Is Froyla Tzalam’s, appointment as Governor-General of Belize, a good thing?
Her Excellency Froyla Tzalam was sworn in as Belize’s third Governor -General on 27 May 2021 with all the pomp and ceremony that such an occasion deserves, at the Government House, Belize House of Culture, in Belize City. Her historic appointment places her in the history books as the first indigenous governor-General in the British Commonwealth, and the third Governor-General of that former British colony in Central America that gained its independence from Great Britain on 21 September 1981.
BRIEF HISTORY OF BELIZE
Belize is located on the North-eastern coast of Central America situated between Mexico on the North the Caribbean Sea on the east, and Guatemala on the south and West. The area which we now know as Belize since 1975, was formerly called British Honduras during its years as a Crown Colony of the British colonial empire between 1749 to 1964.
The original people of the area were the Mayans. The Maya civilization flourished across southeastern Mexico, of Guatemala and Belize, and the western portions of Honduras and El Salvador according to a Wikipedia entry. The Mayas were noted for developing its own writing system, and for its pre-Columbian advances in architecture, mathematics and astronomy. Their history goes well beyond 8000 BC.
When the Spanish explorers first encountered the Mayan civilizations, they were in awe of their ancient architectural sites whose ruins and stelae act as testimonies to a well advanced civilization such as Caracol, a large ancient Maya archaeological site, located in what is now the Cayo District of Belize, and Xunantunich which is located on a mountain ridge above the Mopan River and in ancient times It served as a “Maya civic ceremonial center” to the Belize Valley region in the Late and Terminal Classic periods, according to Wikipedia.
In the 16th century, the Spanish did not express much interest with Belize yet declared it part of the Spanish Empire, claiming that there was no gold to be found there, but, it was English pirates who first began to build settlements there, and in 1716 the first permanent settlement was founded. “during the 18th century, established a system using black slaves to cut logwood trees.” “The British settlers, who called themselves Baymen, began importing African slaves in the early 18th century to cut logwood and then mahogany.” – Britannica. The first British superintendent over the Belize area was appointed in 1786.
When the British abolished slavery throughout the British Empire in 1833, slave-owners in British Honduras, now Belize, were compensated at “£53.69 per slave on average, the highest amount paid in any British territory” due to an estimate of the skills of their slaves’ in the ability to work in mahogany extraction.
“A symbolic milestone, it should not be seen as willfully ignoring our colonial past, rather it is a new chapter in Belize’s evolution as a country for all and by all.Her Excellency Froyla Tzalam
WHO IS FROYLA TZALAM
Froyla Tzalam replaces Sir Colville Young, her predecessor who retired from the position as Head of State, the country’s most senior diplomat, and served as the country’s second Governor-General for 28 years. Mrs. Tzalam’s appointment was approved by Buckingham Palace, and on May 27th, 2021, Mrs. Tzalam was installed as the country’s first in Governor-General of Maya descent, and the first indigenous Governor-General in the entire British Commonwealth.
Tzalam is a native of Belize from the village of San Antonio, Toledo. She describes herself as a “Mopan Mayan woman. ” She holds a Masters in Rural Development from Sussex University, England and a Bachelors in Anthropology from Trinity University in Texas. According to the San Pedro Sun, “ she is recognized as an active Belizean in history, indigenous rights, and the Maya culture with high academic degrees in Anthropology and Rural Development.” Meanwhile, Belize.com says, “Froyla Tzalam stands proud and strong in both the Maya and Western worlds. As a Mopan Maya leader, she strives to forge awareness and acceptance between the Indigenous and Industrialized communities.”
WILL SHE DO IT HER WAY
For one thing, she will be stuck in the bureaucracy of centuries —279 years— of colonial protocol. She in effect becomes the “viceregal representative of Belize who is also Commander in Chief of The Belize Defence Force. “ She is the final act of authority to rubber stamp any future government action in Belize. Belize, is a central American country, formerly British Honduras, was a British Crown Colony from 1749 to 1964, and was declared an independent nation on 21 September 1981. Belize, formerly,British Honduras “was the last continental possession of the United Kingdom in the Americas.”
Prime Minister of Belize, John Briceño, who informed The Queen of the nomination of Mrs. Tzalam for the Office,in April told legislators, “I am confident that Froyla will serve this high office with distinction, that she will bring her own style and talents to the high office of the Governor-General of Belize.” (Caribbean National weekly)
The constitution of Belize, the supreme law adopted when the country gained independence on September 1981, in Chapter 4, part 5 among her duties will be to appoint or remove prime ministers, members of the House of Representatives and other ministers of State. The Governor -General, may also grant pardons or repsites to individuals from punishments or executions. The Governor-General is Head of State and is a representative of the Queen. Belize is a Commonwealth Realm that retains the British Monarchy as Head of State. It is a position that is hereditary, being able to be passed down to her heirs.
IN HER OWN WORDS
Speaking at her inaugural address, Her Excellency, Froyla Tzalam, said, “I am honoured to stand before you today as a Belizean, Mopan woman and to express my deep humility and gratitude for this recognition. I am very aware of the responsibility that comes from holding this office and I will do my work as I have done elsewhere with passion and commitment to do good to the best of my ability.” She paid homage to her predecessor Sir Colvill Young and Lady Young who held the post for 28 years, from 1993 to 2021, citing their unwavering commitment to Belize for nearly three decades of service. Their love of music has created a legacy she said “which has been recognised by so many.
The newly-installed Governor-General also thanked the sitting prime minister Johnny Briceño and his cabinet for what she described as their trust in her to “serve in this high office.” She went on to thank her fellow Belizeans who as she said, “who have expressed their delight over social media on her appointment, saying “ Many roots people and others have expressed their pride and happiness in seeing someone like them reflected at the highest office in Belize. all children can now aspire to be governor-General no matter their background. It has truly been a humbling experience, and a symbol of Belize’s maturity.” Tzalam also thanked persons who had supported her endeavors in the past and that her appointment was because of people like them. She also praised her parents, her mother who was in attendance, and her father who was deceased 30 years ago saying, “ my parents did raise us to see ourselves as poor. We had food and shelter. I was surrounded by family with lots of rooms to run around, as well as chores to teach me how to be responsible. These chores imbibed in me an appreciation of the benefits of hard work. I want to salute my family and friends, here and abroad, and the countless people who have molded me.” She also I thank her husband, Daniel Mendez and her children. “They are part of this journey, “ she said, “ and I will need their patience and love to guide me, and to keep me grounded,
Her Excellency Froyla Tzalam reminded her audience that her appointment as Governor-General was a “symbolic milestone, it should not be seen as willfully ignoring our colonial past, rather it is a new chapter in Belize’s evolution as a country for all and by all. I intend to carry out the constitutional role of this office with the required diligence. It is also my hope that time will permit me to carry out my constitutional duties,“ she said, adding, “ This is an institution with its own culture, however, like all institutions it is inhabited by people.”
Tzalam noted that since her appoint was announced she has received many requests for the building of bridges and roads and to amplify the voices of the people. “ I intend to build metaphorical bridges in this country, uniting all of us in the rural areas and the towns. I will use my interests in strengthen local communities to build a nation that can overcome challenges. for us in Belize we are beginning to understand that there is more than one way to live. More than one way to talk, more than one way to see reality. As someone who has been vocal and passionate about our culture and history, and looking at how society is organised, the office of Governor-General can provide a platform,’ she insists, “for unifying our diverse voices.”
We pray that Mrs. Tzalam who is the first Maya Indian to become a governor-general in the 54- member countries of the British Commonwealth that spans Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe and the Pacific will advance the struggle for all oppressed people.