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Sep 19, 2016

Teachers Rally by the Thousands in Belmopan

The Belize National Teachers’ Union has gained quite the reputation for bringing the heat to Government leaders on both sides of the political divide. And while rain may have changed the nature of proceedings in Belmopan today, the trademark fire and verve of one of the most powerful organizations in Belize was in full force in their Stand for Belize campaign. At the heart of the march was the delayed salary adjustment as well as a slew of national issues. News Five’s correspondent Aaron Humes was there.


Aaron Humes, Reporting

By high noon of this Monday, Belize’s teachers and their supporters, by the hundreds and thousands, were marching solemnly along Bliss Parade, Constitution Drive, then up the central walkway to familiar if not hallowed ground – the steps of the National Assembly in Belmopan.

However, the day had started with showery weather conditions in the nation’s capital, forcing the crowd to gather inside the Belmopan Civic Center only a hundred feet or so away.

But even that venue was too small to hold the mighty swell of green, so some had to resort to sitting outside under tents, or taking shelter under the trees near the venue. Four previous demonstrations that have taken place here in the last month so police sternly guarded the “People’s House”, the National Assembly, from possible threat, though none would be seen on this day. For Belize National Teachers’ Union president Luke Palacio, things could not have gone more perfectly.

 

Luke Palacio

Luke Palacio, National President, B.N.T.U.

“It shows that the Belizean people are serious about what they want, in terms of good governance; we need to stand up for our country. We see the many issues that are negatively affecting this country; we need to deal with those matters.”

 

In kicking off the three-hour rally, Palacio excoriated the Government’s behaviour and assured the teachers he represents that they have every right to do what they are doing today.

 

Luke Palacio

“You see my brothers and sisters; the union is an organization that is legal, that is registered, that is there to stand up despite what they are saying for the cause of workers. We are to stand up for social justice, we are to stand up for economic empowerment and we must always stand up for the territorial integrity of Belize…every day. And so when we see the pronouncements, when we see the type of pronouncements coming out of those persons who should be leading education in this country then you can ask yourself the question and you can get the answer that we have people failing the education system at the top—not the teachers, not the Union.”

 

The disconnect between the Government and the people it represents is telling for Standard One teacher Frances Avella of Our Lady of Fatima School in Roaring Creek.

 

Frances Avella

Frances Avella, Teacher

“Today is National Service Day and we look at the Right Honourable George Price. He’s my hero, living now dead, I feel that he has fight and he has taught me how to fight. Many times we leave Honourable Phillip Goldson out and I just wanted to bring him out today also and so he is on my left side and the Right Honourable George Price is on my right. And then I have words on the back—one of George favourite quotes and then one of what I think Honourable Phillip would tell us to just keep on fighting and fighting. if you look at what I’ve done here, I’m saying that I think that we should take back my country. I just believe that I have been listening to the Prime Minister and he is just lying and lying and protecting and I’m fed up; I’ve gotten enough and I have decided to take back my country at whatever cost.”

 

What is also clear is that the unionists, and particularly the B.N.T.U., represent a beacon of hope for those aiming to cut the Government to size. One such person is Alfredo Ortega of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers’ Association.

 

Alfredo Ortega

Alfredo Ortega, Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association

“You know that the Minister in charge of Agriculture has always tried to break apart the organizations. Our association was one that fall under that rock; we are broken in three pieces and they are trying to break us more and more and more. And who is benefiting out of that? It is only the government and the factory, B.S.I. I hope that that doesn’t happen with you teachers because the tactics of the minister or the ministry is to break apart all the unions and all the associations because not having people unite they can do what they please to do. And it is very important that you as teachers do what you are doing. let us take back Belize; Belize is for us.”

 

That sentiment was strongly echoed by a still-stalwart George Frazer, former general secretary of the B.N.T.U. He said teachers had gotten enough of being made fools of.

 

George Frazer

George Frazer, Retired Former General Secretary, B.N.T.U.

“I am glad we are seeing the thousands of teachers—there are other groups that are supporting—because we want to save our country before it goes to ruins. So the union is acting responsibly as you heard the minister and the ministry telling the principals and management to open the schools. For what? Teachers know what’s going on. You have insulted us enough and it is time to take a stand. We are prepared to sit down and dialogue in good faith including the B.N.T.U. proposal twenty-two which had to do with non-teaching staff of high schools and sixth forms. We will stand until they respect us and the will of our people.”

 

It is now clear that the battle-lines have been drawn, and the union’s familiar call of “Solidarity forever!” must become more than a slogan if their objectives are to be achieved.  Reporting from Belmopan, I am Aaron Humes for News Five.

 

By all accounts, the B.N.T.U. protest was a success. Their last major appearance in Belmopan happened in February of 2010, when between a thousand and thirteen hundred teachers appeared to object to the withdrawal of corporal punishment from schools, which was being debated in the House. The numbers at today’s protest exceeded those figures. 

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1 Response for “Teachers Rally by the Thousands in Belmopan”

  1. Johnson says:

    Start Barrow by removing your pipsqueak son at BTL-corruption is using public assets for private gain-look it up anywhere. What he does anyway but DJ music and chase employees skirt all day

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