by Wellington C. Ramos, Adjunct Professor in History and Political Science
From the time people heard about the death of Dr. Theodore Aranda on Sunday, July 10, 2022 people have been visiting his home to pay their condolences to his widow, Ms. Cecilia Aranda, and his family. On Sunday the 17th of July 2022 at 11:00 a.m., a funeral service and Mass of Thanksgiving was held for Dr. Theodore Aranda at Sacred Heart RC Church in Dangriga by celebrant Father Oscar Rojas. Other distinguished guests included Minister Rodwell Ferguson; Stuart Leslie, Secretary of the Belize Cabinet; Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Shyne Barrow; Honorable Patrick Faber; former Dangriga area representative, Ivan Ramos; and his Lordship, the Mayor of Dangriga, Robert Mariano. The Eulogy was read by Dr. Ludwig Palacio.
Dr. Theodore Aranda was born on November the 11th, 1934, in an area of Dangriga Town that was known as Newtown in the Garifuna Reserve south of Commerce Bight Pier, which was destroyed by a hurricane. After this disaster, some families moved into the town, and others moved south and created another village by the name of Yugadan, which is now known as Hopkins today. He attended primary school in that village, and after he graduated, he took up a career as a teacher. He was then given the opportunity to attend Saint John’s College in Belize City, where he obtained his high school diploma.
Dr. Aranda left Belize and went to live in Guatemala, where he obtained employment as an instructor at San Carlos University. After many years of teaching at that university, he later enrolled at the University of Illinois Urbana- Champaign Campus to pursue a Doctorate degree in Education. He graduated from the university in 1971. Dr. Aranda was employed by the Peace Corps and was given an assignment in Belize. I believe that during Dr. Aranda’s tour in Belize, he conducted a social, political and economic assessment of his country, and he was not satisfied with the state and conditions in his country of birth. Dr. Aranda returned to Belize in 1974 to implement a plan he had in place. Nobody knew what were Dr. Aranda’s plans but himself. Dr. Aranda was always a person who had plans, but was strategic in the release and implementation of his plans. He was like most strategic planners, who look at the moment, resources and when is the best time to introduce their plans. He started with a community outreach program in Dangriga to make people aware of his interest in improving the town of Dangriga and to improve the quality of living for his people.
Dangriga people began to embrace his ideas and started to become his supporters. In 1979 Dr. Theodore Aranda became the candidate for the United Democratic Party to replace the then United Democratic Party (UDP) representative Paul Guerrero. The elections were held on the 24th of November of that year, and he defeated Gatsby Ramos, the People’s United Party (PUP) candidate by a huge margin. In that election of 1979, only five members of the UDP party won out of a total of 18 seats. He was the most qualified candidate, so they made him the leader of the party, because the then leader, Dean Lindo, lost his seat in that election. This was an important general election, because the Belize premier, George Price, was eager to gain independence for Belize.
He brought in Assad Shoman and Said Musa, two young and bright Lawyers of Palestinian background, to assist him with this task. In fact, in 1974, despite the fact that these two men had lost their elections in the divisions where they ran, he still made them Cabinet ministers over his senior ranking representatives who won their elections. This created a rift within his party, but George Price stood his ground. Dr. Aranda and his other four representatives, namely Philip Goldson (Albert Division); Vicente Choco (Toledo South); Charles Wagner (Toledo North); and Curl Thompson (Mesopotamia Division) began the process of building the United Democratic party, which was in shambles. In 1981, the prime minister of Great Britain, Margaret Thatcher, made up her mind that her government was ready to grant Independence to Belize, despite the Guatemalan claim to their colony of Belize. She assigned a representative by the name of Nicholas Ridley to be responsible for this assignment. The British drafted some proposals with the name “Heads of Agreement”, to present to the people of Belize and the government of Guatemala as a way of resolving the Guatemalan claim to Belize. The people of Belize revolted against the Heads of Agreement, and the Guatemalan government rejected it because they wanted more than what the British were offering them.
A White Paper which was a drafted Constitution was given to the Government of Belize to adopt. Said Musa was on the commission to write the Constitution. There were riots and protest throughout the entire country of Belize against the Heads of Agreement. Dr. Aranda and the UDP were demanding a defense agreement from Great Britain before Independence. The British refused to make a long-term commitment. On September the 21st, 1981, Belize became an independent country. After Independence, some members of the UDP executive began to undermine Dr. Theodore Aranda, and they were calling for a convention to replace him as their party leader. Dr. Aranda got tired of their undermining tactics, and he resigned as the leader of the UDP. A convention was held in 1983, and Manuel Esquivel, whom they were grooming to become their party leader, won the convention. After Dr. Aranda left the UDP, he reactivated the Christian Democratic Party (CDP). He began to build his party in Dangriga Town with the intention of reaching out to the voters in the other districts. Third parties have always had difficulty winning elections in Belize politics.
In 1984 general elections were held in Belize, and the United Democratic Party won their first general election eleven years after they were formed by defeating the People’s United Party by a margin of 21-7 in a landslide. Manuel Esquivel became the Prime Minister of Belize. Dr. Aranda (CDP), Henry Anderson (UDP), and Allan Arthurs, an independent candidate, all lost to Simeon Sampson, the (PUP) candidate. After this election, Dr. Aranda discontinued his party and became a member of the People’s United Party. In the election of 1989, he ran as their candidate and defeated the UDP candidate, Randolph Enriquez. He was made the Minister of Health by the Prime Minister, George Price.
Most of his supporters wanted him to become the Minister of Education, because he had the experience and the qualifications for that portfolio. Dr. Aranda began his plans for health throughout the country of Belize and developed plans for state-of-the-art hospitals in Belize. In Dangriga the Southern Regional Hospital was built for the entire south. Other regional hospitals were also built in the other districts. According to some of his team, as a member of the PUP Cabinet, there were other initiatives he brought to his government, but some members of his party turned them down.
In 1993 general elections were held in Belize, and Dr. Theodore Aranda was defeated by Russell “Chiste” Garcia, the UDP candidate. The United Democratic Party won the elections by a margin of 16 to 13 seats, and Manuel Esquivel became the Prime Minister for a second term. This was considered one of the closest elections in Belize’s history. During this term George Price resigned as party leader in 1996 and a convention was held to replace him. Said Musa defeated Florencio Marin, who was supported by Dr. Theodore Aranda. Said Musa would hold this against Dr. Aranda as the new party leader.
In 1998, general elections were held in Belize, and the PUP won the election by a landslide of 26 to 3 UDP seats. Dr. Aranda also won the Dangriga seat and was not given any ministerial post by Said Musa, despite his qualifications. Florencio Marin, who was the most senior PUP parliamentarian, was also not given any ministerial post. Not only did Said Musa not give Dr. Aranda a ministerial post, but he began all his efforts to remove him as the representative of Dangriga.
What were the reasons for the UDP’s and Said Musa’s unwarranted negative attitude towards Dr. Theodore Aranda? Was it race, fear, jealousy or grudge? Dr. Aranda was experiencing the same things he experienced when he was the leader of the United Democratic Party. In the end, Dr. Aranda decided to leave the People’s United Party (PUP). I believe that Dr. Aranda experienced all these negative attitudes towards him because he was a Garifuna. He never wanted to say this publicly. Racism is a major problem in our country, and this issue must be addressed by all Belizeans. It was after this election that Dr. Theodore Aranda came to the conclusion, that the PUP and the UDP are both not serving the best interest of his Garifuna people. Dr. Aranda then decided to form the WORLD GARIFUNA ORGANIZATION (WGO) and to focus on the struggles of his Garifuna people. In Garifuna custom and traditions, our elders always warn us to be careful in getting involved in partisan politics, because it divides us as families and as one people.
This was his focus in his remaining years, but then his health began to get worse. On July the 10th 2022, Dr. Theodore Aranda left us to join our ancestors. He is now one of our Aharies that will continue to provide us with protection and the endurance to keep up our good fight. He left us a legacy that we must maintain and continue to cherish and follow as a guide. Great leaders die in flesh, but will always remain alive in spirit. The conditions our young people face today, are worse than when we were growing up. Let us all join the good fight to demand what is ours and preserve this rich and resilient Garifuna culture.