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Oct 3, 2017

1 Year Later, B.N.T.U. Defiant as Strike Documentary Released

Time does fly, and it is now exactly one year since the Belize National Teachers’ Union walked out of their classrooms and took to the streets in green t-shirts. They called for action from the government on oversight, from the Senate Special Select Committee on Immigration to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. Most importantly, they demanded their delayed salary increase and increments – and got them. In the process, the union increased its presence in the national conversation and became a beacon of hope for those others struggling with the Dean Barrow administration. Today, it was commemorated with the release of a documentary. News Five’s Aaron Humes was there for it all and reports that one year later, the fire has not gone out of the union.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

It’s difficult to forget, even a year later, those eleven days last October when Belize stood on the brink. The Belize National Teachers’ Union made a brave, yet desperate gamble, putting up ‘people power’ against the might of the Dean Barrow administration and the United Democratic Party. Even having achieved a satisfactory victory, Evan “Mose” Hyde said he found it rough going trying to convince the B.N.T.U. to record their moment for posterity. But he was personally convinced of the necessity for what became a documentary of the seminal event.

 

Evan “Mose” Hyde

Evan “Mose” Hyde, Documentary Producer

“Any time we people stan up, and whenever we have these processes where people show courage, maybe we could remember it and say, ‘yeah, remember then;’ but we no have it archived in such a way that the next generation could experience it, could hear it, and it’s not somebody else saying what happened! (Applause) So that was what you would call the technical motivation: the other aspect of the motivation is that we also want to do business. Because we have to survive; we have to pay bills; we noh got no apology eena that, you understand? Because when we could pay fi we bill it mean when dehn gat wah next process of people power, you know who wah deh right deh? We wah deh right deh! And if da unu, we wah deh right deh with unu!”

 

He got their support, and the result was screened for an audience of approving teachers in green shirts at the Belize Biltmore Plaza this afternoon. But this is the B.N.T.U., after all, so they were not in a mood to make nice with a Government they still feel does not take them or their sacrifices seriously. As president Elena Smith reminded, this strike is not yet over.

 

Elena Smith

Elena Smith, National President, B.N.T.U.

“As we celebrate this tremendous milestone, we remind those in power that our strike continues to be on hold. Should the wrong button be pushed, this documentary launch can easily become the launch of phase two of our strike. (Applause and cheers) We therefore advise those of you in authority, those of you who believe that you are gods, we advise you to tread our territory carefully; step lightly. Whenever you see a teacher, whenever you see a green shirt, please – don’t put your hands out. Turn the other way. Don’t ask how are you, or what are you up to – you may hear the words you don’t like to hear: ‘We are about to begin a new stage in our action.’ Don’t ask the questions.”

 

The usually unsentimental first vice-president and former president Luke Palacio admitted to a feeling of nostalgia. But like his colleague Smith, he issued a warning that the Government disrespects the Union at their peril.

 

Luke Palacio

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

“This ‘green revolution’ means that fertile soil exists in the B.N.T.U. and we will continue to paint this country green. (Applause) As we embark on this journey we continue to say that B.N.T.U. shall not be moved; B.N.T.U. shall not be intimidated. Those principals and those managers – because I can tell you this room would have been full to overflowing today – but those principals that intimidated some of our teachers, you are standing up for them and we are proud of you. (Applause) And yes, if that concern is there; if that concern is there that the rumblings are happening, the rumblings will turn into earthquakes if we have to. And that is because we are seeing that the government continues to be intransigent. Imagine the disrespect that they have shown to B.N.T.U. We wrote to them last week; we wrote to the Prime Minister asking him to give us an update on where we are with our eight demands, so that if we could have given any word of praise, we would have given the word of praise; and where condemnation would have been due we would have condemned as well. But you know what he did? He disrespected the Belize National Teachers’ Union, and we will not stand up, we will not sit down idly, and take disrespect.”

 

One year later, they still shall not be moved. And Smith says their students are the reason why.

 

Elena Smith

“We have also heard while we were on strike, our Minister saying, and other people, they were quick to say that we were causing our children to lose out of lessons. We reiterate that our children were taught a most valuable lesson. (Applause) By our actions, they were taught to fight for country, no matter what the price – Miss Carrillo? Don’t worry about price, worry about the prize. (Applause) We were out for eleven days, but we gave our students more than time. We gave them extra as we usually do, plus we gave them hope and courage. That can never be erased.”

 

Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

 

Palacio was referring to a response he said was copied to the National Trade Union Congress of Belize and Association of Public Service Senior Managers, which provided lukewarm support at best to the B.N.T.U. during the strike.

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