Every day in Belize, families are having to make stressful financial decisions which have to do with health care. Poor families don’t have to make any decisions: they have to go to Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH), wait their turn, and hope for the best. Rich people don’t have to make any decisions: they automatically take their loved ones to one of the private hospitals, and they plunk money down on whichever private hospital’s barrel head. (No money, no care.) Very rich people may fly out their loved ones to the mighty U. S. of A.
The reality is that the “in-between” people are the ones who have to be making financial decisions in health care crises. In-between Belizeans may have enough money to seek, in the first instance, the relative comforts of a private hospital for their loved ones, but the bills can pile up so fast, the health crisis may become so serious, they often have to run to KHMH, the public hospital. You may say that such a person who could not sustain the expenses at one of the private hospitals, hung his/her hat too high when he/she went there in the first place, but in matters of health, usually the first thing we think of is not the cost, but rather the need for the best treatment and most comfortable environment possible.
The average family in Belize is one serious illness away from a financial crisis, which would involve removing one’s savings from an institution or mortgaging a home, say. The consideration which sparks the financial fear is this: what is a life worth? Or, what is it worth for us to see our loved one pain free and comfortable?
In Belize, we have been listening for many months to the heated health care debate in the United States between the Republicans and the Democrats. It is puzzling that the arguably richest economy in the world cannot produce adequate health care for its citizens, and the discourse remains mired in controversy and disagreement. The small island republic of Cuba, which has been groaning under a trade embargo from the aforementioned United States for more than fifty years, has succeeded in guaranteeing top flight health care for every single Cuban citizen. This is an absolutely incredible achievement. It has to be, when you can see, by contrast, that achieving health care for the American people has been such a difficult assignment for different United States governments.
We have listened to Christian commentators in Belize hammer the Cuban government for being a dictatorship, for being communist, for violating human rights, and for other sins of the Cuban Revolution. The sins of which the Cuban Revolution is accused, are the price the Cuban people paid for national literacy and guaranteed health care.
The democratic, Christian Belize has fallen woefully short where national literacy and guaranteed health care are concerned. Under the Said Musa People’s United Party (PUP) government, there was actually a proposal brought to Cabinet for the KHMH to be privatized. What a Belizean disaster that would have been for poor people! What would poor people have done if they had to pay up front before they were treated, if they were thrown out of the hospital because they could not pay?
From day to day, there are many Belizeans who are in visible trouble. We see them every day on the streets of the population center – Belize City. We see beggars, the mentally challenged, alcoholics, drug addicts, the homeless, and so on. For some reason, we don’t see these people on the streets of Chetumal, and so we have to ask ourselves: what is going wrong in Belize?
In that same Holy Bible which the capitalists say they revere, there is a telling dialogue where people are welcomed into heaven by the Living God when they appear for judgment. The Lord says to them, I was hungry, and you fed Me; I was thirsty, and you gave Me to drink; I was naked, and you clothed Me. Whereupon, the people ask, in innocence, but when did I see You hungry, Lord, or thirsty or naked? And the Lord replies, Whenever you did it for the least of My brethren, you did it for Me.
Christmas is the time of year when the capitalists exploit the Bible most shamelessly. If you read the Christmas story carefully in the New Testament, then our approach to celebrating Christmas is very much skewed. But, what we have today, is as the capitalists would have it; they have been the masters of our society for centuries. Many of us become nostalgic about the “old time Christmas” in Belize. But our people made a lot of mistakes back then in celebrating Christmas: we were wildly extravagant in many cases, so much so that we felt temporarily proud of ourselves while the capitalists were laughing on the way to the bank. After our people’s feasting, there would come painful famine.
We dedicated this essay to examining the situation with respect to health care in Belize, because this is an area where many of us can find ourselves in a financial emergency overnight. In a larger sense, we, the Belizean people, now find our nation in a financial emergency from debts we incurred under PUDP administrations since 1998. Now we owe a lot of money, even for the sparkling infrastructure projects of which the ruling politicians sound so proud.
Our nation-state is in trouble where Belize’s public finances are concerned, and the administration’s solution to the trouble will be, no doubt, to bring greater taxation pressure on the Belizean people. Greater taxation pressure, as we have been seeing these past few years, has the inevitable effect of shrinking our economy. A shrinking economy means fewer jobs, which translates to more hungry Belizeans. More hungry Belizeans, more crime. Crime follows hunger the way the night follows the day.
We are told that Lord Michael Ashcroft is a Belizean citizen. Well then, surely he is Belize’s greatest capitalist of all. Our question would be this: how does he rank on the totem pole of Christians? Surely he would not rank very high, because he is not feeding the hungry, giving the thirsty to drink, or clothing the naked. In fact, Lord Ashcroft is dong the opposite: he is taking the bread out of the mouth of hungry Belizeans. Yet, there are many prominent, intelligent Belizeans who are holding him in awe and carrying out his directives.
There is something wrong in this country, and it appears that things are getting worse. If there was one educated species we were supposed to have produced here in Belize in abundance, it was attorneys. Yet, we can’t win any of these cases when our public finances are threatened and when our currency is in danger. These concepts are metaphysical in the courtrooms, exercises in legal argument which are meaningless for the attorneys in the sense that they all get paid. But, in the streets, our lost cases mean more “suffering in the land,” bitter suffering, human suffering.
In the matter of health care, there are Belizeans who are comfortable today, who will be frightened tomorrow. They will not be able to afford health care for their loved ones, and they will panic. Well, there are other Belizeans for whom panic is already a way of life. Look around you on the streets, and you will see for yourselves. So then, Christians, what are you going to do about these, the least of our brethren?