If the slogans and themes of the various Nineteenth Celebrations are any indication, then the Garifuna Nation has prospered greatly in this country.
The truth of the matter is that we have not prospered as the propaganda of our leaders would make the world believe and in recent times we have descended into such decadence that no one respects us anymore. Our leaders are, for the most part, men of straw who look out for their friends and family only and preach of a unity that they themselves have helped to destroy.
I am of the considered opinion that there is nothing to celebrate except our resilience, (what with a somnambulant economy and projects that we do not participate in) and if I had my way I would silence the drums of my fathers until there comes a time when we are once again a proud and enterprising people.
In the two hundred years that we have been in Belize, we have kept our side of the bargain that we made with the British. And in truth, we became model citizens and the country benefited from our labours.
There has never been a civil unrest that began with us. We have neither plundered nor pillaged but rather we have built towns and villages complete with farms that sustained us. We hired out our labour, became entrepreneurs, traded with Belize City and Mexico before other Belizeans discovered Chetumal. Belize, however, has not kept its promise to us.
The British treated us with suspicion from the get-go and did not allow us to participate in the affairs of the colony in any meaningful way. Their propaganda became our history and their slaves disrespected us at every turn.
They grudgingly allowed us to enter the police force and the nursing profession but our men and women were not promoted as fast as the Creole members of these organizations. Our candidates were routinely cheated out of attaining the Baton of Honor when they graduated from the Police training School. And it took a long time before we had a Garifuna as Commissioner of Police.
The Catholic Church (and indeed other religions that we gravitated towards) took away our religion and we descended into hell. They replaced our gods or our devils if you will, with the God of Israel whose attention seems to be taken up with the survival of the State of Israel that he has had no time to listen to our prayers, much less answer them.
Since we found religion we have had our butts kicked whereas before we accepted Christ as our lord and saviour we used to kick butts.
The Church made us teachers and sent us to the ends of the country to educate the Mayas and the Mestizos. It took the flower of the Garifuna Nation and made them priests and nuns and thereafter isolated them from their own people so that we were left without good, compassionate leaders.
The foreign priests and nuns for the most part educated us but held sway over us and emphasized our differences and shortcomings repeatedly that we began to hate each other. They denigrated our culture and imposed their way of thinking on us. Over time we lost our pride in order to conform to the dictates of the Church and we became tractable for the greater glory of God.
But the irony of it all is that the people who were considered to be the best teachers in the country now have the worst schools. AND STILL WE GO OUR MERRY WAY.
We did not fare much better under the Nationalist Movement led by the Hon. George Cadle Price. Looking back over the years after self-government, I can say categorically that Mr. Price had only two aims and that was to achieve independence and to return this country to the Mayas. He did not care which came first.
We did not fit in the general scheme of things as far as Mr. Price was concerned even though the Garinagu voted overwhelmingly for him in the early days. He was quite content for us to remain as teachers so that we can educate his people who were earmarked to lead the new nation of Belize.
Mr. Cornelius Cachos competence was discounted by Mr. Price and Mr. Rafael Fonseca became the Financial Secretary instead. This has been well documented. Some politicians, it is alleged, got very wealthy from their association with elective politics, but even obvious means of becoming wealthy escaped Garifuna Politicians.
Hon. David McKoy, who served for over thirty-six years in the House of Representatives, is still dancing punta, at 73 years of age, trying to sell insurance to ensure his continued survival. His pension from the House obviously cannot sustain him.
By contrast, Glenn Godfrey, who served one term and Dr. Henry Canton, who is yet to serve out his term, need not jump through hoops for their daily bread. We have not fared well in the economic development arena either. Mr. Price used to open our pots and put nothing it while he emptied the Government coffers to the tune of some Bz $60m over the past twenty years for supposed projects among the Mayas in the Toledo District. Yet the Mayas remained the poorest ethnic group in the country. ( $ 4 million dollar pig story )
We have not benefited from the recent UNDP/GEF grant program as well despite the large number of proposals that were submitted by the Garifuna Business Association and other groups in Hopkins.
When Prime Minister Musa comes to us on the 13th November, he will be bringing a National Hero Award for the late T. V. Ramos while the son of this national hero languishes in poverty, as did the other son when he was alive.
The Prime Minister will participate in the ceremony for our dead; while he disrespects the living and duly elected area representative of Dangriga. And the non-elected leaders of the Garifuna Nation will dance with him.
The next two hundred years then has got to be different! Although our resilience has seen us through before, and I do celebrate this toughness; there has got to be some meaningful and substantive improvements in the lives of our people.
So I shall not dance! I shall not sulk either! But I shall be forced to do things differently. I will begin by seeking out those devils that the Church said we worshipped and worship them! Historical evidence seems to suggest that they were more attuned to our needs and may just be waiting for our return.
I shall honour the memory of the eleven-year-old Garifuna boy who was part of the garrison on Roatan in 1795.
I shall honour the memory of the 150 Garifuna men who stepped ashore in Belize Town in 1802, walked down its streets and put the British in a tizzy.
I shall tie a black ribbon on my arm to register my disgust at the death of Garifuna Manhood and attend the ceremonies to honor T. V. Ramos; but I shall not dance.
I shall attend the meeting the Prime Minister will hold for his followers and I shall dialogue with him.
To our leaders I say forget the fighting. Roy has gotten his museum money and Augustine his passage money. Let us build it, but let Dr. Aranda use the monument and stop embarrassing him in this very public way. Invite him to the official ceremonies and bury the hatchet in a very public manner. Then we can join together in planning the economic development of the Garifuna Nation.
In closing, I would want to emphasize that I ask no one to follow me. I am no T. V. Ramos and do not pretend to be. I am sure, however, of the following:
1. I was born here; not in St. Vincent or Roatan.
2. I am better read, than T. V. Ramos ever was.
3. I am angrier than T. V. Ramos ever was!
4. I am meaner than T. V. Ramos ever was!
5. I am, like Glenn Godfrey and Harry Courtney, not constrained by the teachings of the bible. ( Ha! Ha! Touche! )