I am happy that my letter asking the Diaspora “what have you done for me lately”, has stirred once more, the debate about what constructive roles the Diaspora can and should play in Belize’s national development.
I was particularly interested to hear about the contributions of the Diaspora outside of remittances because from a macro-economic perspective remittances are insignificant. In 2013, the Central Bank of Belize reported that remittances were $72.2 million or about 2.23% of our gross domestic product (GDP). Economists will tell you that any activity generating 2.23% of GDP is not insignificant in-and-of-itself. However, given the nature of remittances, we can discount its overall importance to the economy. In essence, we can take it for granted because remittances are not so susceptible to exogenous shocks.
Put another way, because the $72.2 million come from tens of thousands of Belizeans, each contributing a few thousand dollars here and there, that element of the economy is not as vulnerable to external shocks as say sugar, citrus, bananas and oil. The likelihood of the $72.2 million in remittances evaporating is highly unlikely because as I said before, remittances are a personal undertaking. People are not going to stop sending money to their families simply because they cannot run for office whilst holding two passports or because they cannot vote by proxy in New York or LA.
So if you discount remittances, what else is the Diaspora doing for Belize? Not much else quite honestly. Let me therefore make one suggestion on how they can help. At the forefront of Belize’s national interest must be Guatemala’s unfounded claim and the strategic risks posed thereby. How does this reconcile with the Diaspora’s interest? Does the interest of the homeland converge or diverge from the interest of the Diaspora? If we take the position that this is the one issue that unites us as Belizeans then I must ask: what has the Diaspora done for Belize in terms of the Guatemala issue?
The answer is simple. Nothing! This is so because as I have asserted, and William Adderley, Muriel Laing-Arthurs, Bilal Morris and others have agreed, the Diaspora is disorganized. It is precisely because the Diaspora is disorganized that they have not been able to use their collective strength to make the unfounded Guatemalan claim a political issue in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and other places where we have “bulk”, to use Kremandala’s term.
If the Diaspora was organized, it would be that one could not count on the Belizean vote in the United States (where there is Belizean “bulk”) if one did not first tell the Diaspora how one will treat the Guatemalan issue. Their Congressman should have heard about the unfounded claim, the eastward drift, the rape of the Chiquibul, etc. before they gave him their vote! But he did not, did he?
To provide some perspective, let us look briefly at three of the most powerful political lobbies in the United States: the Mexican, Cuban exile, and Israeli lobbies. Together these three groups have a profound impact on US policy both domestic and foreign.
If one wishes to hold high political office in any of the Border States in the United States, one must clearly define one’s position on the issues that are important to Mexican-Americans: issues such as labor reform, immigration, social services, education, etc. Over the last decade, the Mexican lobby has become so powerful, it is now able to influence elections deep in the US mid-western region. And no President comes to office without addressing the “Hispanic Agenda”.
In Florida, a key state for any Presidential election, one cannot come to elected office without considering the issues of importance to Cuban-Americans: the embargo, democracy, “human rights”, travel to and from Cuba, remittances, etc. Currently Florida’s Cuban-Americans hold four seats in the US Congress—one of two Senate seats (50%) and three of twenty-seven House seats (~11%).
And then there is the granddaddy of them all: the Israeli lobby! So powerful is the Israeli lobby that Israel has become the largest recipient of US foreign aid. In 2013, the United States gave Israel more than $3.1 billion, mostly in military aid. Through their political influence in Washington, the Israelis were allowed to develop nuclear weapons, violate countless UN Resolutions with impunity and, as we saw in recent weeks, massacre hundreds of innocent Palestinians with nary a sound from Washington. Therese Belisle Nweke, not so long ago, provided great insights into the power of the Israeli lobby.
Whereas the Cuban and Israeli Diaspora seem more focused on shaping US foreign policy, the Mexicans seem more focused on shaping US domestic policy as it relates to their quality of life in the United States. I encourage the Diaspora to become more like the Cubans and the Israelis: make Guatemala’s unfounded claim a political issue where we have “bulk” in the United States.
All over the world there are Diaspora lobbies driving their interests and those of their homeland. In fact in Belize we have the Taiwanese Diaspora and from mere observation they appear to be better organized than the Belizean Diaspora in the United States. The Taiwanese’s economic prowess and the political influence they have derived from it, have allowed them to influence both Belize’s domestic and foreign policies; much to the chagrin of many.
I wish to say once more that I too would like to see a more organized Diaspora oriented towards Belize. I too believe that the Diaspora can play a constructive role in Belize’s development. I just have a problem with the sense of entitlement that some in the Diaspora seem to have developed. Belize did not give up on them: it was they who left. The good thing is that the Fat Lady has not yet taken the stage, though I suspect the DJ may have already cued her favourite song: “Love don’t live here anymore”.
Major Lloyd Jones (R)