Early in the Tuesday morning (September 17) KREM talk show this week, the man Tony Wright called host Mose Hyde to complain that the national, Belizean-owned telephone company had treated him in a most disrespectful manner during the last two critical weeks of his Soundfest promotion. (Wright’s Soundfest was staged this year on Friday night, September 13, on Bird’s Isle.)
Soundfest is an annual promotion in its eighteenth year of existence. It is the primary vehicle through which Wright, an advocate for Belizean artists (first), showcases their talent for Belizeans and Belizeans from abroad. The national telephone company, BTL or Digicell or whatever, had left Wright without internet for the aforementioned last two critical weeks of his promotion, despite fifteen (15) different attempts on his part to have them address the situation.
Since the days of Jamaica’s Byron Lee at the previous Civic Center in Belize City, the Independence Eve (September 20) festivities in the population center have been totally dominated by Caribbean artists imported by very well-funded promoters to destroy the possibility of any Belizean, indigenous competition. Tony Wright began to challenge that situation and mind set eighteen years ago with his Soundfest. I don’t believe he has been all that successful with his efforts, but he has been consistent, and determined. Tony Wright’s position is that September, Belize’s month of patriotism, should feature Belizean artists exclusively, with the rest of the calendar available for foreign artist promotions.
Sometime after Tony’s call on Tuesday morning, the esteemed lady Sandra Coye called Mose to explain that Tony Wright was a victim of powerful forces, I would say oligarchic, which felt the need to pressure him in any way they could.
I called Sandra later in the morning and expressed my opinion to her that Tony was not a real threat to the oligarchic forces which control the September celebrations in general, and Independence Eve in particular. So, there was no need for the national telephone company to victimize him. Her opinion was, however, that Tony was a symbolic icon of nationalistic dissent who had great credibility amongst the people of Belize and was rated highly in the Belizean people’s opinion where sincerity was concerned. In other words, Tony Wright, in Miss Coye’s opinion, is a target. I spent a long time thinking about what Sandra had told me.
Looking back more than five decades, I think that a massive socio-cultural transformation began to occur in Belize as soon as we achieved self-government in early 1964. This was a time of nationalist fervor amongst the people in the colony of British Honduras. B. H. had been a British colony amongst Central American republics on the mainland. We had been an anomaly, a British possession amongst Spanish ones, and what self-government, which was expected to last only a few years before political independence, really meant, in retrospect, was that Belize would now be coming under the aegis of the mighty United States of America, which had really been in charge of the Central American republics – Guatemala, Honduras, Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama.
Insofar as effecting Belize’s socio-cultural transformation, the first problem that Washington’s State Department faced was the Hon. Philip Goldson, who was the Leader of the Opposition National Independence Party (NIP), but, perhaps more importantly, owned his own newspaper, The Belize Billboard, which was unquestionably the most popular, powerful, and profitable newspaper in the country.
In this Western Hemisphere, it is the case in countries like the Central American republics that the national Chambers of Commerce are heavily pro-American. So that, when the British Honduras Chamber of Commerce in 1967 suddenly began to publish its own newspaper, introducing offset technology which was quite superior to that of Mr. Goldson’s letter press newspaper, and soon clearly began to compete with the Billboard, there was a power politics significance in the Chamber initiative which none of us could properly appreciate at the time. The previous year, 1966, Mr. Goldson had single-handedly blown up the drafts of the Bethuel Webster Proposals, sponsored by Washington, which were supposed to allow Belize to become independent by having us become a satellite state of the Guatemalans.
In 1969, there was a major challenge to Mr. Goldson’s NIP leadership, quite puzzling on the surface because Mr. Goldson had been a certified national hero for more than two decades. That challenge failed, but while Mr. Goldson was studying law in London in 1973, there was a makeover of the Opposition which essentially replaced him as Opposition Leader, and transformed the Opposition from Mr. Goldson’s roots, nativist vision, into a neoliberal organization which looked to the American business establishment and Washington for direction and support.
Eventually, Mr. Goldson split from the 1973-created United Democratic Party (UDP), and formed his own political party in 1991, but he was blind, aging, and fated to die ten years later.
In 1982, the introduction of television into Belize, and its relatively uncontrolled dispersal in the form of American cable television in Belize’s population centers, led to the socio-cultural transformation of Belize to a great extent.
With the coming of KREM Radio in 1989, Tony Wright soon emerged as the equivalent of Mr. Goldson in the music and entertainment world in Belize. Tony Wright was roots and nativist, and he was not for sale. But, Tony Wright was fighting forces which owned mammoth resources and which were moving in line with Washington’s Monroe Doctrine. In other words, Tony Wright was fighting a battle he could not win. Sandra Coye’s point was that, with all that, Wright represented an annoying problem for those forces which seek to complete the makeover of Belize as we older ones had known it before self-government in 1964.
There are people who look like you and me who have achieved political power in Belize. Their vision, however, is not roots and nativist. The people who are in political power in Belize have made and continue to make Mephistophelian deals with oligarchic forces. This is the reality of Belize’s political situation. Tony Wright is a victim of such Mephistophelian deals. So are the majority of our Belizean artists.