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The old capital – history and hype

EditorialThe old capital - history and hype

A columnist in last weekend’s issue of our newspaper competitor expressed dissatisfaction with what he called “the distribution of power.” Specifically, he was dissatisfied with what he referred to as “the domination of Belize City over the rest of the country.” He declared, “Belize City has virtually become the center of the universe in Belize.” He goes on, “What the rest of the country cannot understand is why most of the financial resources always have a tendency to go to the one place that contributes the least towards the national coffers. In other words, we continue to subsidize Belize City. To add insult to injury, Belize City continues to have a disproportionate representation in the House of Representatives.” The columnist’s end game is to “reduce the number of seats from Belize City in the House.”

Presently, Belize City has 10 seats in a 31-member House of Representatives. From 1961 to 1979, Belize City had 6 seats in an 18-member House of Representatives. The overall seats were increased to 28 for the 1984 general elections, and Belize City then held 10 of the 28 seats. The seats were increased to 29 for the 1993 general elections, and subsequently to 31.

The significance of Belize City’s 10 seats was never greater than in this year’s general elections, when the ruling UDP won 8 of the 10 Belize City seats, almost half of the 17 seats which comprised their winning total. Of the Opposition PUP’s 14 seats, 12 came from outside Belize City. It is possible to view the present government, then, as a Belize City government, which is what the columnist appears to have done.

Belize City was the “capital” here going back to the seventeenth century, until 1970 when Belmopan became the capital. The decision to build Belmopan was made after Hurricane Hattie destroyed Belize City and Stann Creek Town in 1961, completely crippling government, because all the government departments were then located in Belize City.

Once Belmopan was opened in August of 1970, most of the government departments had their main offices moved to the new capital, which is where meetings of the House of Representatives and the Senate began to be held.

Belize City was not rebuilt by public funds after Hattie. There were those in Belize City who resented the Belmopan decision, because this meant Belize City struggled to recover from Hurricane Hattie. The loss of government departments and the political business of government reduced the Belize City economy substantially, though certainly not fatally.

When it was that it became evident that Belize City not only would survive the move to Belmopan, but that Belize City would grow and extend its influence and power all over the place, it is difficult to say. What first became clear was that Belmopan was no threat to Belize City as an energy center.

There were ethnic undercurrents in the debate. Belize City had always been where the Creole majority lived. Belize City was where the British Governor resided, his British forces were 10 miles away in Ladyville, and the majority of the civil servants in the Governor’s employ, featuring Creoles, lived and worked in Belize City.

Sugar production did not become an economic force in British Honduras until the middle 1960s, to be followed by marijuana cultivation in the 1970s. Toledo had been producing rice, and Stann Creek’s Pomona Valley had been doing good business with citrus. Cayo had been the area from where our mahogany, cedar, pine and other hardwoods were extracted.

As the Belizean people began to become nationalistic after World War II, the Districts which had been forced to pay homage to Belize City during colonialism, began to feel their importance and flex their muscles. There was a time when Belize City bashing actually became a common thing, and it was a justifiable thing, we submit, for people in the rural areas to criticize the privileges the capital had enjoyed.

Today, Belize City is experiencing a social upheaval which is at least 25 years old. Along with that social upheaval, however, growth/transformation of the Belize City economy has taken place which has solidified the old capital’s historic position as a national powerhouse. The key to Belize City’s eminence has always been its location on the Haulover Creek delta of the Belize Old River, and its proximity to the Barrier Reef and the great blue yonder. Belize City was the nation’s port, despite all its disadvantages. The nation’s exports came from the interior here to travel overseas, and the nation’s imports came in through the Barrier Reef at English Caye on consignment to Belize City warehouses.

So now, every weekday morning thousands and thousands of Belizeans pour into Belize City on the Philip Goldson and George Price highways. What do they come here for? They come here to go to secondary and tertiary schools. They come for legal, financial, and medical services. They come here because the headquarters for water, electricity, and telecommunications are located here. They come here for construction jobs. They come to work in stores, restaurants, hotels, gas stations and warehouses. Belize City is the gateway to San Pedro Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker, Caye Chapel, Northern Two Caye, the Turneffe Atoll, and all the other islands where fishing, scuba diving, and tourism-related services are offered.

There are a lot of things going on in Belize City during the week, and there is a lot of money circulating. But, on weekends, there is not much going on in the old capital, and a lot of the money leaves. This is an interesting situation, and a somewhat puzzling one. In any case, there are cities like Belize City in almost every country in the world. These are cities where they handle the money, and such places are always looked down upon as parasitical by the areas where they grow the food and where they produce for the export markets. But, it is what it is. Life goes on.

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