“Cuba’s infant mortality rate is at a new low. 4.2 babies died during 2013 out of every 1000 births. Average rates for the region remain at around 30. Maternal mortality has dropped, and life expectancy at 77.9 years matches that of industrialized nations. Physician density in Cuba is one physician for 197 persons, one of the world’s top rates. That doesn’t include 40,000 Cuban physicians serving abroad in 70 countries.”
– excerpt from an essay by W. T. Whitney, Jr., a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine. The essay appeared in the WeekendEdition January 10-12, 2014 of counterpunch.org and was reproduced in the AMANDALA issue of Wednesday, January 15, 2014.)
Population-wise, Belize is a small place, but Belize is much larger in land and sea territory than CARICOM powerhouses like Jamaica and Barbados. Belize has always had a lot of development potential, but that development potential, we here submit, has been secondary in importance to Belize’s strategic location in the nationalist, post-World War II era.
The largest market in the world in the post-World War II era has been the United States of America, and Belize was just 600 miles away from America, from Florida, to be precise. Cuba was only 90 miles away from Florida, but Belize, compared to Cuba, had lived a protected life because of Belize’s status as a British colony. Cuba’s pains in the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth, ended up contributing to the gains of Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution, a revolution which has achieved great social, educational, and technological advances for the Cuban people. Cuba has gone through different experiences from Belize’s, and has suffered from a cruel economic embargo enforced by the aforementioned United States of America for more than a half century. (Castro’s revolution became communist, whereupon the former ruling classes of Cuba migrated to America, and have been plotting to overthrow him ever since.)
Belize experienced no such embargo, so we have been in a position to benefit from our proximity to America all those years when the Cubans were being embargoed. And, from an economic standpoint, Belize has so benefited. We always had an advantage here that the Cubans and the rest of the Caribbean did not: we Belizeans had a land bridge to the United States. That land bridge has provided great opportunities for Belizeans, even though the land bridge ran through Mexico, and Mexicans often took advantage of us on our journeys from the Rio Hondo to the Rio Grande.
Once Belizeans reached any of the various Mexican towns and cities, especially Tijuana, which lay on the border with the United States, we gained access to America relatively easily. The fact that we spoke English meant that we could pose as black Americans crossing back into the United States from Mexico. It was a long time before American immigration officials realized that there was an English-speaking country with a land bridge south of their border. The Americans became conscious of English-speaking Belize when they began to make marijuana busts of us at their border with Mexico in the middle and late 1970s.
We had a Belizean friend once who used to smuggle Belizeans into the United States by the busloads. He had a Belizean connection in a city in Texas across the border. So, once he got his busload(s) of Belizeans to the Mexican border on the southern side of the Rio Grande, he’d just phone his connection. She drove across the bridge into Mexico, and then ferried Belizeans into the U.S. trip by trip. If anyone on the American side stopped them, they were speaking American. What’s the problem? From her home, the Belizeans went to the airport and took a flight to whatever city in which their relatives were waiting for them.
Our friend got busted in the late 1970s, mainly because weed trips from Belize had made American border immigration and Customs officials become conscious of Belize’s existence.
So then, in the first instance, Belize’s proximity to America and our land bridge made it so that we Belizeans gained entry into the United States more easily than the nationals of any other Caribbean or Central American country. Then we began using our proximity and land bridge to move marijuana into the United States. This began to make more and faster money than human smuggling, especially when cocaine came on the scene. Drug trafficking created problems for our human smugglers, as we just illustrated.
Anyway, the point is that Belizeans were making so much money off our strategic location that we never really focused on our development potential. We didn’t have to. For some time now, Belizean politicians and those connected to them have been making a lot of money because of Belize’s strategic location. Once you reach Belize, and once you can obtain Belizean travel documents, no matter from which part of the world you come, you have a better shot of getting into the United States than from anywhere else on the planet. And the United States is still the largest market in the world. America is still planet earth’s greatest land of opportunity. From all over the globe, people are dying to get into the United States. The trick is to make it to Belize. And so, the development potential of Belize remains secondary to our strategic location.
The fast money value of our strategic location lay in illegal possibilities: our own “through the back” movement, drug trafficking, and now international human smuggling. Because the latter two of these possibilities attracted the attention of American law enforcement, the rings involved with these activities targeted Belizean politicians in office for various forms of assistance and protection. Well, our ruling politicians, whether blue or red, have never been fools, and they quickly recognized opportunity when they saw it. From the 1970s, our ruling politicians have become more and more themselves involved with drug trafficking and human smuggling. They make so much money, they don’t have time to pay attention to the business of developing Belize. What is worse, the gangster money involved with drug trafficking and human smuggling leads to our ruling politicians beginning to think and behave like gangsters themselves.
Belize’s strategic location has now become a curse for the masses of the Belizean people. So much money is being made from drug trafficking and human smuggling that the traffickers and smugglers become excessively influential in our political circles, and then our politicians start to want to become gangsters themselves. The country has become lawless, and people get killed and “disappeared” all over the place. Belize, originally a haven for pirates, has become a den of gangsters. The people on this ground suffer, but at the top of the pyramid there is champagne and wine.
In closing, we’d like to paraphrase some famous words Porfirio Diaz used to describe Mexico a century ago. “Poor Belize, so far from God and so close to the United States.”
Power to the people.