Features — 25 September 2012 — by Adele Ramos
Belize marks 31, Belmopan 13

BELIZE CITY, Fri. Sept. 21, 2012

“It was on these very same steps 31 years ago that Belizeans of all races and faces gathered to witness the historic transition from a British colony to a new and independent nation with all its territory intact – not one square centimeter given away,” said Belmopan Mayor Simeon Lopez, in his welcome address at official ceremonies held today at Independence Plaza, Belmopan, to mark the 31st anniversary of the Independence of Belize.

“With the attainment of Independence, Belmopan became our nation’s capital, but it was not until the year 2000 that we took on the mantle of being a city, complete with a city hall, mayor and councilors… We are now in our 13th year… 31 years of Independence, 13 years as a city,” Lopez added.

Whereas Belmopan is the venue for the national ceremonies to mark the day, other municipalities across the country mark the day with local ceremonies as well, as they reflect on the milestone in Belizean history and take stock of the nation’s triumphs and challenges at this climax event for the annual September celebrations.

This year’s celebrations were held under the theme: “Many Faces, Many Dreams, One Goal: Celebrating Belize.”

“Much like our country itself, this September’s motto is elegant and strong without being too showy or self-regarding; and it captures the essential core, the quiddity of Belizean oneness: that unity in diversity that so many nations strive for but so few achieve…” said Prime Minister Dean Barrow in his Independence Day greeting. “We have shown that we grow and mature and shape and stamp our destiny; that we construct a wonderful, ever expanding democracy; a vital, vibrant society of both integrity and elasticity. Thus, the Belize brand is daily more distinguished, and makes its mark increasingly on our region and the world,” he further stated.

“We must never be satisfied with mediocrity. We must never be satisfied with good enough. We must challenge ourselves to always aspire to do better… [and] ensure that Belize attains its global significance,” said chairperson of the National Celebrations Commission Manuel Heredia, Jr., as he urged Belizeans to work diligently and produce at the highest standards.

At Friday’s ceremonies, Barrow made the following announcement: “The Government of Belize, in conjunction with the National September Celebrations Committee, is officially renaming the Western Highway the George Price Highway; and the Northern Highway the Philip SW Goldson Highway.” Celebrating the renationalization of two major utility companies, he also noted that Belize Telemedia Limited’s $30 million 4G network will be rolled out next month.

Leader of the Opposition Francis Fonseca said, “On Monday, after we’ve shaken off the residue of month-long revelry, serious challenges await us as a nation… Challenges yes, but no one dares question the viability of our beloved nation.” He urged Belizeans to reinvent themselves in ways that are relevant to overcome both present and future challenges.

Those challenges he spoke of are the unfounded Guatemalan claim which continues to persist, 30,000 jobless, 148,500 living on less than $5.50 a day for food, the ongoing restructuring of the 2029 bond, the scourge of violent crime which he said threatens our social fabric, less than 50% of the nation’s children completing secondary school, and declining oil revenues. He also said that foreign direct investment remains elusive.

However, according to Prime Minister Barrow, there continues to be foreign direct investment injected into Belize. In his remarks, he spoke of the $200 million investment of the world-renowned American Sugar Refineries (ASR) and the Green Tropic project to plant cane in Cayo; over 2,000 employed by the ever-increasing, FDI-sponsored call centers; and the imminent purchase of Caye Chapel by Qatari Diar.

“This will then lead to a ‘four seasons’ branded, five-star hotel on the property,” said Barrow.

The Prime Minister announced that, “Talks proceed apace with Turkish investors that plan to invest in both container and cruise ports in Belize.”

He furthermore said that, “Wall Street money wants to come in to plant thousands of acres of grain for export and for local feed.”

Barrow acknowledged that despite the celebration of the country’s various accomplishments “…it is not as though no cloud darkens our sun, not as though we are without problems; and the stubbornest, most protracted of these is the continuing instability caused by the crime and violence in our urban areas, especially Belize City… if this challenge won’t go away any time soon, neither can our determination to confront it.”

He announced that “one of the largest social violence reduction organizations in the world is coming to Belize to assist with funding and capacity building.”

An advisor from India will be posted at the Belize Police Department and the Police are forming a number of additional specialized intelligence and operational units, in order to ramp up the continuing interdiction efforts, said Barrow.

“Likewise, a Cabinet subcommittee has been appointed to work with Restore Belize on a new, sustainable strategy for getting youth out of the hellhole of nihilism and violence that is gang life in Belize,” he added.

Following the ceremonies, a parade was held through the major streets of Belmopan. Mayor Lopez noted that a week ago, Belmopan lost one of its young citizens to violence – Norval Belisle, and the Belisle family was putting a float in the parade to protest the violence and crime that is threatening the country.

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