OUR NATIONAL HOLIDAY
Independence Day, September 21, falls in between Belize’s three basically ethnic holidays – September 10 (Creole), October 12 (Mestizo), and November 19 (Garifuna). Independence Day should be the great unifier, the great national and nationalistic statement, and Belizeans have been working towards that goal for 32 years. We still have some ways to go.
There are at least two striking things about how Belize moved to Independence on September 21, 1981.
One is that the British refused to give Belize the defence guarantee which would have eased the tension amongst Belizeans and healed some of the Heads of Agreement wounds which had been opened in March and April of that year. If you think strictly and technically, the British were right. Belize was asking for the political status of independence, which would have been, in a sense, compromised by a defence guarantee from our longstanding colonial masters. But, the Belizean situation was an exceptional one. The British could have made an exception. British Honduras had been claimed by Guatemala since the latter part of the nineteenth century, and the Guatemalans, 40 times more numerous than the Belizeans, were making threatening noises about an independence to which Belizeans felt entitled.
By 1981, Belize’s political leaders knew that the British were playing games with Belize, and seeking to appease Guatemala and Guatemala’s patrons, the United States, by having Belize cede a portion of her territory to Guatemala. The Belizean people had adopted a hard line position on the issue: Belizeans declared flatly – no land cession, independence now! The Belizeans who were hardliners were PUP Belizeans, but the PUP had won every single general election held since universal adult suffrage in 1954. Theirs was the majority position in Belize.
Locked in the self-government limbo since 1964, Mr. Price and the PUP wanted to enter independence heaven. They believed that the March 1981 Heads of Agreement created the opportunity for Belize to become independent by providing a theoretical framework for subsequent negotiations, and presumably settlement, with Guatemala. But the Heads of Agreement were too similar to the 1968 Seventeen Proposals, and they spooked a large amount of Belizeans, including this newspaper.
To prevent violence in Belize rising to civil war levels, the British Governor declared a state of emergency on the afternoon of Thursday, April 2, 1981. That state of emergency was still in effect when Belize became independent on September 21 of that year. It may be said that the celebration was a partisan one. For that original celebration to have been bipartisan, and truly national, the British would have had to step up to the plate. It would not have cost them that much, but imperialists do what they do for motives of profit. Imperialists are not humanitarians, and the British, at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day, are imperialists.
The other striking thing about how Belize moved to independence in 1981 was the extraordinary pressure on Premier George Price and his Cabinet, which included the young leftist militants – Assad Shoman and Said Musa, and featured Deputy Premier C. L. B. Rogers and Attorney General V. H. Courtenay. The October 1974 general election had seen the PUP seriously challenged for the first time in history, and following that the surging UDP won Belize City Council elections in both December 1974 and December 1977, the latter one by a landslide. Belize City being the old capital and the country’s population, education, and financial center, the CitCo result of 1977 convinced many people that the UDP would win the general election scheduled for 1979.
Were that to have been the case, it would have meant that the PUP had wasted 29 years seeking the Holy Grail of independence. The UDP was a conservative, business-dominated party which was pro-United States, pro-Israel, and desirous of downplaying the Guatemalan claim to Belize. The UDP were not interested in any risky independence for Belize. That was for sure.
Having won the 1979 general election in very much of a surprise result, and having welcomed U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s decision in late 1980 to agree to Belize’s independence, the PUP in 1981 were, finally, so close to independence they could taste it. The British, however, refused to provide any comfort for the last few miles of the journey, and the PUP made mistakes on that final march, the most serious, having the longest lasting effects, being the refusal to introduce Belizean artists into the national symbols process.
Under the pressure, Mr. Price’s PUP insisted, until the last few weeks, on the blue-and-white flag for independence. The strips of red above and below the core were a last minute concession. In its blue-and-white format, the national flag would have looked just like the PUP flag (and some Central American republic flags). At this newspaper, we felt then, and we feel now, that the design of a national flag should have been done through a competition amongst Belizean artists. It was still the PUP government which would have had the final say.
In the case of the national anthem, Mr. Price had chosen Samuel Haynes’ “Land of the Gods” from the 1960s, when he was trying to build national consciousness amongst Belizeans. As the years went by, this apparently personal choice became etched in stone, and many non-PUP Belizeans have had the impression that the national anthem choice was imposed: it did not rise from a national consensus.
Where our national consciousness is concerned, Belizeans have come a long way since September 21, 1981. In this essay, we have tried to explain to you how extraordinary were the socio-political circumstances back then, and show you some of the real problems surrounding Belize’s birth. Independence Day, no matter the circumstances 32 years ago, is Belize’s most important and substantial holiday. The imperialists who were skeptical about our national aspirations 32 years ago, are still skeptical today. The imperialists are a prominent part of a dominant international philosophy which considers us Belizeans to be inferior beings. Every day of our Belizean lives, is a battle to prove our Belizean worth. Ya da fu we, Belize! Belize forever more!
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.
FROM THE PUBLISHER
by Evan X
This Saturday we mark the 32nd anniversary of our political independence. Belize has changed a lot since independence in 1981, and there are some Belizeans who believe our country has changed for the worse. There seems to be a lot more wealth in Belize than 32 years ago, when you look at the fancy homes and huge office buildings, the late model SUVs and expensive powerboats, and so on and so forth. But, Belizean society has deteriorated before our very eyes. Today we have to watch far too many of our people strung out on drugs, afflicted by HIV/AIDS, suffering with mental illnesses, literally starving, and caged in the Kolbe prison at Hattieville. Where material things are concerned, we appear better off in Belize, but where our roots human resources are concerned, we Belizeans are in bad shape.
Personally, I welcomed the coming of television in 1982. I had watched television in America between 1965 and 1968, and in late 1970 Galento X Neal and I had watched Muhammad Ali fight Oscar Bonavena on a television set in a sidewalk café in Chetumal. In Belize City, we were hearing that Belizeans in the Corozal District were able to watch Mexican television, and in Belize City we were jealous. You have to remember that the 1968 Summer Olympics were held in Mexico City, as was the 1970 World Cup. The 1970 Copa was Pele’s third and final World Cup victory, and all football fanatics in Belize City engaged in passionate conversations about Tostao and Rivelino and Jairzinho and Carlos Alberto, but it was all hearsay in the city. Corozaleńos were actually seeing these Brazilian idols. So, then, it was because of sports that I welcomed the coming of television to Belize.
The Hon. Said Musa, then Minister of Education, warned about the danger of television, but I was a sports fanatic. I paid no attention. What American cable television proceeded to do over the next three decades was take over the conditioning of our children’s minds. I wouldn’t have known that there would be hundreds of free channels made available in Belize, that these channels would be completely uncensored, and that in Belize we would be given the privilege of watching for free special events and channels that American citizens have to pay cash money to see. Why were we Belizeans to become so “blessed” in this special regard when we were practically cursed in several others?
While American television may have been the most dangerous thing to happen to Belize since independence, crack cocaine was probably the most traumatic. A few months after he became Belize’s first UDP Prime Minister in December of 1984, Rt. Hon. Manuel Esquivel gave the Americans permission to spray Belize’s marijuana fields with paraquat. I wonder, in the first instance, if he really knew what he was doing, and, in the second instance, if his thinking has changed in any material way since then.
Paraquat is a dangerous chemical which remains in the soil of our country. It should never have been used here in pristine Belize. Whatever marijuana production the Americans have destroyed in this region, has been replaced by domestic marijuana fields in the United States itself. All the American government was doing was keeping American dollars at home. Americans have continued to smoke weed; only now most of it is American grown. On this side, who can quantify the damage that has been done to our Belizean land, creeks and rivers by American paraquat?
As if on cue following the paraquat spraying, crack cocaine took the stage in Belize. The UDP Cabinet would not have known what would follow paraquat, and they could not have foreseen the gang violence devastation which crack would inflict on urban Belize. You have to be careful when you are dealing with the Americans: they don’t care what happens to Belize and Belizeans. They see us as insignificant. This is real.
So now, the question arises, what is the 2013 thinking of all those Belizeans who have migrated to the United States? Diaspora Belizeans potentially represent a massive resource base for Belize, but there is the question of how Americanized they have become. There is also the question of how PUDP-ized the Belize diaspora leaders have become.
There is very little serious discourse between Jewel Belizeans and diaspora Belizeans, even though modern telecommunications make this possible in sophisticated formats, such as teleconferencing. Diaspora Belizean leadership is monopolized by the ruling UDP and Opposition PUP organizations. In The Jewel, the situation is different. We “homies” look at the PUDP politicians with great skepticism, and sometimes with outright suspicion. After 44 years, we know their business.
I love my country. It’s the only one I have. We have seen that the basic agenda of our 1969 organization has been accepted by the masses of the Belizean people. What is important today is that our younger generations should be involved and empowered. We seek to do this at Kremandala. This is our contribution to independent Belize, that our people should be informed, educated and entertained outside of party politics and denominational religion. In return for our contribution, Jewel Belizeans have enabled us to make a living. We feel the love.
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.