A Response to the “Enigma of Assad Shoman”

A Response to the “Enigma of Assad Shoman”

Events of history have solidified the Rt. Hon George Price as the founding political leader of the modern nation-state of Belize. Over time historians will gather the works, policies, projects and ideas and comb through them and assign his overall contribution a place in Belize’s relatively young existence. But this essay is about another would-be Belizean political leader, Assad Shoman. Outside of Mr. Price, Assad Shoman in my judgement remains the most intriguing of them all.

I shall not give a chronological background of Shoman since others who are far more familiar with these historical events have already done so elsewhere. Rather I would like to look at what could have been if Assad Shoman had been a Hugo Chavez.
My only two working encounters with Dr. Assad Shoman were in 1989, when the Los Angeles-based BREDAA organization invited and hosted SPEAR for a week-long visit with the Belizean and activist community in Southern California. The following year, SPEAR reciprocated by hosting members of BREDAA in a series of events surrounding international Pan African Liberation Day in Belize.

The Belize Socio-Political Challenge -BREDAA host SPEAR in LA/1989

(Representing SPEAR was Diane Haylock, Assad Shoman and Wilfred Sedi Elrington. A must see video! Topics discussed: goals of SPEAR; nationalism; national identity; participatory democracy; party politics; votes in the Diaspora; dual-citizenship; etc.)

During the 1980’s the organization SPEAR (Society for the Promotion of Education and Research) re-emerged after many years in a dormant state after the principal founders, Assad Shoman and Said Musa, were co-opted into the People’s United Party (PUP). SPEAR was organizing public forums on a regular basis and inviting regional and international activists like Caribbean writer George Lamming and Pan Africanist Kwame Toure (aka Stokely Carmichael) to Belize. SPEAR even ended up hosting the Hon. Min. Louis Farrakhan when he visited Belize in 1986.

Courtesy Amandala

BREDAA, which was made up of mostly young students at the time, was both impressed and intrigued. An unofficial working relationship began between the two organizations and we started to broadcast the various recorded SPEAR forums and speakers on the BREDAA-sponsored and produced popular radio show – the Belize Caribbean Pulse, via Pacifica stations in California.

Assad Shoman has written extensively, but his book that had the most impact on me as a young student was Party Politics. This was the first and only time anyone who had actually served inside the so-called Westminister system of government that was engrafted upon Belize by the colonialists, had publicly documented a critique and obliterated this model of governance from a scholarly point of view.

Shoman has also written on land tenureship, which remains at the foundation of Belize’s uneven distribution of wealth among its people and a bastion of corruption by various politicians over the decades.

Yet, despite this intimate understanding of the inherent contradictions, impediments and weaknesses of the Belize system of governance, Assad Shoman never organized a grassroots mass political organization to challenge the system with the goal of eventually replacing it, as some of his mentors had done. Shoman has had a front row seat to some of Belize’s most epic challenges, both internationally and domestically. He made international connections with some of the most progressive movements, organizations and governments around the globe, but none of this was used to build a local political front on the ground in Belize.

I am fairly certain Shoman fully comprehended that he could not change the system by mere intellectual discourse alone without direct social/political mobilization on the ground. None of his idols challenged the status quo and citadels of the privileged by merely being critical of it. The question beckons, what if Assad Shoman had chosen to organize a grassroots political mass movement, how would it have played out, and to what degree could it have changed Belize’s current conundrum?

When asked while on a visit to Los Angeles in 1989 if he had any future political ambitions the reply was, “No, we are not promoting ourselves as leaders of any movement.” Perhaps Shoman’s inhibitions at that stage were reflective of his earlier sting within the blood sport of Belizean party politics, where he experienced both the triumph of winning and the agony of defeat.

My sense is that Assad Shoman made his choices and struggled with how best to have an impact on his country’s political development. He is certainly not alone in grappling with this question. Over the years several political entities/third parties have emerged in the nation of Belize, but they remain peripheral, splintered and lack a nationally recognizable agenda or mass following.

Price’s recruitment of Assad Shoman, who held political views that were radically and diametrically opposed to his mixed-economy beliefs, gave credence to his visionary brilliance. By recruiting Shoman, Price was decapitating any potential for a third political force from the left to rise in Belize. Shoman’s very decision to join the status quo, however, could also be marked as the beginning of the end for any ideas Shoman may have held of challenging the political system. As his tenure in government clearly demonstrated, he had to battle with conformist inclinations and the institutional entrenchment of the “old guard” party hierarchy. In the end he left dejected, wounded and with permanent political scars. Perhaps Assad Shoman’s greatest dilemma was having one foot in the door and the other outside, essentially not fully committing to either. To this end, despite his best efforts, Shoman never came across as completely comfortable in the streets/’hood among the proletariat.

He has written critically of his Party Leader’s lack of any specific political ideology and saw this as an impediment to charting a coherent and unequivocal course for social, economic and political development. On the other hand, it can be equally argued that Shoman’s firm grasp of being an ideologue within a political organization that had no clear ideology, became a political death trap for the aforementioned.

Assad Shoman came of political age during a turbulent period where his socialist views had the best chance of germinating domestically. The entire region was convulsing, and the so-called Cold War had reached a fever pitch between the United States and the Soviet Union. There were other forces at work, including the United States’ policies toward the isthmus and Guatemala’s claim on Belize that made political options seemingly limited. Could it be that these considerations doomed any socialist political ambitions Shoman may have had in mind or entertained? Of course, only he can answer these questions. Nevertheless, there was no visible, serious attempt to explore/organize such a movement within the context of the Belizean experience.

While SPEAR was attacked by the right-wing elements in Belize’s political establishment in the 60’s and 80’s, nobody seriously believed that SPEAR had the potential or intention to evolve into a mass political movement that could pose a challenge to the two-party system. Indeed, as with the original SPEAR movement of the 60’s and co-option of Shoman and Musa by the PUP, other leaders from the group 1980’s circa were similarly absorbed by the UDP (United Democratic Party). Besides the sinister message of abandonment it sent to the younger generation who were watching, listening and being inspired, it makes one wonder what was the real purpose of the political rhetoric in the first place? None of it gained traction, and some of the proponents appear to have become even apologists for the very same system they had earlier chastised and denounced.

It is reasonable to conclude that Shoman has long given up on any political ambitions where the Belize liberation movement is concerned and has settled into writing and researching in another country. Nothing is mysterious about a person coming to terms with personal fate and deciding to move on with his/her life. I fully respect this right and will defend anyone to freely make that choice. But for the few giants who defied this natural law – Castro, Che, Bishop, Rodney and Chavez, Belizeans are still holding their collective breath waiting and yearning for the emergence of its version of Madiba! We are left to wonder what might have been had Shoman chosen the Chavista path.

A response to the “enigma of Assad Shoman” by Rolando
Nuri Akbar highlights the radical potentials that existed in the Society for the Promotion of Education and Research (SPEAR) and the activism of Assad Shoman. He argues that Shoman had a radical philosophy but did not engage in organizing the masses. Unlike the scholars who impressed Shoman such as Karl Marx and Frantz Fanon, Shoman has not pursued a lifelong commitment to mass political activism. I am of the (current) opinion that while Shoman did not engage in mass politics he has nonetheless paved the way for a “Chavista path” that “Belizeans are still… waiting and yearning for”. (To what extent is this true?)

My take is that Shoman is very much engage in the process of decolonization through his writings. While, the writer describes his fascination with Party Politics, for me Shoman’s interpretation of Belizean history in Thirteen Chapters (among his many other works) is a  more radical and meaningful accomplishment for Belize. It is only by taking a critical stance against the miss-interpretation of our history that our perspectives are liberated and broadened.

An important feature of decolonization is to develop an anti-colonial discourse. An anti-discourse seeks to counter the hegemony of the colonial authority. For instance, Shoman highlights the various forms of resistance throughout Belize’s history including the roles played by women. I believe that his Thirteen Chapters now widely used in the schools is a weapon of resistance. Unfortunately, I suspect that it has not been fully understood as such by all its readers. Yet, it is generating a critical perspective and awareness necessary for radical praxis.

The question remains – why did Shoman not engage in radical politics? Why was he hesitant of becoming a communist organizer or of calling himself a communist? I have always been thoughtful about this when encountering articles at the Belize Archives in which Shoman insists that he was not communist. (This also comes up in the above video). In a sense, this is understandable. To be labelled a communist was to be labelled anti-Church, anti-American (and face the consequences). However, Shoman champions these precise issues in his academic works.

I do not agree with everything Shoman “says”; but then again, I am sure he did not expect this to be the case.  His works provides *one* of the most critical perspectives on Belizean history.

I have said that Shoman has in his own way paved “a/the” way suggesting that much remains to be done. There is a critical need for the continued re-interpretation of Belize’s history. Many other scholars have contributed to this revision.  But there is also a need for academics to not remain apolitical. It is imperative that academics champion the voices for the voiceless and play a part in the re-structuring of our society.

We are all “products” of history. In this regard, Akbar has provided some interesting perspectives by pointing out some of the historical circumstances. I suspect he likely fall short in his analysis. But it is a perspective worthy to be re-posted for the readers. He also poses several stimulating questions. Perhaps, Shoman will be kind enough to render us a biographic publication of his intellectual and political development in the future. *It would also be fascinating to one day get the opportunity to interview him on these critical issues.*

Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it –Karl Marx. 

Click here for pdf version

Justice for Jasmine Petition

Justice for Jasmine Petition

We the people are dissatisfied that a cause of death was not certified by the pathologist in the death of 13 year old Jasmine Lowe after being informed via media that an onsite post mortem was conducted.  We believe that the best results were not obtained from an onsite autopsy.

We know how critical certifying a cause of death is in ensuring a conviction in murder cases . Without a certified cause of death, it is very difficult for law enforcement and prosecutors to properly prosecute murderers to the fullest extent of the law.  When the state fails to do its basic duty of certifying a cause of death, it is failing our youngest, most innocent citizens who need us. This is not the message we want to send to predators.


We the people therefore request that Jasmine Lowe’s body be exhumed and a second autopsy be performed in an effort to determine the cause of death.

“When It’s Your Time!”

by Tito Montero

I’m sick to death of hearing the old saying in Belize “When its your time…!  What a bunch of rass. It is the mentality of the Police Department. In Belize, every time they have to deal with a case like this, it is a bullshit excuse for pure laziness!!!!


And we need to stop thinking like this as a community and we need to demand that our public servants, POLICE, are capable of doing their job or ELSE!!!!

As long as the San Ignacio Police Department keeps up their smiling, smug, nonchalant attitude, this type of shit will continue to go on and get worse. Belize is attracting these types of criminals purely for the reason they know they wont get caught by the idiotic police that we as taxpayers waste our money on.

Enough is enough. shut down the country, burn the bridges, close the banks, stop the port. break the prime ministers door down if we have to.

If our children are not safe then we are dead as a nation!!


By Nuri Akbar

After Months of denial by the Spanish government that their national economy was imploding, they finally cease the posturing and requested financial bail out assistance. A minimum of $125 billion was needed to rescue Spain failing banking system. The nation has join the ranks of Ireland, Greece and Portugal whose economy collapse and needed financial bail out. I predict that after the summer Olympic games are over, Britain will be next to join the club of collapsing EU economies.
It is the worst and best of times for developing nation like Belize. As the old systems/structures that originally “frame” national development of former colonize territories collapse. The shifting global balance will open a “window of opportunity”, for small peripheral states to forge new path and realignment. However, this “window” of opportunity will only be beneficial to those nations who possessed leadership that seized the moment, and make a great leap forward. Those nations who exhibited recalcitrant or are too slow to make the adjustments will be devastated if not obliterated.
In an article i wrote in 2011, “The collapse of the U.S. economy and its implication for Belize” , I pointed out what the looming impact mean for Belize, and what we must do to achieve a soft landing in this global crisis. Thus far it appear we are no where near some of the decisive action necessary to avoid total catastrophe. We are essentially following the same rules and parameters set forth by a weaning global financial system. There is no radical departure from business as usual. No new dynamic approach to national development, and no new initiatives to maximize our human capital and natural resource. The clock is ticking for Belize..

Crime and Public Policy: Formulating Public Policy Under Crisis Conditions

By: Hubert Pipersburgh

Here we are again as a nation staring into the eye of the tiger of another full blown crisis. This time the abduction and vicious murder of the latest victim 13 year old Jasmine Lowe has triggered a firestorm in this tiny nation. Many are bewildered, confused, and downright disgusted by this latest atrocity. Tune into local TV news, radio or read the local newspapers and you are bound to be petrified by the crime wave spreading over Belize today. Whether it is a brutal shooting or rape or an unsettling spate of drive by or ride by and muggings in a neighborhood near you, violent crime seems to be dominating and sweeping across the nation. Residents are punch drunk by the daily bloodletting. Psychopaths, robbers, murderers, and law breakers in general seemingly have free reign to terrorize the populace. Indeed, it sets off shivers among those worried that the next burglar, rapist or murderer is headed their way. No one is immune, as evidence by this latest victim. The most vulnerable in such situations are always the children. Jasmine Lowe may as well be a metaphor for the unsafe environment many Belizean children are presently living in today. “They will steal anything if it is not nailed down,” exclaimed one resident, as though the certainty of it ought to be apparent to anyone.

As is to be expected the moral outrage expressed by many in the society over Jasmine Lowe’s abduction and murder is understandable. However, much of the ensuing recommendations were knee jerk and reactionary. Numerous pundits, organizations, and media houses are calling for the institution of capital punishment, public floggings, and uncompromising laws against such perpetrators. Formulating and implementing public policy under crisis mode does not make for thoughtful, rational, and viable policy implementation. Thus, our policy planners and makers must strive to formulate policy in non-crisis situations absence the emotions and scathing ricocheting rhetoric of the public. Plus, implementing policy in a calmer environment allows our lawmakers to examine all the important variables and cost benefit analysis that can lead to the relative success of the particular policy. However, at the end of the day, public policy simply boils down to what the government chooses to do or not do.

In addition, there were enough focusing events and indicators prior to this latest atrocity that suggested public safety is seriously compromise in this nation. Daniel Matura Jr., Neisa Pipersburgh, and Saidi Velez come to mind. How many more Jasmin Lowes will it take for the thought to sink in? Do the victims have to be younger and more innocent or the crime more despicable than the last for us to realize that we are in the midst of a full blown public safety crisis in Belize? The crime situation is now a problem not a condition. It can no longer be treated as an anomaly. As a people we can no longer continue to wait for this one to blow over while waiting for the next one to happen. It is now a matter of national security.

For one thing, the very integrity and credibility of this nation is now seriously being called into question. Can the state which has a fiduciary responsibility to the polity protect us? Can we rely on our law enforcement personnel to protect and serve us judiciously? Is the state tethering on fail state status? For another, these are some very vexing questions that must be answered urgently because taking the law into our own hands vigilante style is not the answer. Moreover, we must have the full confidence in the Belize Police Department (BPD) that they can do a reasonable job to provide safety for all citizens. As of now that confidence is badly shaken as many are questioning the BPD’s handling of this case their ineptness is on full display. Chief among the reasons for this no confidence in the BPD are allegations of brutality, false arrest, disappearance of key evidence, routine torture of suspects, mishandling of crime scenes, and general police misconduct and corruption. This certainly has not endeared the BPD to the public. The public look to them for leadership. People rely on law enforcement to make a difference. They are the ones trained in crime fighting techniques.

Yet, we cannot abandon the BPD and leave them to their own devices. They cannot withdraw either because the law must never succumb to the daily carnage or there will be anarchy. We must provide constructive public scrutiny and oversight in the hopes that it will galvanize that organization into providing professional policing that we can all trust and believe in. We must understand that many of the problems that land at their doorsteps represent vast social failures that the police alone will never solve. Many have sought to place the blame for the current crisis squarely on them. The contention that they aid and abet and give tacit approval to lawbreakers is not only wrong but misplace. The BPD is engaged in addressing the worst elements in our society. The least we can do is support and encourage this organization that is so vital to our collective security.

In short, Communities must get involve in organizing and being proactive in public safety. It’s painfully obvious, that relying solely on the state to take action and develop policy is not enough. Communities must play a role in forming partnerships with law enforcement and demand effective and efficient policing. Far from being marginal players Belizeans led by a silent majority’s increasing tolerance to crime, violence, and anti-social behavior has by de-facto allowed their own enslavement to this perfect storm of crime and violence. Also, politicians patrons of these garrison constituencies, it is all about politics for them, they seem oblivious to everything including the crime and violence. They do not seem to understand the moral decay of Belize’s social fabric and have no idea what really happened. As it stands, Belizeans need to do something to develop a new tolerance to crime and violence because essentially the fight against crime is a fight for freedom itself.