The Right Honorable George Cadle Price, 92, unfortunately did not live to see the nation he took on his shoulder some 60 years ago, along with others, turn 30 years old yesterday.
But humble as he was, not thirsting for glory and recognition, we suspect he would not have minded. His job was done, and others would carry on.
He took a small nation on the Caribbean coast of Central America, beholden to the behemoth – the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – with no discernible means of providing for itself apart from the flagging timber industry, and in a political career spanning more than five decades, made it a mostly self-sufficient nation with a distinct identity, uniting the hodgepodge of cultures that at times threatened to make Belize more like its Central American neighbors, which were drenched in war and blood.
One of those neighbors, Guatemala, has historically behaved aggressively in its bid to settle a long-standing dispute with Britain over the Belizean territory itself.
Mr. Price also had to navigate the tricky shoals between Central American union and Caribbean federation.
Price shared his January 15 (1919) birthday with another famed freedom fighter, American pastor and civil rights activist, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was born the third of eleven children to William and Irene Price (nee Escalante), and was educated at St. Catherine Academy Infant School, Holy Redeemer Primary School and St. John’s College (High School) (SJC).
Young George’s life was shaped by his Catholicism (even up to the very late stages of his life, he was seen walking daily on North Front Street in the mornings to Holy Redeemer Cathedral, and unfailingly attended Mass every day, no matter where he traveled) and his early introduction to the principles of social justice as enunciated in the Pope Leo XIII encyclical, Rerum Novarum (Of New Things) (1891).
His Catholicism led him to consider entering the priesthood, and the young George Price studied theology first at the St. Augustine Minor seminary in Mississippi (U.S.A.) and afterwards at the Seminario Consiliar in Guatemala. Ultimately, he could not continue in this priestly vocation because World War II and his father’s illness forced him to seek work to support his family.
But his early instruction in those seminaries would shape his life and the destiny of the then-British Honduras.
He became the personal secretary to one of Belize’s first business magnates, Robert Sydney Turton (who exported mahogany and chicle to the United States), managing his Belize office at the corner of North Front Street and Hydes Lane and accompanying Mr. Turton on business trips to the U.S.
The mid-to-late 1930’s and early 1940’s in British Honduras were marked by sustained civil disquiet — the work of Antonio Soberanis Gomez’s Labour and Unemployed Association (LUA), formed after the horrors of the September 10, 1931 hurricane that flattened Belize City.
And so in 1944, flanked by other SJC graduates such as John Smith, Leigh Richardson (deceased), Philip Goldson (deceased) and others, and supported by his employer Turton, Price mounted his first political campaign, running for the Belize City Council (the name was changed in 1943). He lost — one of only two popular elections he would lose for the remainder of his career (the other occurring in 1984 to the UDP’s Derek Aikman in the Freetown division.)
Price and his colleagues had better success in 1947, but the event that would change his life and the path of Belize to nationhood was soon to come.
Starting the revolution
On the night of December 31, 1949, Sir Ronald Garvey, Governor of British Honduras, broke his pledge not to devalue the colony’s currency, and almost overnight the people reacted. Garvey ruled that the British Honduras dollar, which had been on par with the U.S. dollar, would be reduced to seventy cents (U.S.). The People’s Committee (PC) was formed, with Price as assistant secretary, and in February a massive demonstration and stoning of the establishments of assumed pro-British elements led to a state of emergency.
The PC evolved into the People’s United Party (PUP) on September 29, 1950, and this new entity, of which Price would become head in 1952, gained the support of the General Workers’ Union (GWU), established by Clifford Betson in 1944. (John Smith was the PUP’s first Leader.)
From its beginning, the PUP came under attack from the colonial order, and officers Leigh Richardson and Philip Goldson were arrested and given 12 months in prison with hard labour for “sedition”, which is to say, under the colonial laws, attempting to justify revolution in an article in the Belize Billboard, started by Goldson and sympathetic to the movement.
Price managed to top the polls in the 1952 City Council elections, but the PUP lost the overall majority to the pro-colonial National Party.
During the next two years the PUP took advantage of opportunities to expand its reach into the districts. Here, perhaps, is where the legend of Mr. Price was born. Nearly every Belizean has at least one story of meeting the tall, thin, simply dressed man with glasses, whose quiet demeanor masked a growing gift for oratory and declaration and who, the story goes, always had a kind word and advice for everyone he met on his travels.
When universal adult suffrage was granted in 1954, Price ran in the April 28 elections in the Belize North division, defeating former PUP leader Smith, an independent (the National Party did not run a candidate in the division).
In 1957 he defended the seat and became Mayor of Belize City from 1956-62, but in 1958 he was charged with sedition for some allegedly uncomplimentary remarks about the recently crowned Queen Elizabeth II, suggesting that the ticker tape that greeted the Queen in New York City was similar to toilet paper.
He was acquitted of the charge, but Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s later visits to Belize in 1986 and 1995 were both under United Democratic Party (UDP) administrations.
In the 1950s, the question of Price’s ties to Guatemala became a political controversy, indeed, the issue that was to dog him until independence in 1981. Opponents frequently accused him and the PUP of “selling out” to Guatemala, and he was dismissed from the Executive Council in 1956 on the same charges.
The PUP had suffered a severe split in its leadership with the departures of Goldson and Richardson in 1956 after they lost a power struggle with Mr. Price, and the National Independence Party (NIP), a union of the short-lived Honduran Independence Party (HIP) and the National Party, would adopt a staunchly anti-Guatemala position.
But the NIP consistently failed to dislodge the PUP, now led by Price, from government despite Mr. Goldson’s own popularity.
Vision, expansion and fulfillment
After Hurricane Hattie’s destructive visit to Belize in October of 1961, it was Mr. Price who planted the seed that would become the city of Belmopan, which was established in August of 1970. Self-government would come in 1964, with Price being named Premier, a position he held until Independence.
The 1960’s would mark Belize’s switch to agriculture, particularly sugar, citrus and bananas, as a key revenue-earner, and improvements in infrastructure and social development.
The 1970’s began with the introduction of new elements of opposition to Price and the PUP, in the forms of Dean Lindo’s People’s Development Movement (PDM), Evan X Hyde’s United Black Association for Development (UBAD) and its counterparts the People’s Action Committee (PAC) of Said Musa and Assad Shoman, and the organization of the cane farmers in the North. Musa and Shoman would both be absorbed into the PUP by 1974, and the PDM, NIP and the new Liberal Party merged in September of 1973 to form the UDP.
Guatemala continued to be the nation’s biggest problem on the road to independence, and it was here that George Price began to come to international attention, traveling the world in his lobbying for Belize’s independence and territorial integrity.
Belize (as it was known from 1973, after PUP leaders began using the name in the 1950’s) joined the Non-Aligned Movement and won a successive series of votes at the United Nations General Assembly despite Guatemala’s repeated threats to invade and the failures of several attempted compromises to the Guatemalan claim, including the Webster Proposals (1968) and the Heads of Agreement that surfaced in Belize.
After the latter failed in 1981, the British formally agreed to a defense guarantee for the fledgling independent nation, and Belize rose to nationhood on September 21, with Mr. Price as Prime Minister. Two years earlier, in what is still the second largest voter turnout in a general election, the PUP won 13 of 18 seats in the House of Representatives, the UDP 5.
But by 1984, with flagging economic fortunes, a revived UDP in power in the majority of the towns, and lingering resentment from the Heads of Agreement debacle, Price seemed to have reached the end of the road. He was toppled in 1984 by the UDP, led by Rt. Hon. Sir Manuel Esquivel, whom he had beaten in the Freetown division in 1979, and was defeated personally in the same division by Aikman, a political novice who, like Price, had a gift for oratory.
That, in retrospect, was perhaps the nadir of Mr. Price’s political career. He lasted as PUP Leader until 1996, but, the movement to replace him began around 1994. The torch had, for the most part, been passed to a new generation.
His second and last term as Prime Minister lasted from 1989 to 1993. He represented the Pickstock division, which had previously been held by his sister, Jane Usher, from 1989 until 2003, outlasting Aikman, who was forced to resign from the House of Representatives in 1992 after being declared a bankrupt, and who attempted a failed comeback in 1998 in the Fort George division against Said Musa.
Musa, who had defeated Florencio Marin, Sr., in a contest for the party’s leadership, led the PUP to a landslide 1998 general elections victory and appointed Price as Senior Minister and later as Minister of Defence.
In 2000, Price formally received the nation’s highest honor, Order of National Hero, for his service to Belize. His old colleague, Goldson, would join him in 2008. He has won numerous other honours, including the Order of the Caribbean Community, and was appointed in 1982 to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom, entitling him to the title “Right Honorable.”
Even in retirement, Price was frequently invoked and consulted by his younger colleagues.
Ultimately, a grateful nation remembers Mr. Price as the man who accomplished much with little resources. His personal asceticism and celibacy (he never had children, or indeed, any reported romantic relationships) freed him up for the task he had assumed mostly unto himself, of leading a nation to the Promised Land. In that he succeeded, and that that nation is still here today, is further testimony of his exemplary life’s work.
The Right Honorable George Cadle Price is survived by seven sisters, including Jane Usher and Alice Margaret (“Meg”) Craig, and predeceased by his parents and brother Samuel, who was killed at his home earlier this year. He will be laid to rest in the family plot at the Lords Ridge Cemetery following an official state funeral on September 26, 2011.
This newspaper extends sincere condolences to his bereaved family on his passing.
Article Courtesy Amandala