At this newspaper we often use the slogan, “Power to the people.” The concept became so popular in Belize that the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) began using it last year for their political campaigns. As far as we know, this was a slogan first used by the Black Panther Party, an organization formed by Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton in Oakland, California, in the late 1960s.
In our editorial today, we want to look at some history, some economics, and some current affairs. When Europe first penetrated Africa and America and began to use the wealth and people of Africa and America to enrich their home countries in Europe, it was Spain and Portugal which led the way. Our ancestors’ wealth began to be transferred from Africa and America to Portugal and Spain. This began in the latter part of the fifteenth century, at a time when Christendom was absolutely dominated by the Roman Catholic Church, with the Vicar of Christ being the Pope of Rome in Italy. In 1494, through the Treaty of Tordesillas, the Pope divided America (the “New World”), between Spain and Portugal, as led by their monarchs. In 1494, the Pope had this kind of power in Europe.
Back in those days, there was no parliamentary democracy anywhere in Europe. Countries were led by kings and queens, supported by upper classes of nobles and church prelates, and the European monarchs claimed “divine right.” This is to say, the masses of the people in European countries were taught that it was Almighty God who had raised their royal families up to temporal power.
In the early sixteenth century, 25 years after Christopher Columbus “discovered” America, there was a violent division in Christianity which began with a German priest by the name of Martin Luther in Germany. Protestantism began to spread across Europe, and soon England, France, and the Netherlands became countries where Protestantism was so strong that their monarchs came into conflict with Spain and Portugal, which remained Catholic, and loyal to the Pope.
Portugal became imperially influential in southern Africa and in Asia, but it was Spain which soon became the powerhouse in America. Protestant England, Protestant France, and the Protestant Netherlands sent out pirates, financed by their monarchies, to attack and plunder Spanish ships which were transporting the wealth of Spanish territories in the New World back to Spain. These pirates may have been history’s first corporations: their home countries financed and supported them, but the home monarchs argued that they were not legally responsible for the crimes of their countries’ pirates.
Today, we often describe corporations as transnational, in that they operate in different countries across national borders all over the world. By means of the corporations, capitalism, as a development philosophy in the Western European world, reached a level of sophistication and profitability where the corporations actually moved their operations and factories out of whichever was their home country and into countries all over planet earth. The corporations were always seeking cheap, plentiful natural resources, and cheap labor, in order to achieve maximum profits.
There grew corporations in the last century which were larger and more powerful than the vast majority of the countries in the United Nations. In the beginning, five centuries ago, back in the days of exploration and piracy, corporations were financed by their home countries, but by the twentieth century there were corporations which were bigger than most countries, and they were loyal, in the first instance, to their bottom line – their profits, and only secondarily to the populations in their countries of origin. In the beginning of corporations, their countries of origin were important to the overall defence and security of the corporations, but today corporations are so huge they can hire their own defence firms and systems. And these transnational security firms are established as corporations in their own right.
With the rise of the neoliberal model of capitalism a half century or so ago, corporations, to repeat, entered a higher stage of capitalism where they closed down the factories in their countries of origin and moved them overseas in search of cheaper labor. (This is called “outsourcing.”) The corporations became even more profitable, but the economies of their home countries in the Western European world began to experience growth problems, and their working and middle classes lost jobs. American and British corporations were bulging with wealth, but the masses of the people in the United States and the United Kingdom were seeing a steady decline in their standard of living. This is one of the main reasons for the rise of Donald Trump in the United States and for the British vote last week to leave the European Union.
Both the major political parties in Belize subscribe to something they call foreign direct investment (FDI), which is another way of saying that Belize’s politicians believe in inviting foreign corporations, on the corporations’ terms, into Belize with the intention of creating jobs and “growing” the local economy. We have said to you in this essay that the corporations are seeking the maximization of their profits. They are seeking the cheapest labor possible, and they are about avoiding the payment of all local taxes. The payment of taxes is not a problem for corporations in Belize, because we don’t charge foreign corporations any taxes in Belize. In the matter of cheap labor, there is where the movement of Central Americans into Belize, disturbing as it is to elements of our native population, has been supported at the highest levels of the Belizean power structure for the last half century and more.
To understand the Guatemalan claim to Belizeans properly in its modern context, you have to consider the contradictions between Belizean nationalism (country) and Belize’s PUDP development philosophy (corporations). Strictly speaking, Belizean nationalism should be about power to the people. We are a nation because within these 8,867 square miles, we have a special concern, or we should have a special concern, for the citizens of Belize. The corporations entering Belize have no such concern. These Belizean political leaders who have been elected because of their expressed loyalty to the Belizean people, have to begin to look for Belize’s economic development answers outside of foreign direct investment. The Belizean economy is now in shambles.
Consider the case of American Sugar Refining (ASR) in the sugar cane industry of the Corozal and Orange Walk Districts. The entry of this powerful transnational corporation into an industry which Rt. Hon. George Price had specifically designed in the early 1960s to empower the roots people in Belize’s sugar cane belt, has quickly resulted in a weakening of unity amongst the cane farmers and a diminution of their organized power. The loss of Belizean people power in the sugar industry was facilitated by elected Belizean politicians who excuse themselves for their treachery on the grounds of their commitment to foreign direct investment.
Now we come to the case of Lord Michael Ashcroft. He and his corporations will require much more than an editorial. After three decades here, the British peer has just about bankrupted Belize. He and his money seduced the leading politicians of both the PUP and the UDP, and now we, the people of Belize, owe him hundreds of millions of dollars, money which we cannot afford to pay. How did this happen? All of us were singing Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The British were supposed to be our friends. No?
Power to the people.