Louis Zabaneh’s election as PUP representative, the first non-Garifuna since 1974

Wellington C Ramos is an Adjunct Professor History and Political Science, Educator and Columnist

By Wellington C. Ramos

As a child growing up in Dangriga on the north side of town by Logan Field, at the corner of Sawai and Church street, most of the people in my town including some of my family were members of the People’s United Party (PUP). The PUP had a women’s group and a men’s group, proud members of their party. When they had their political meetings, you would see the men walking on the streets with their blue and white pants, and the women with their blue and white blouses and skirts to attend meetings at Central Square, the heart of Dangriga by Bowman Square.

The PUP Marshalls were aggressive and some of them would do anything for George Price. When he arrived in town, they would go and meet him at the Y Junction which was the beginning of Dangriga town and greet him. The Marshalls would then put him on their shoulders and parade him through the streets to Zabaneh’s  Riverside Hotel by the main bridge where he normally stayed. They hated Philip Goldson the leader of the National Independence Party (NIP) and his party members. Their families did not speak to each other because they were divided over PUP and NIP. The NIP is the party that paved the way for the party we know today as the United Democratic Party (UDP).

Most of the people in Dangriga who were members of NIP were the Creole people and the Garifuna people were mostly PUP. I witnessed some PUP Marshalls whom I knew, stoning Philip Goldson while he was speaking on the rostrum with rotten eggs when the NIP had their public meetings at Central Square. The police officers did nothing but just stood there and watched them do it. I was told that George Price told them that if you get arrested by any police officer, take down his number and bring it to me and I will deal with it. I later became a police officer and was able to confirm this with some police officers like myself.

Our Mayor in the 1960’s was Carlos Nolberto PUP who lived on the southside of town on Moho Street. Our representative was Allan Arthurs who was elected in 1961 up until he lost the election to Paul Guerrero in 1974. He lived on the northside of town in my neighborhood on Lemon Street. I knew both of them and the members of their families. At that time, the People’s United Party was the most popular party in the country of Belize and they controlled the Central and Local governments.

Belizeans were mostly PUP because it was the first political party in Belize that was born out of the labour movement. Even the opposition leader at the time Philip Goldson, was a member of the People’s United Party, until he had a dispute with their leader George Price over his relations with Guatemala and broke away to form his own party the National Independence Party (NIP) in July of 1958.

Allan Arthurs, while he was the Dangriga representative, had members of his wife’s family, calling Garifuna people “Kerobee” and that was becoming disrespectful to the Garifuna youths especially those who were in high schools around the early 1960s and early 1970’s. These young men began forming a movement to get rid of him. Their parents and grandparents were diehard PUP’s so they would have to convince them to vote for the NIP candidate something most of them have never done in their lives. The Mayor of Dangriga changed from Albert Arzu NIP  to Simeon Joseph Sr., a PUP who was well-liked by both PUP and NIP members and was popular. He was asked by the PUP to challenge Allan Arthurs at the upcoming PUP convention.

Around this time Allan Arthurs was the minister of works and it was rumoured that he was constructing a building on Saint Vincent Street by the main bridge with government materials. The building was later completed and became a bar and party spot by the name of Tropic Zone. Simeon Joseph Sr. decided to challenge Allan Arthurs and the convention was held where he defeated Simeon Joseph Sr. I remember many PUP people complaining, that the convention was rigged by their party to favor Allan Arthurs and if Simeon Joseph Sr. was not made the candidate, they will vote for the United Democratic Party (UDP) candidate when elections are called. The UDP was looking for a candidate to run for the very first time as a political party, after they merged with the Liberal Party, National Independence Party (NIP) and the People’s Democratic Movement (PDM) to form one party.

They wanted a candidate who could win because they were tired of losing to PUP. They found a popular businessman by the name of Paul Guerrero. I remember the Dangriga people being in a joyful mood when they heard that Paul Guerrero was the UDP candidate. When the elections were held in 1974, Paul Guerrero defeated Allan Arthurs by more than 300 votes.

Dangriga people felt that George Price and his PUP party was imposing their representative on them who was not a Garifuna and they wanted their own to represent them. The Garifuna people had already given Allan Arthurs two terms as their representative, while his wife’s family was being “disrespectful to them”. This was too much for the Garifuna people to endure and they had to do something about it.

The Allan Arthurs experience in Dangriga was the main reason why it was extremely difficult for a non-Garifuna person to be elected in all these years by either the PUP or the UDP in Dangriga town as their representative since 1974. Many creoles and other ethnic groups tried to run for the nomination for both PUP and UDP in Dangriga, but could not win the nomination. Louis Zabaneh is the first to do it since Allan Arthurs in 1961. He was able to do it because the PUP Garifuna people did not support each other at their convention that was held when he ran. In fact, even a brother and a sister ran against each other in that convention and that tells you how divided the Garifuna PUP were at the time.

If the brother had agreed for his sister to run and then drop out of the race, she would have become the Dangriga representative today. Louis Zabaneh has charm and appear to be a people’s person so they are giving him a chance but Garifuna people will still be skeptical of him because of PUP’s past behaviors and attitudes with them and many issues that are of concern to Garifuna people. Frank Pa Pa Mena the UDP representative who was voted out, was accused by many people in Dangriga to be noncaring and neglectful of them. They claim that if he had given them some care, attention and dealt with their needs, he would still be their representative today.

Sometimes in politics, all the voters ask for is; assurance and reassurance. Poverty, dependency, land, housing and employment are major issues in Dangriga town and charm alone will not work. Employment is the best thing for the people in Dangriga and the rest of our country so that our people can rid themselves from political hands-outs and chronic dependency status.

Currently, the PUP does not have one Garifuna person in the entire country in the House of Representatives, Senate, Cabinet and as a Chief Executive Officer (CEO). This is a serious matter for Garifuna people as it relates to representation. This has not happened by either party in Belize for decades. The PUP was also the party, that gave away their Commerce Bight Pier to Luke Espat without their consent and approval. In 2008 when the UDP was elected, they promised to give the Pier back to our people, but after three terms in office, they did nothing. All they did was continue to make more false promises until the Dangriga people got enough and voted them out of office, on November 11, 2020.

Garifuna land issues and other human rights issues remain unresolved in the country of Belize. The lack of adequate representation in the House of Representatives where Stann Creek and Toledo Districts have two representatives each, compared to the other Districts with more representatives since 1961. An attempt was made recently by the Belize Peace Movement (BPM) to address redistricting in the Supreme Court, however, both the UDP and the PUP when to court to proceed with the elections and left the redistricting until after the election.

The way this new government looks, it gives our Garifuna people only one option and that is to, exercise jurisdiction and autonomy over our lands and people. Our new breed of Garifuna people are impatient and disgusted with the two main political parties behavior and attitudes. They will not remain silent moving forward and will be challenging the current status quo. Not only are the Garifuna people feeling this way but many other Belizeans as well. This was demonstrated in the elections held November 11, 2020, where the PUP won by a margin of 26-5. The PUP might be thinking that the Belizeans prefer them over UDP and that they have a mandate to do as they please. This election was more of anger and frustration vote against UDP and Belizeans have been doing this against these two parties for decades.

This could be compared to 2008 when the UDP won by a landslide as well by defeating the PUP by a margin of 25 to 6 seats. However, what is interesting with the elections of 2008 and the election of 2020, is that in 2008 PUP was voted out because of corruption and abuse of power. The UDP promised to end both but did nothing to resolve these two issues.

In 2020, the PUP came back and accused the UDP of corruption and abuse of power. Belizeans were listening to them and voted the UDP out of power by a margin of 26-5 seats. The PUP are promising to do something about these same two issues this time. We seem to be going back and forth with these same parties to resolve these same two issues but there has been no solution to these two problems by neither of these two main parties. Yet, Belizeans still have hope and faith, that one of them will resolve these problems. We shall see if it will just be the same thing over and over again.


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