By Wellington C. Ramos
I was born and raised in Dangriga Town, like my mother Josephine Sampson and father Finley Sylvester Ramos. My maternal grandmother Andelecia Petillo-Sampson was born in Livingston, Guatemala, and my maternal grandfather Simeon Sampson Sr. was born in Dangriga Town, Belize. My paternal grandmother Claudina Lewis-Ramos was born in Dangriga Town and my paternal grandfather Zacharus Ramos was born in Bluefield, Nicaragua. We all have relatives that we can trace to Saint Vincent (“Yuremei” -- our original homeland), Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belize.
Born in Dangriga Town, the cultural capital of Belize, Wellington Ramos has BAs in Political Science and History from Hunter College, NY, and an MA in Urban Studies from Long Island University. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science and History
No matter where the Garifuna people live, land problems, lots, housing, education, medical, unemployment, discrimination, racism, loss of language, culture, religion, unequal distribution of their nation’s wealth, political victimization, poverty and other social problems plague their communities. Yet, they do not have Garifuna organizations that are equipped with many transformational leaders that are honest, sincere and dedicated to uplift their people out of the dilemma they face daily. Many of the so-called Garifuna leaders are more concerned about promoting their self-interest over the interest of the majority of the Garifuna people.
Some choose to affiliate with politicians and political parties that have no intention of addressing the needs and concerns of our people. Several celebrations have passed with mottos and themes that sound good and well written but our people’s lives are not improving. Instead, in my honest opinion, it has gone from bad to worse. These problems are not just going to go away unless we admit that they exist and develop plans and programs to eradicate them.
This year, like most years, I have heard all the speeches and have seen the dancing and the punta rock but when we all get up tomorrow, our problems will still be there for us to deal with. We cannot continue to engage in this type of fantasy behaviour any more, if we seriously want to preserve our culture and improve the lives of our people.
In the past, our ancestors had little but they were able to work hard and provide for their children and themselves. Farming and fishing played a major role in their lives, which our young children despise today. I remember going to our farm with my family when I was a child growing up to engage in slash and burn farming at Bagasrugu, three miles out of Dangriga Town early in the mornings. Those days were hard but we learnt and developed a good work ethic, discipline, pride and had food in abundance for our family to eat. Money that was made from farming was used to purchase the other items we need at home.
Why didn’t the Garifuna people advance from slash and burn farming to industrial and mechanical farming when they had the land, crops and expertise? Was this a decision they made on their own or they were not given the opportunity by the governments in the countries where they live?
I think that the answers for these two questions should be researched because, from the time we stopped farming, our dependency increased tremendously. In Stann Creek District there are jobs in the citrus and banana industries but our youths do not want to work these jobs. They are either not looking for work or want jobs that do not exist. We were removed from Saint Vincent to Roatan. From there we moved to Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize and the United States. Where we are going next no one knows. If we keep moving from place to place and we are still having the same problems, then maybe we would have been better off staying in the same place to build on what we had.
We are citizens of all the countries where we were born and as such we should be entitled to all rights and privileges like every other citizen, despite our race. If we are not satisfied with the way we are treated in our countries, then we should bring a constitutional case against the governments that are mistreating us. If we fail in our national courts then we must not be afraid to take the cases to the International courts to seek redress. Countries that violate human rights are not popular and they lose face in world opinion when it comes to international diplomacy.
Sitting down complaining to ourselves about how the people and governments of these countries treat us will not solve our problems. Simultaneous economic development and cultural preservation is a way forward.