Monday, September 26, 2011

Funeral of George Price

Last Monday, the primary founding father of Belize, George Price, passed away at the age of 92.  Although I knew George Price was the "George Washington of Belize", I had never really looked into the history.  According to one of the local papers, Price became active in politics in the 1950s following a devaluation of the currency.  In 1956, he was elected mayor of Belize City.  In 1961, he was mayor when Hurricane Hattie devastated Belize City.  George Price was the first to advocate for moving the capital to the center of the country, what we now call Belmopan.

Price was one of the founders of the People United Party, which was the driving force behind independence and is currently the opposition party to the United Democratic Party.  Price and other independence minded individuals began calling the country Belize (as opposed to British Honduras) in the 1970s.  Although the British did not appear to oppose independence for Belize, the main opposition came from Guatemala, which maintains a territorial claim over the country.  In 1981, the British formally agreed to a defense guarantee and independence was granted on September 21, 1981.  Price served as the first Prime Minister until 1984, when the PUP lost to the UDP in the elections.  Price was not done, however, as he was elected to serve as Prime Minister again from 1989 to 1994.

Price never married and had no children.  I've heard and read that he was never known to have a romantic partner.  Price was a strong believer in Catholicism and even attended seminary as a young man.  He never owned a car or had a regular driver and was known to walk everywhere even late into his life.

The accomplishment that I personally find the most amazing is one that is hardly written about.  In the history of colonialism, it is often easy to keep the people united when they are fighting for a common goal.  What is infinitely more difficult is to keep those factions united once independence begins.  Few who have never lived in Belize would realize how multi-cultural this country is.  In a country with only 300,000 people, there are significant Creole (Kriol), Mestizo, Mayan, Menonite, Garifuna, Chinese, and Caucasian, as well as other ethnic groups.  Yet this country remained united throughout its history and there is little dissension today.  That is truly remarkable and is a testament to the leadership of George Price and others.

Today was declared a national holiday for the state funeral.  I am watching the funeral from home and I am struck by two things.  First, I know and recognize a lot of people appearing on TV.  I often forget how prominent my friends and acquaintances are in Belize.  Second, there is way more white in the crowd than I would usually see at a funeral in the U.S.  Many of the women are wearing black, but most of the men and some of the women are wearing white shirts with black pants.  I think this is due to the weather more than anything.  It is hot out there and anyone wearing a suit jacket has got to be suffering in the heat.  So, instead of seeing black jackets, we are seeing the white shirt.  I should also note that men often wear a white guayabera in formal situations in Belize.

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