Many of us Belizeans have not viewed political independence as a challenge to consolidate our status as a nation-state. Rather, we have been encouraged by leaders of various descriptions to see these annual commemorations of our September 21, 1981 independence primarily as opportunities, or just reasons, to indulge in the merrymaking which has become a focus of so many of our lives. Have fun, the Belizean people are repeatedly being told, have fun.
Unfortunately, crisis is a characteristic of the human condition. Fun is something you’re allowed to have when you have survived or overcome crisis. Belize in September of 2018 is a nation which is experiencing some serious challenges. We have not done a good job of preparing ourselves for these challenges during the 37 years of our independence.
On Thursday, November 19, 1863, United States President Abraham Lincoln delivered a short speech at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The speech, which would become known, famously so, as the Gettysburg Address, was given in the middle of a civil war which almost destroyed what we now know and respect as the United States of America. The Gettysburg Address was delivered 87 years after the United States had declared its independence from Great Britain. It was delivered 155 years ago.
We would like for you to read the Gettysburg Address on the occasion of Belize’s 37th anniversary of independence. 155 years ago is not that long ago, so that we can appreciate from how deep in crisis the United States has climbed to where the U.S. is today. Belizeans began migrating to the United States after the 1861-1865 American civil war to which we have referred, and we have been migrating there ever since. There are many Belizean families, although Belizeans are a relatively tiny percentage of the U.S. population, who can rightfully say that they have contributed to the building of the great United States.
Our point in recalling the Gettysburg Address is that the United States was not born great. The United States was a work in progress in 1863. In fact, the United States was a nation in bloody, divisive crisis in 1863.
In opening our editorial, we remarked, and we intended to do so disparagingly, on the nature of our previous independence celebrations, which have always emphasized merrymaking. After a while, Independence Day merrymaking became a business aspect of the occasion for more and more people, because, incongruously to our mind, tourism had become Belize’s leading industry in the third millennium. Tourists from developed countries who visit countries like Belize want to see a happy people. They are not interested in interacting with a people absorbed with making critical decisions. No, tourists want their natives to be happy.
What’s going on in Belize today does not justify a lot of happiness on the part of us natives. But, while we Belizeans could have been at a better place, a more organized and stronger place today, we should know that where there is life, there is hope. Yes,hope springs eternal. The Gettysburg Address should give us reason for hope. Back then, the American people paid a price in human suffering for the wealth and success they have enjoyed in our lifetime.
We have believed at this newspaper that the most important role of government is to ensure that the masses of our people are protected from the aggressive depredations of the socio-economic elite. You must recognize that Belizeans began a fight against British colonialism in 1950, and British colonialism was a system which had followed British slavery, both slavery and colonialism being systems which exploited and impoverished the masses of the Belizean people. Belize’s colonial economy in 1950 was absolutely dominated by a British company called the Belize Estate and Produce Company, Limited.
It is perhaps unfortunate that this newspaper and its parent organization came into conflict in 1969 with the political party, the People’s United Party (PUP), which had begun the fight against colonialism in 1950, just nineteen years before. In retrospect, it is clear that our generation was impatient with the rate of progress being achieved by the ruling PUP in 1969. There were specific areas where we believed that the PUP had compromised with colonialism and white supremacy.
But, the PUP succeeded in leading Belize to independence in 1981, and it is noteworthy that Rt. Hon. George Price, as PUP Leader, had made it his business to protect the Belizean masses from the socio-economic elite. Belize’s three Prime Ministers since Mr. Price have not focused on protecting the Belizean masses, and the result has been that a large gap has grown between the standard of living of the base Belizean people and that of a new elite which, sad to say, includes and features many of the political leaders who were supposed, in our opinion, to ensure socio-economic balance in The Jewel.
To be truthful, Mr. Price had already begun to lose control of the PUP, and indeed of Belize, before he lost political power to the United Democratic Party (UDP) in 1984. The historians here have not paid enough attention to the PUP chairmanship convention of 1983, when Said Musa challenged the incumbent PUP Chairman, Louis Sylvestre, for his position. It was the last attempt to return the PUP to its real social justice roots, and that attempt failed. Sylvestre triumphed, and the PUP lost power the following year.
In 2018, both Belize’s major political parties are controlled by neoliberal leaderships. It was felt worldwide in 1989 that neoliberal capitalism had triumphed, as a development philosophy, over scientific socialism. Neoliberal capitalism has done an outstanding job of disguising itself as Christian democracy, so that even though neoliberalism creates massive disparities in wealth, as we have seen in Belize to our consternation, it is the philosophy, to repeat, which rules both the UDP and the PUP.
For us, one of the problems with neoliberalism is that Belize had catching up to do, where educational empowerment and economic productivity were concerned, as we began the fight to shed colonialism in 1950. Catching up in a competitive region and competitive world, means that Belize had to think outside the box, outside of orthodoxy. If we examine our post-colonial history, we can see that Mr. Price experimented with some of that kind of thinking. As time went on, and his political enemies became more threatening, however, Mr. Price became less and less daring, more and more compliant with Belize’s socio-economic elite. For that reason, the indications are that he felt compelled to support, even if only discreetly, Mr. Sylvestre against Mr. Musa in 1983.
It should be noted, as the present UDP leaders celebrate the life of their first Leader, who passed this week, that it was in the October 1974 general election, the first for the UDP after it was formed in September of 1973, that Mr. Price and the PUP first experienced a serious political threat. Our thesis at this newspaper has been that the UDP was unabashedly neoliberal from its beginning, though “neoliberal” was not a word used in Belize back in 1973. For the UDP in 2018, then, nothing much has changed. It is the PUP which has gone away from its social justice roots, and Belize has suffered because of that.
Three decades and seven years ago, we conceived of a nation where Belizeans enjoyed equal opportunities, we would develop our natural resources, and we would become a people brave and strong. On Independence Day 2018, we should renew our commitment to national unity, and understand that, ultimately, it is only the masses of the Belizean people who can save this fledgling nation from the predators within and without.
Power to the people.