Thursday Apr 26

Commentary: Garinagu organization and political growth in Belize - Part 1


By Dr Maximo Martinez
Edited by Wellington Ramos

Garifuna Arrival in Belize

Belize is located along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean (Circum-Caribbean), between Mexico and Guatemala. Unlike the Spanish-speaking countries in the region, Belize, which was once a British colony, maintains English as its national and official language. In addition, in 1981 Belize was the last country in the Central American region to gain its independence, in contrast with Mexico and the other republics of Central and South America that became independent in the early nineteenth century.

maximo_martinez.jpg
Dr Maximo Martinez holds a BA in African American Studies from SUNY New Paltz College, New York; a Masters in International Affairs from Ohio University; and a Doctorate in Political Science from West Virginia University. He is currently Adjunct Professor for the Masters in Public Affairs Program at Indiana Wesleyan University
Belize’s diverse population comprises the Creole, Mestizo, Maya, Menonites, East Indian, Chinese, Arabs and Garinagu.1 The Creole, predominantly of African descent, and mestizo, a Spanish and indigenous mixture, represent the country’s majority population. Belize City, the earliest settlement and former capital, is presented as central in the development of Creole culture.2

At an estimated population of nine percent, Garinagu comprise one of the minor population groups arriving in Belize from the Honduran coastal region, for the most part presented divided into two phases. Their first phase of settlement is between 1802 and 1832.3 The first migration was in 1802 from the British Colony of Roatan in the Bay Islands, which is now part of Honduras. Garinagu travelled to the regions as laborers for the thriving logging industry in the region.

It is documented that in 1832 another Garinagu group arrived in present Dangriga, led by Alejo Beni.4 Garinagu that supported the group that staged a failed revolt against the president of the Central American Republic resulted in many fleeing to Belize by 1832 to avoid oppression.5 The second phase of Garinagu arrival in present Belize is documented between 1932 and 1945 as a result of repression faced by Honduran dictator Tiburcio Carias Andino. The high point of migration was 1937 after several Garinagu were massacred by the national army at a Honduran village San Juan causing many to flee to Dangriga.6

For the most part Garinagu reside in southern districts (Toledo, Stann Creek) with the lowest indices of health, economic and education, with the exception of Garinagu residing in Belize City located in Belize district. Garinagu in Belize reside in urban as well as rural areas. In the cities Garinagu reside among its diverse inhabitants.

The 2000 census population percentage of Garinagu urban residents are, Belize City 20.8% (2,925), Dangriga 37.6% (5,289), and Punta Gorda (1,315) 9.3 %. Garinagu comprise the overall population in their other communities of Barranco (241), Georgetown (763), Seine Bight (831), Hopkins (994).7

Belize Political Structure

Belize became self-governed in 1964 and then achieved its independence from Great Britain on September 21, 1981. Garinagu sustained political representatives from their regions and continued in the post-independence period. To understand public policy toward the Garinagu it is essential to have a conceptual understanding of the current political structure of Belize.

Belize government is structured based on the British parliamentary system. The governor general is the representative of the British monarch who is the titular head of state appointed by recommendation of the prime minister. A governor-general’s executive authority is limited by the constitution, acting on advice of Cabinet members or the prime minister.

The prime minister, who is the head of government, and the Cabinet are guaranteed executive authority and supremacy under the constitution. Belize holds a National Assembly, which is a bicameral legislature made up of an elected House of Representatives and an appointed Senate. The 31 House members serve up to a maximum five-year term. In the House legislation is introduced and in the Senate (made up of 12 members) the bills from the House are debated or approved.

The political party system was dominated by the People’s United Party (PUP), which is center left, and the United Democratic Party (UDP), which is center right. Belize is divided into six districts, which are Corozal, Cayo, Belize, Orange Walk, Toledo, and Stann Creek.

For the most part, the highest Garinagu concentration is in the southern districts (Toledo and Stann Creek) although they also sustain population segments in Belize City and Belmopan. In Belize, local government comprises city councils, town councils, village councils and community councils. The village and community council is present in rural regions and the others are designated in urban population sectors. The members of those councils are elected every three years by the people who reside in those constituencies.

The British implemented a system to control and govern rural regions in Belize where primarily the Garinagu and the indigenous peoples resided. The 1858 Alcalde Act was approved, designating leaders in indigenous Maya and Garinagu villages. The year 1877 is indicated as the earliest date known of the Alcalde system introduced in Garinagu villages.

The Garinagu adjusted to this system of local governance although they had elders who functioned as leaders in their communities. In 1948 another change occurred as the colonial administrators proposed establishing an elected village council with seven members. The new system was initiated 1958 in the Garinagu village of Hopkins. Eventually, as administrative, financial and local police issues were successfully established under this system, in 1969 the Alcalde system was terminated.

Studies show the post-independence period presents intense political partisanship in the Garinagu villages as dominant political parties obtain patronage and secure support in votes for national elections. The political candidates initiate this measure by dealing directly with village council members, seeking to obtain their political objectives, thus hampering complete community development.8

History of Garifuna Organizations In Belize and Belize History

In Belize there have been two prominent Garifuna organizations, the World Garifuna Organization (WGO) and the National Garifuna Council (NGC). The WGO was formed by Dr Theodore Aranda in 2000 to represent Garifunas in Belize as well as throughout their diaspora. As a non-profit and non-government organization, its focus is targeted at the Cultural Preservation, Economic Development and Unification of the Garifuna people.9

The WGO leaned towards shared relations with blacks in the Americas and, led by Dr Theodore Aranda, articulated the need for Garinagu reparations from the British government for the suffering experience by the ethnic group in the Caribbean island of St Vincent.

The other Garifuna organization is the National Garifuna Council also known as the NGC. Its purpose, similar as the WGO, is to develop, strengthen and preserve the Garifuna culture as well as to promote economic development in the communities. Although functioning years beforehand, the National Garifuna Council was recognized as a non-governmental organization in 1981, the same year Belize became an independent country.

This organization is recognized as representing Garinagu in regard to presenting the community’s needs before the government. The NGC origins are associated with the Garifuna Settlement Day Committee founded by T.V. Ramos, and the Waribagabaga International Dance Group created in 1967.10 In 1999, the Belizean government formally recognized the NGC as a legal representative of the Garifuna people in Belize and pledged to directly consult the organization on administrative or legislative measures directly impacting Garinagu.

Colonial period to 19th century

The area presently known as Belize was inhabited by various indigenous groups when the Spanish, as the first Europeans, arrived there and attempted to conquer the region in 1508.11 British pirates, and later British settlers, also came to Belize, contesting the region with the Spanish.

In 1638, a British buccaneer by the name of Peter Wallace had a shipwreck at the mouth of the Belize River. He and his men came ashore and discovered logwood and mahogany. He then recommended to the British crown that the territory be settled.

Britain sought permission from the Spanish crown to grant them permission to cut logwood and mahogany. British logging camps were established, seeking to control the hard mahogany wood that was ideal for shipbuilding. The settlers, who were primarily males, imported African slaves from various territories to cut and export the wood.12

Sources present that in 1779 slaves comprised 80% of the population in this British territory.13 British settlers in the eighteenth and nineteenth century are described as having children with their African slaves, creating the Creole population.14 A class structure was developed as British slave owners created a group called the “free coloured” who would serve as an intermediate between the masters and the slaves.

The “free coloured” are noted as evolving and becoming the Creole elite, who later replaced the Europeans in positions of power.15 Slavery was abolished in the region in 1838 and workers were replaced by the Maya, mestizo, and Afro-Caribbean laborers from the islands, and later in 1860 by indentured servants from India and China.16 By the 1900s, the white population decreased due to interbreeding and emigration out of the country.

Belize, formerly known as British Honduras, was a colony of Britain until 1981. During the period of colonial rule several policy/ordinances were issued, for the most part targeting infrastructure development projects in their region and the Garinagu’s territorial status.

Garinagu presence in the region presently known as Belize is documented as early as 1802. Before the British entered into the region groups of indigenous Mayas inhabited the area. It is estimated that the British settled in the region in 1655. The entire Central American region was claimed by Spain; however, several treaties, begininng with the 1670 Treaty of Madrid, granted the British territory with boundary limits.17

As early as 1811, the first documented source of government relations with the Garifunas is recorded. A magistrate instituted the requirement of Garifuna settling in the region (of present Belize City) for more than 48 hours needed permission. The permission was to be asked from the superintendent appointed by the British who governed the entire settlement region of Belize.

Garinagu eventually settled in Stann Creek town (now Dangriga), and Punta Gorda town in the Toledo District, and other areas along the coast.

1 Shoman, Assad, 2010, Reflections on Ethnicity and Nation in Belize. Documento de Trabajo No. 9 / Document de Travail No. 9, México: Proyecto AFRODESC / EURESCL, 61p.
2 ibid
3 Palacio, Joseph O., Carlton J. Tuttle and Judith R. Lamb. 2011. Garifuna continuity in land : Barranco settlement and land use 1862 to 2000. Caye Caulker, Belize: Producciones de la Hamaca. p. 55
4 Palacios O. Joseph. 2005. The Garifuna, A nation across borders: Essays in Social Anthropology Cubola, Belize p.69
5 Ibid p. 3
6 Ibid p. 71
7 Palacios O. Joseph. 2005. The Garifuna, A nation across borders: Essays in Social Anthropology Cubola, Belize p. 113
8 Moberg, Mark. “Continuity under colonial rule: the alcalde system and the Garifuna in Belize,” 1858-1969 in Garifuna: A nation across borders. p. 98
9 Palacios O. Joseph. 2005. The Garifuna, A nation across borders: Essays in Social Anthropology Cubola, Belize
10 ibid p.185
11 Shoman, Assad.2010. Reflections on Ethnicity and Nation in Belize. Document No. 9, AFRODESC/EURESCL Project. Mexico.
12 ibid Ewens, Debbie. 1996. “Belize.” in Afro-Central Americans: Rediscovering the African Heritage. edited by Minority Rights Group
13 Shoman, Assad.2010. Reflections on Ethnicity and Nation in Belize. Document No. 9, AFRODESC/EURESCL Project. Mexico.
14 ibid
15 Ibid p.7
16 ibid
17 Palacio, Joseph O., Carlton J. Tuttle and Judith R. Lamb. 2011. Garifuna continuity in land : Barranco settlement and land use 1862 to 2000. Caye Caulker, Belize : Producciones de la Hamaca. 28

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