Why are Belizeans more loyal to their political parties rather than to their country?

By Wellington C. Ramos

When I was a child growing up in British Honduras, which is now Belize, all the citizens of our country were indoctrinated to be loyal to the King or Queen of Great Britain and nobody else. In our schools we were told to sing “God Save The Queen” at most ceremonial events.

In those days the holidays that were celebrated the most were the Queen’s birthday, Prince Charles’ birthday and the Battle of Saint George’s Cay Day. The British flag known as the “Union Jack” was our flag. Belizeans were so proud to be British and many of them felt that, without Great Britain, Belize would not survive. I was born in the 1950s in the heat of Belize’s nationalistic political era.

The People’s United Party was formed because most Belizeans were not satisfied with the way the British Crown were treating them. In studying Belize history this was nothing new because this was the way it was prior to the Battle of Saint George’s Cay in 1798. The British Crown was friends with the Spanish Crown and was hesitating to grant Belize colony status to avoid aggravating the Spanish. One of the British kings was married to a Spanish princess during those years that they were occupying Belize with the consent of Spain to cut logwood and mahogany. It was the residents of Belize that got irritated with the British Crown and declared war against the Spanish then later demanded colony status.

Belize’s nationalism stem from the Battle of Saint George’s Cay on 10th September 1798. This day should have been the Independence Day for our country because it was always the day celebrated by all Belizeans prior to our independence. It has deep historical significance and most Belizeans were used to celebrating this day for generations. The decision to make 21st September our Independence Day was not wise. All those politicians who were members of the People’s United Party at the time this decision was made owe us a good explanation as to why they decided on 21st September instead of 10th September for our independence day. The only two people in the People’s United Party that can answer this question today are Said Musa or Assad Showman.

Today, many PUPs wish that 10th September be removed as a National Holiday but are afraid to voice their opinions publicly. Likewise, many UDP’s would like the 21st of September be replaced by 10th September as our Independence Day. Years ago I had a conversation with a former PUP minister who became a UDP, the late Santiago Perdomo from Cayo District, about this confusion. He said to me that, prior to the independence of Belize, the ministers had all agreed that, if the British granted them independence, it would be on 10th September to unify the nation. However, the then Premier George Cadle Price decided to change the date when he negotiated the date with Great Britain. What was the significance of 21st September to him only he knows.

Now due to colonialism, nationalism, political parties and political confusion, some Belizeans have loyalties to their political parties over their nation Belize. The British did a good job on brainwashing Belizeans to embrace colonialism while we were subjects to them and they were exploiting our country. Our opposition to the British was through the labour movements, which gave rise to the political parties in Belize, namely, People’s United Party (PUP), Honduran Independent Party (HIP), Christian Democratic Party (CDP) and National Independence Party (NIP), which gave rise to the United Democratic Party (UDP). In the beginning, most Belizeans were PUPs but disagreement among the leaders led to the formation of the other political parties.

Some Belizeans believe that the PUPs always wanted independence and the other political parties wanted to remain under British rule or were confused about what they wanted. I tend to disagree with that analysis because of the facts available in our history. The fact is that the British were not going to grant independence to Belize without finding a solution to the Guatemalan claim. The British had opportunities to settle the dispute with Spain in the Treaty of Paris and the Godolphin Treaty but refused to include Belize in those treaties.

It could be that the British never wanted Belize to become an independent nation because it was economically and strategically important for them during those years. They had intentions of occupying more territories in Nicaragua’s Mosquito Coast and the Bay Islands in Honduras were next to Belize. It will be the Americans who would ask the British to leave the Bay Islands and the Mosquito Coast later.

Most Belizeans who are members of political parties join because their parents were members of those parties. I grew up in an NIP household in Dangriga and all the people in my home were NIPs. I was told from my childhood that George Price cannot be trusted because he was trying to sell Belize to Guatemala and one of these days Belize will belong to Guatemala unless we get rid of him as our premier. My mother used to take me to NIP meetings to listen to the late Philip Goldson speak on the rostrum. This was a man whom I admired and have great respect for as a Belizean citizen. My father and his family were PUPs but I did not live with him and know little about his political views.

During those meetings, members of the People’s United Party would come to the NIP meetings and heckle Mr Goldson calling him names like Black Monkey, etc. Some of them would stone him with rotten eggs while he was speaking. I knew most of these men and some of them never worked and were idle in Dangriga. On the other hand, when George Price came to Dangriga, these same men would wait for him by the “Y” entrance of the town and back him on their shoulders to Zabaneh’s Riverside Hotel. This made me develop a feeling of disrespect towards the People’s United Party and their members. I even questioned the mentality of my own family members who joined the People’s United Party.

When I became a police officer in 1973, I got to understand how Belize politics work firsthand, because I dealt with many politicians in Belize and attended several political rallies. I could not vote in Belize at the time because the voting age was 21 years. When I became 21 years of age, I was working in Orange Walk Town but refused to vote for any political party. I was later transferred to Belize City and was registered in Freetown Division but never voted because I was sent to Hattieville and then came to the United States shortly thereafter.

These are some of the reasons why I believe that some Belizeans are more loyal to political parties as opposed to our country. Nationalism has to be taught to our children in our schools to change this whole equation. Today, the vote is about money, so party loyalty is declining. This will give the party with the most money a better chance of winning. However, there have been times when some of the Belize people took money and voted against the party.

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