Belizeans who were dissatisfied with the status quo believed that a change in political leadership, which is to say, the replacement of the ruling People’s United Party (PUP), was the mechanism, the only mechanism, which could effect change.
This type of mindset was understandable, given that the PUP had absolutely dominated Belize’s politics from the time that modern, anti-colonial, electoral politics began here in 1950. Opposition Belizeans thought that any change would be good change. So that, there was some euphoria when the UDP finally replaced the PUP in national government in 1984.
But now that we have the benefit of hindsight in this regard, Belizeans have no choice but to conclude that party politics, as we have known it, has no kind of solution to offer where the ills in the black community are concerned. These ills were the direct products of racism, slavery, colonialism, and imperialism, and there is no electoral politician who can attack these ills head on if he or she wishes to be elected to office.
There was always an element in the National Independence Party (NIP), the Opposition party which preceded the UDP, which appeared to believe, as we listened to their rhetoric, that they were black, and that they stood for black people, whereas they criticized the PUP as “Latin.” The fact of the matter was that the black working class in Belize had remained solidly PUP, even after Rt. Hon. George C. Price, considered Latin, replaced the black Leigh Richardson as PUP Leader in 1956. There was no one doing serious class analysis six decades ago who could declare the NIP’s thesis a false or simplistic one. So that, when the NIP was absorbed into the UDP in 1973, that flawed concept, that they were more black than the PUP, remained in the minds of public, political personalities like Michael Finnegan and Wilfred Elrington, children of the NIP who moved on to the UDP.
Confronted by today’s manifest suffering in the black community, after five terms of UDP government since 1984, and after three consecutive terms of UDP office since 2008, surely UDP Southside area representatives like Finnegan and Elrington have to ask themselves, in their private moments, just how much their party has accomplished where the upliftment of their people is concerned. The number realities at Kolbe and in the state-of-emergency holding cells suggest continuing crises amongst the children of Ethiopia: the facts stare us all in the face. UDP leaders can only congratulate the party for their individual successes and their personal bank accounts, nothing else: the UDP has not “raised up” the Southside.
On a personal note, I would say in conclusion that I never thought this would still be a concern of mine today. In 1969, fate had it so that I was thrust onto the public stage in order to establish some truths. After the leadership division in UBAD in 1973, and after the huge successes of the UDP by 1977, I felt that I had to move on with my life. Insofar as the overall black community is concerned, however, the UDP has been a failure. I pause, and I ask Messrs. Finnegan and Elrington for a reply.
Power to the people.