When the Prime Minister of Belize (or, in last Friday’s case, the PM’s “representative,” the Deputy Prime Minister) delivers the Government of Belize’s Independence Day speech, whether we humble citizens of Belize realize it or not, that speech is directed, to a significant extent, to the power structure of Belize and the diplomatic corps stationed here, who represent interested foreign nations.
In the case of last Friday, an important portion of the speech spoke of national security. But relatively little of that portion focused on external national security, as one might perhaps have expected: the Independence Day speech was mostly about domestic national security.
There is an Arab proverb which says that sixty years of tyranny are to be preferred to one day of anarchy. In poor communities and societies, there are sections of these where the citizens live in a permanent state of apprehension, even fear. Take the case of those of us Belizeans who live or work in most areas of the Southside of Belize City, and in some areas of Northside Belize City. Sometimes we feel that we may be hit with bullets at any time, whether those bullets have us as their primary targets, or they are stray bullets.
This is not the case for members of Belize’s power structure of the diplomatic corps. Their daily lives are not lived in apprehension or fear. Deputy Prime Minister, Hon. Patrick Faber’s speech, on behalf of the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) Cabinet, was intended to assure the power structure and the diplomatic corps that the Ministry of National Security, despite the need earlier this month to declare two areas of the Southside as zones under a state of emergency, has matters well under control.
The reality is that the Ministers of the UDP Cabinet (as any ruling party Cabinet, for that matter) are elite members of the Belizean society who have become powerful and wealthy because of being elected to office on the platform of a political party which won the majority of seats in a general election. Except for those Cabinet Ministers who are about to retire, such as the UDP’s Queen’s Square, Mesopotamia, and Port Loyola area representatives, a deep and abiding concern is the desire to be re-elected to office by their electoral constituencies. Almost every single one of the Ministers, prior to being appointed to Cabinet status, was an ordinary citizen. As Cabinet Ministers, they live the life, as we would say. Above all else, they wish to continue living at that privileged Cabinet level.
In the normal course of things, there are some Belizeans who feel they have nothing to lose, because they own nothing. As most of us Belizeans in hurricane-vulnerable areas know, there are actually Belizeans who pray for hurricanes, because such disasters offer them opportunities to loot, and thus enrich themselves. Overall, however, most citizens desire social stability, hence the Arab proverb. The proverb is extreme in its conceptualization, but the point is made.
Well now, there are special occasions in a society’s history when a large mass of the citizens, for whatever the reason(s), begin to think, and sometimes behave, in a reckless and irresponsible manner. This happened in Belize in March of 1981 after the Heads of Agreement were broadcast on the government monopoly radio station, Radio Belize. Within a matter of a little more than two weeks, the stability of two major population centers in this nation – Belize City and Corozal Town, had unraveled to the extent that the British Governor felt he had to declare a national state of emergency.
We laymen do not know exactly what transpired on Thursday, April 2, 1981, insofar as that declaration was concerned. Belize was a self-governing British colony at the time, so that it may have been that the Premier of Belize, Hon. George C. Price, requested the Governor to declare the emergency. This is neither here or there. What is important to appreciate is that the declaration of the state of emergency amounted to a simultaneous admission that the Government of Belize, specifically the Ministry of Home Affairs, had lost control of the streets and was unable to ensure domestic national security.
The Minister of Home Affairs on April 2, 1981 was the Hon. C. L. B. Rogers. He had lost his Mesopotamia seat to the UDP’s Curl Thompson in the 1979 general election, but such had been his status and reputation since he first won the Mesop seat in 1961, that Premier George Price of the ruling People’s United Party (PUP) had re-appointed Mr. Rogers as Deputy Premier and Minister of Home Affairs, through the mechanism of appointing him a Senator, thus eligible to sit in Cabinet.
As Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. Rogers was in direct, constitutional control of the Police Department and the Belize Defence Force (BDF), the army of Belize which had been established in 1978 when the Belize Volunteer Guard and the Police Special Forces (paramilitary) had been fused into one. But, two things should be noted and researched by Belizean historians. The first was that the Commissioner of Police, Esmond Willoughby, was believed by PUP officials, including Rogers, to be more loyal to the British Governor than to Minister Rogers and the PUP Cabinet. The second thing was that the BDF was still under the command of a British expatriate officer.
There are four men who are still alive who were Cabinet Ministers at the time. These are Said Musa, Assad Shoman, Florencio Marin, Sr., and Fred Hunter. These men should be asked, for the benefit of Belize’s history and our future generations, to say what they remember of the events leading up to the state of emergency.
It should be noted also that between May and September of 1972, the security forces of Belize, which then featured the Police Department and the Police Special Forces (paramilitary) under the leadership of the aforementioned Minister of Home Affairs Rogers, had been defeated in the streets of Belize City, the nation’s population center, by the insurgents of the UBAD Party.
The point we wish to make here, and it has been historically proven, is that domestic national security can be a fragile concept in a society like Belize’s. The people who are in charge of domestic national security are hesitant to employ murderous firepower, because such a decision could well come back to haunt them and their government. In other words, a government is only as powerful as the state of affairs which prevails in this society. If the people of Belize, for whatever the reason(s), become reckless and irresponsible, many bets are off.
It is for that reason, when our nation-state is confronted by such an existential threat as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) referendum, that the ruling politicians, the Cabinet Ministers of Belize, have to set aside some of the arrogance they have taken on in office and remember that we are all mere mortals. If the mighty C. L. B. Rogers could not control the people of Belize in 1981, that should be a lesson for our Cabinet Ministers to consider. Yes, we are now independent, and Cabinet has more power, but Belize remains a small society where all of us related and all of us know one another.
During the normal course of affairs, the Cabinet always tends to become disrespectful of individuals and institutions whose societal role should not be discounted. Cabinet should be mindful of the fact that the same power structure which pays them homage today, would set them aside tomorrow if it suited that power structure’s interests.
Power to the people.