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Home Editorial The May 29, 1972 riot— how print media of the time viewed...

The May 29, 1972 riot— how print media of the time viewed it

On May 29, 1972, some demonstrators in a UBAD parade commemorating Pan African Week and the May 1773 slave uprising in Belize started hurling missiles at the Guatemalan Embassy in downtown Belize City, and soon after, all hell broke loose, with some turning to smashing store windows and looting, while the more focused ones turned their attention to political targets, notably Radio Belize and the Belize Times Press, both propaganda organs of the ruling People’s United Party.

A number of persons in the demonstration, mostly leaders of UBAD, were arrested on charges that included roughing up a police officer and taking away his camera, breaking show windows, and attempted arson.

There was no television in Belize at that time. There was one radio station, Radio Belize, controlled by the government; and four major newspapers: two independent – Amandala and The Reporter – and two party organs —the Belize Times for the PUP, and the Beacon, which belonged to the PDM (People’s Democratic Party) leader, Mr. Dean Lindo. The Beacon was the sole opposition newspaper at the time, with the NIP’s Belize Billboard having been closed down when its leader, Mr. Philip Goldson, went to London to study law.

The Belize Times of Tuesday, May 30, 1972, described the demonstrators as “clowns on parade”, and said the demonstration was a “disgrace to Belizeans and Africans alike.”

The Beacon, of Saturday, June 3, 1972, reported that the “hundreds of young demonstrators chanted the slogans, ‘we want radio time’ – ‘give the 18-year-old a vote’ – ‘no Guatemala’ – and ‘out with the PUP government.’”

The Reporter, of Sunday, June 4, 1972, had the most extensive coverage of the uprising. The Reporter said: “Half-way through a parade billed ostensibly to observe Pan African solidarity, elements of the 600-odd demonstrators, supported by elements of the UBAD leadership, started the action by hurling missiles at the Guatemalan Consulate in Albert Street.

“…some protesters gained access to the Premier’s Office in the Public Buildings and turned it upside down…Another group of marauders entered the Belize Times building…They lobbed a Molotov cocktail into the printing area and started a small fire…on the outskirts of the city where Radio Belize has its transmitting station, demonstrators entered the compound and ripped out some of the installations. The damage caused Radio Belize to go off the air for approximately 50 minutes.

“In Albert Street a mobile team of Paramilitary men halted the Freedom Train (UBAD vehicle)…The Police claim they came across dozens of ‘Molotov Cocktails’….”

The Amandala, in its publication following the demonstration, celebrated the release, on bail, of members of the party who had been taken into police custody, and chastised the government’s paramilitary forces. The Amandala said, “They started throwing tear gas around indiscriminately on streets like New Road and George Street where there was no trouble…[they] wanted people to blame tear gas on the U.B.A.D. Party.”

Looking back on the events of May 29, 1972, the Amandala of May 27, 2010, said: “38 years ago the People’s United Party had an aura of invincibility. The PUP had won consecutive general elections in 1951, 1954, 1957, 1961, 1965 and 1969: they had never been defeated…         

“The important thing to understand about May 29 of 1972 is that the young people of the population center were at a higher level of political education than they had ever been. Although the voting age was still at 21 in 1972 (it would be reduced to 18 in 1978), one of the three UBAD Party candidates had topped the nine-candidate NIP/UBAD coalition slate in December of 1971. UBAD was a unique political party, because there were no party financiers. Because it was all people, mostly younger people, there was substantial revolutionary potential in UBAD. There was serious political education in the Party, and there was committed street militancy. If UBAD was not a real threat to the PUP, it was, at least, a danger. The PUP leaders had decided to stamp it out.

  “Instead, on May 29, 1972, UBAD blew up in the PUP’s face, and established control of the streets of Belize City.

Belize’s environment loses a champion

Over the years many people have visited our shores and some of those who came, fell in love with our country and people, and here they made their stand. Such a one was Dr. Candy Gonzalez, who succumbed after a tragic fall over the weekend. Dr. Candy, a lawyer by profession, came to Belize 26 years ago, and her work to preserve our environment, especially the Macal River, has earned her a place among the heroes of Belize.

Dr. Candy came to Belize from the United States, where she was no stranger to fighting for the cause of the underdog. She was on the front lines in the fight in that country to secure the civil rights of Americans who weren’t white.

Protecting the Macal River was Dr. Candy’s great fight in Belize, and BELPO (Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy), the organization she founded along with her husband, Mr. George Gonzalez, took the battle all the way to court. BELPO asked the court to compel the Department of the Environment (DOE) to enforce the environmental laws that protected the Macal, and said that there should be no talk of a third dam on the river (Vaca), since we weren’t following the environmental compliance plan for the second dam, Chalillo.

BELPO condemned the owners of the dams, BECOL (Belize Electric Company Ltd.), and the DOE, for their management of the river. In a letter to the Amandala the organization said:

“Those who pushed for the deal to build the dams on the Macal River, three politicians and a senator, have no shame as to what their actions have cost the people along the Macal and Belize Rivers. The water in the Macal River is polluted and people shouldn’t drink it or swim in it. Many of the fish in the river have high levels of mercury, which affects the central nervous system and is most dangerous to children and pregnant women. There is still no workable dam break early warning system.”

Dr. Candy fought alongside Ms. Audrey Matura, the then vice-president of Oceana, as the organization battled the oil companies to keep them from exploring in our territorial sea. In a memorable people’s referendum, Belizeans overwhelmingly voted against oil drilling in the sea, a move that was later lauded by UNESCO, which had designated the Belize Barrier Reef a World Heritage site in 1996.

To our knowledge Dr. Candy did not engage in party politics in Belize, but in every other sphere she was active in informing Belizeans about their rights. She scolded Belize’s health sector for giving new vaccines to adolescents without educating parents about their possible negative side effects, and she stood firm alongside Belizeans who demanded that they be provided with more and better balanced information about the referendum to decide if the ICJ should resolve the Belize-Guatemala dispute.

Amandala expresses its condolences to Dr. Candy’s family and her husband of 48 years, Mr. George Gonzalez, and joins the environmental community in recognizing her great contributions to our country.

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