THE REASONS THOMAS VINCENT RAMOS FIGHTED FOR THE GARIFUNA SETTLEMENT DAY IN BELIZE

Photo: Thomas Vincent Ramos

by Wellington C Ramos

Thomas Vincent Ramos was a Garifuna nationalist born September 17, 1887 in Puerto Cortes, Honduras and died November 13, 1955 in Dangriga, Belize. He came to live in Dangriga as a teenager when he was about eighteen years old. It was never mentioned what the reason or reasons were that Thomas Vincent Ramos might have decided to leave Honduras and come to Belize.

I looked at the political history of Honduras covering the period of his departure and found that there was political unrest at the time. This may have been the reason why he left the country. Prior to his departure for Belize, some of his relatives and other Garifuna people had already left Honduras and gone to Belize for the same reason. Below is an excerpt of what was happening in Honduras during this period, found on the Prabook website: “When Policarpo Bonilla (no relation to Manuel) became President in 1895, it was assumed that his Secretary of War, General Terencio Sierra, would do so 1899 Liberal Party candidate and 1903 Manuel Bonilla Vice-President. However, Policarpo and Manuel Bonilla fell out, and Manuel Bonilla retired from the vice presidency. He then became Secretary of War to President Sierra. However, Sierra announced his support for Juan Angel Arias in the 1903 election. Bonilla then resigned and formed a new coalition, the Nationalists, made up of his Liberal and virtually all remaining Conservative constituencies. Bonilla received 28,850 votes, Arias 25,118, and a third candidate 4,857. “When President Sierra blocked Congress’ attempt to select a president from the top two candidates, Bonilla and a group of supporters left the capital for Amapala, where Mayor Manuel Bonilla took the presidential oath. After several battles, Sierra fled to El Salvador, and Bonilla was declared President-elect by Congress on May 5, 1903. However, as Bonilla balanced his cabinet with Liberals and Conservatives, he irritated members of both parties. He suspended the constitution and declared martial law in the first week of 1904. A constitutional assembly in 1905 extended the president’s term from four to six years, and installed him for the period 1907-

1912.” According to some Garifuna people of Honduras, Manuel Bonilla was liked by the Garifuna people because he was the president who gave them titles for their country in Honduras in 1911. Martial law imposed by Manuel Bonilla in 1904 was just a year before Vincent Ramos left. The stories the elders of the city of Dangriga told me about their experiences of martial law in Honduras were chilling. They said that the Honduran soldiers would be in the streets with loaded weapons and people could not move freely in their villages, towns and communities. I have a relative from Honduras who is lucky enough to be alive today because they shot his mother while she was carrying him in her arms while Honduras was under martial law.

Thomas Vincent Ramos arrived in Dangriga and became active in Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and African Communities League (ACL), formed on July 15, 1914. Marcus Garvey’s philosophy was the union of all people of African descent with their mother continent, Africa. During the time of Garvey’s movement, most of the countries of Africa were colonies of some European countries – mainly Portugal, France and Great Britain. They fought for their independence from these countries. Territorial disputes also arose among Europeans on their own continent. World War I began 13 days after Marcus Garvey founded his association on July 28, 1914 and ended in November 1918. Thomas Vincent Ramos then decided to use the knowledge he had gained from UNIA to campaign for the deploy Garifuna nationalism. This was at a time when most of our people were afraid to challenge the British Crown for dissolving our nation state called “Yurumein” now known as St. Vincent and the Grenadines in 1796 , tortured, killed and some of our people buried there. Our people who survived this genocide were then expelled from this island and forcibly taken to the island of Roatan where they landed on April 12, 1797. The Garifuna subsequently migrated as a fragmented nation to Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize, and the United States. Thomas Vincent Ramos’ request to allow us a day to come together was also an attempt for us to recognize that we are a nation of people who should be proud of themselves for representing our nation, Yurumein ‘, which are now known to have fought like St. Vincent and the Grenadines against European colonialism and human rights abuses and to affirm our nationality wherever we live. The November 19 celebration isn’t just about dancing, drinking and having fun. Just look how many times we danced, drank and had fun. However, our social, political and economic situation has remained the same and for some of our people living conditions have deteriorated. It is now time for us to re-examine the state of our lives as a people and our Garifuna nation fragmented in the diaspora countries. “We lived in our independent nation. Where we provided for ourselves and then brought to colonies controlled by the same Europeans we had fought in wars and defeated at home. This is not progress, but an unfortunate step backwards that we must overcome in order to become free men again.’ I now call on every Garifuna person to take action in the Garifuna Nation just as your ancestors relived the Garifuna dream of autonomy, independence and economic sustenance to free us from dependence. THIS IS THE GARIFUNA FLAG WHICH WAS DESIGNED BY

THOMAS VINCENT RAMOS 1923 FOR HIS PEOPLE:

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