A skirmish that pitted a ragtag group of British buccaneers and their slaves against a small flotilla of Spanish warships some 200 years ago was celebrated today in Belize with cultural performances, the installation of beauty queens and citizens’ parades. What most historians describe as a myth, many Belizeans embrace as a defining moment in the history of the former British Honduras. An incident that set the stage for continuing British occupation of territory that belonged to Spain, and eventual freedom on 21st September 1981 when Belize Independence was achieved.
Whether it was a battle that never happened or a real battle of conquest on 10th September 1798, most Belizeans will agree that something very important happened a year before in 1797 – a decision taken to not evacuate the Belize Settlement and stand and fight. A decision to never more flee the territory in the face of naval expeditions sent from Spain to enforce their territorial rights. Noted Belize historian Emory King has documented this in his seminal piece Prelude to the Battle of St. George’s Caye.
“These twelve men were the first Black Heroes of Belize to have their names recorded in the Public Records of the Settlement. (See Public Meetings, June 1, 1797 in the Belize Archives, Belmopan.)
“On that day, these dozen Black men, together with two White men, George Raybon and Thomas Robertson, voted down a resolution to Evacuate the Settlement before the Spanish Army came to invade. (They cast the last 14 votes at the Public Meeting in Belize Town.)
“The vote that day against Evacuation, (65 to 51 with 11 abstentions), set the stage for the Battle of St. George’s Caye the following year. Had the vote gone the other way the Settlement would have abandoned and lost forever to Spain and then Mexico or Guatemala.”
So today Belizeans throughout the impoverished country that they call The Jewel braved 92 degree heat to listen to speeches from politicians extolling the nation’s history and the heroics of the Battle Of St. George’s Caye. The largest celebrations by far were in Belize City. For the first time a large tent was erected to provide shade for politicians, bureaucrats, functionaries, the diplomatic corps and invitees at the seaside Memorial Park.
The Mayor of Belize City Darrel Bradley praised the British settlers and their slaves who fought in the battle. The Minister of Tourism Manuel Heredia in turn praised the Mayor for his good work in beautifying Belize City. The Prime Minister of Belize Mr. Dean Barrow resplendent in a beige safari suit greeted guests but did not speak. His wife who is battling a medical condition was not present.
By tradition long-winded speeches are reserved for Independence Day on September 21st. On that day the P.M. delivers a State Of The Nation Address and it is expected that he will update Belizeans on what happened on 19th September when Belize will formally default or not on its sovereign debt. That date is the last extension day that Belize has to make its coupon payment which was due last month. Coincidentally, the 19th of September will mark the first anniversary of the death of Belize’s first Prime Minister and Father Of Independence Rt. Hon. George Price.
The 10th September Celebrations were then primed when a new Queen Of The Bay was installed to the appreciative applause of onlookers. Patriotic songs were then sung and a parade to the tune of Soca and Reggae music provided by music trucks wound its way through the main streets of Belize City. It was not as big as the Belize Carnival Road March that preceded it by a couple of days but it was just as energetic.
By tradition the P.M. leads the way on foot in the citizen’s parade surrounded by a few of his ministers. This year it was not the case and only three Belize-City based ministers were observed walking at the head of the parade. The day ended with a municipal fair on the green of the historic football field at the MCC Grounds in north side Belize City.