If you study the history of the Yucatán since 1540 or so, you will find that the militias, primarily in Mérida and Campeche, represented socio-economic opportunity for people of African descent. When you are at the bottom of the totem pole, you only play a role when those at the top have a use for you. Life is real.
Belize, which used to be British Honduras, was a place where people from the metropolitan world didn’t want to go (check Aldous Huxley), but we who were essentially condemned to live here grew to love our home and we cared for each other. There were many of our people who fled from Belize after Hurricane Hattie without ever having visited the cayes or the Barrier Reef or the Pomona Valley or the Mountain Pine Ridge or Xunantunich. These Belizeans living in the United States are amazed when they see on American television all the spectacular natural wonders of Belize which hundreds of thousands of tourists have been enjoying over the last two decades. Belizeans never knew how beautiful this country was.
There are things and details we at this newspaper don’t know, because the big boys in London, Washington, Guatemala City, Mexico City and in the offices of the giant oil companies, have known how to keep their secrets hidden. The most relevant of these capitals used to be London. Today, of course, Washington is the most important power center for us Belizeans to study.
In the first half of the twentieth century, all Belizeans did for Great Britain was provide hardwoods, most importantly mahogany, at slave labor wages. When Britain got into a little problem with the Germans in World War I, she sent for some of our young men to help the British Empire. Because the British had convinced themselves that we Belizeans were inferior in every respect, we were not sent to Mesopotamia to fight, but to make up numbers, so to speak. This was a serious disappointment for our proud Belizean men, and they rebelled, for this and other reasons, when they returned to Belize in July of 1919.
Britain’s problem with the Germans in World War II was a more critical one, and so the British had to use some of us non-white, non-British as actual warriors in her armed forces.
The oil drilling papers for what began to happen in Belize just a few years after World War II are around somewhere in Whitehall and in Houston, we are sure. The drilling was primarily offshore, and we Belizean natives, we British subjects, were not informed. This was between Whitehall, on the one hand, and Gulf, Phillips and the other oil companies, on the other. When this was going on in the mid-1950’s, Belize was truly a marine paradise where our reefs and fishing were concerned. In retrospect, the place was magnificently bountiful.
In those days, however, the medical experts of the Western world had not yet determined that fish was the best source of protein and other minerals, that, in fact, fish was the greatest food on earth. Belizeans, in our ignorance, looked down on fish, conch, lobster, and so. We craved meat and chicken, because fifty years ago these were the prestige foods. Belizean fishermen were poor and uneducated in those colonial days when oil drilling began, and all they could do, and it was important what they did, was reveal to us that people were using dynamite to blow up our reefs. This was the offshore oil drilling of the 1950’s.
On Wednesday morning this week, Belize Oceana’s chief executive officer, the attorney Audrey Matura-Shepherd, appeared on WAVE Radio’s morning talk show (which is also televised), where she was assailed from different directions by the three hosts – Joe Bradley, Juliet Thimbriel, and Alfonso Noble, as well as strategic callers from the Ministry of Natural Resources, including Andre Cho, who is Belize’s Director of Petroleum.
Now, the chances are great that the Opposition PUP’s hitching a ride on the Oceana/APAMO campaign to prevent oil drilling in offshore and protected areas of Belize, is a case of political opportunism. From that standpoint, the UDP media muscle is justified in being suspicious, even aggressive. There are, however, many, many Belizeans who have been in love with Belize in its persona as The Jewel. Remember, this was a place which was pristine fifty years ago, and now we know that “pristine” means healthy, and it means life-giving. There are those of us who do not believe that a petroleum-producing future meshes with what we have remaining of our formerly pristine Jewel. There are those of us who prefer to be what is left of The Jewel, rather than to become another gas station for America. The UDP should be careful before they condemn us as PUP, as Oceana, or as anything else other than Belizeans with souls so alive that we love our native land.
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.Amandala