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The adolescent Belize!

Sunday, May 28, 2023

It has been over 40 years since Belize was weaned off its parent’s teats, 40 years since it found its own apartment, so to speak, living on its own, with a little help from friends. For an underpopulated country, nestled in the heart of the Caribbean Basin, as the saying goes, and surrounded at the time by mostly unstable republics in Central America, this transition has been relatively smooth. I believe that Belize is starting to grow up, slowly, and becoming more deliberate in the choices it makes. It did not descend into chaos, as many newly independent nations did, like India or Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), the Congo, and many others, torn apart by ethnic wars or political differences! Belize was not completely independent; our national security was still the responsibility of our former parent, but that has also gone away, although I believe that if we were really threatened, they would lend a hand.

I believe that sometimes you need some chaos and conflict to make you appreciate your heritage, your homeland, your land! Belize’s biggest change after independence was a change of government, to the surprise of everyone, including me. Usually, a leader who fought so hard for independence, for so many years, would head a government rewarded with longevity and the trust and admiration of the people, of the country! Not this time. The people wanted change — not the change they hoped for, as they would later learn, but change, nevertheless.

There is nothing that can instill greater pride in the heart of any citizen, man or woman, than that of owning their own piece of land, their own property! It gives you hope, something to live for, to fight for, to till and build on, to secure the future for your family! People die, protecting their properties all over the world, every day. If you lose it, it’s like part of you is missing, is gone, like a finger, or your eyes, or even your heart. Without that land you feel worthless!

As the Publisher noted in his column last week, Belize has twice the land mass of Jamaica, and is bigger than Barbados, Trinidad, and any of the other British Caribbean islands. You would think that with all that territorial advantage, and so much fertility in our soil, more Belizeans would own property—not only own, but develop those properties to make us self-sufficient in the fields of agriculture and meats, by that I mean cattle, poultry, pork and game meat. The Mennonites had already paved the way and demonstrated to us what was possible, with hard work and dedication and endurance!

But noooooooo! The post-independence government was more interested in a service-based economy, based mainly on tourism, which is a good thing, if properly managed, and foreign investment, also a good thing, if properly regulated! The foreigners and our neighbors saw the advantages of what Belize was offering and without the slightest hesitation, devoured as much of our birthright as possible. They were aided and abetted by governments that could not see, or preferred not to see, beyond the almighty dollar! They forgot about the breadbasket that Belize is. The Central American refugees saw it right away, and took full advantage. That is one of the reasons why the food markets look more foreign than domestic these days.

Those of us who didn’t know our value, as a people, our history and pride in what it meant to be a Belizean, squandered our wealth, our heritage, to seek greener pastures elsewhere, totally unaware, until it was too late, that we were living in paradise. We weren’t prepared for what independence would bring, but we should have been! Was it greed, not knowing our history, not being patriotic enough, that made us such easy marks? Not having the slightest hint of all that wealth that lies beneath us, on our former lands, properties?

I can understand why the Mayas fight so strongly for their lands; they know the value of what land ownership means. Now, the rest of us, too late in most cases, are scrounging around, looking for a piece of land to own, again! This is after we gave our rights away, mostly for peanuts, and now we are just renters, refugees in our own country! Whom do we blame for that? We are not adolescents any more!

“We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!” Wordsworth