Features — 19 May 2018
I’m with Ms. Guadalupe

I think that to be with Ms. Guadalupe Lampela, the star of what must be the hottest infomerical on Belize television, means that you are NOT with the Fisheries Department. (Please, I am not about making trouble for Ms. Guadalupe with the big people at Fisheries, because she is very active in the industry.) Ms. Guadalupe is telling the nation that the fish stock in our country is dwindling, and we need to do something about it. The establishment refuses to get real.

If the boss at the Fisheries Department was Mr. Wade, and not Ms. Wade, there’d be a hail of arrows going that way for the absolute refusal to do what Ms. Guadalupe says must be done: BAN GILL NETS! It is so that females in big positions don’t get the flak that males in big positions get when people believe they aren’t delivering the goods.

Some people will argue that females are many times passed over for jobs they deserve, and females are paid less than males for equal work. On the political scene the argument is that females are boxed out of opportunities. Those are “other” discussions.

Typically, if a woman stands on your toes, you say, Excuse mi, you’re on my feet. And if a man stands on your toes you holler, Get aaf a mi blinkin foot! That’s what I’m talking about.

I don’t know of any Minister of Agriculture (and Fisheries) in this country who lived fishing. There have been ministers of Agriculture (and Fisheries) who lived farming. But I don’t know of any who lived fishing. If there were, gill nets would have gone from our waters a long, long time ago.

When I was a young man, fresh out of the Belize School of Agriculture, the field captains at the farm where I was employed had a title for me and my colegas: they called us “paper tiger.” They meant that we had book laaning but little experience. It is my belief that there’s just not enough experience, real on the ground “live it” experience, at the “decision making” table in Fisheries.

If you had lived it, seen it happen before you, the near absolute wipe-out of a species of fish, it would be very easy to get the sense. Ms. Guadalupe lives it. She knows what she is talking about. Our fish stock is not what it was ten, twenty, thirty years ago.

A senior at the Port Authority told me that within Belize’s inner reef there is still a lot of fish stock. The elder told me that they have equipment on their boats, and when they have spare time they know where to go and fish. And they make a good catch.

There are a few superior fishermen about. The Guardian editor ran a nice story recently about a fishing trip he and some friends made with a top fisherman. Their catch was enviable. Their catch says that fish are plentiful, and they measure up favorably in size with years past.

The stalls at the market tell a far different story. The fact is that the fish are not as big as they used to be.

When I was a child, my brothers caught a nurse shark, at least seven feet long, and they cut off the fins and sold them in Belize City for a nice little chum. Sharks are among the easiest fish to catch because they are voracious. My brothers had set their line for other prey, and the nurse shark came by and took it.

The elders advised them to not take nurse sharks because it was criminal waste. In those days only the fins were wanted in the market. Today, nurse sharks are prized as a tourist attraction. They are an amiable fish so you can swim around them with little fear of being attacked.

Here’s something interesting. Out in the countryside, we know that when certain snakes – the blacktail, the wowla, and the bocotora-clapahnsaaya – are around, there is less trouble with poisonous snakes. There’s just so much food in an area, so the “other” snakes have to go elsewhere. It might be that when nurse sharks occupy a “habitat”, other sharks have to go elsewhere. We seldom hear of shark attacks in Belize and maybe the thanks go to a healthy nurse shark population.

There is no doubt that a lot of knowledge resides at the Fisheries Department at the Barracks. But that knowledge is not seeing what we “common” fisherfolk are seeing out there.

Sometime ago I wrote about the devastation caused by fish traps. Sometimes I have nightmares over the havoc caused by lost traps, or traps hidden by muddy waters. I think only retired fish trappers would tell you the truth about that tool.

It may be that fish traps are as bad as gill nets. I’ve seen bone fish and mackerel and permit get hammered so badly by gill nets, you don’t see them in numbers for years.

I hope Ms. Wade and company at the Fisheries Department understand that there is a lot of unhappiness out here over this intransigence re gill nets. It is really difficult to understand. Maybe it is that they are getting their counsel from lobster fishermen. They, lobster fishermen, have more money than scale fish fishermen, so it would be natural for them to have a bigger voice.

We want a Fisheries Department that fights for hand line fishing, especially inside the reef. We want a Fisheries Department that makes sure these cruise ships and merchant ships don’t dump their bilge and stuff anywhere near our waters. We want a Fisheries Department that monitors agriculture so that silt and fertilizers and pesticides don’t gum up our reefs and waters.

We want a Fisheries Department that carries out studies in the deeper waters, and thus help chart the way for fisherfolk out there. Buy some good rods and other heavy gear and lead our gill net fisherfolk out to deeper waters. Take some of the PetroCaribe money and buy the gill nets. Turn them into volleyball nets, and football nets. And see our disappointment turn to praises.

We want a Fisheries Department that explains to tourists why sometimes they have to eat smaller fish. It is a fact that fish traps and gill nets take bigger catch than hand lines. And this is great for tourists, who only want the best. It is for sure they want fat fish to eat when they come here. The fact is that the tools used to catch the bigger fishes, they are unsustainable. As Ms. Guadalupe and friends pointed out, our children and grandchildren are the great losers here.

This stand for gill nets, the second great scourge of the sea (behind shrimp nets), it’s a crime.

A little filibusters

The Spanish, who came first, had their conquistadores. The British (Dutch and French) had their buccaneers and pirates. The Americans (European stock), who came last, had the filibusters. I started condensing the piece below, but I quit because I was ruining the fun. (This bit taken from the US Department of State Archive)

Territorial Expansion, Filibustering, and U.S. Involvement in Central America and Cuba, 1849-1861

During the years between the Mexican War and the Civil War, the United States became increasingly involved in Central America and the Caribbean. While U.S. Government officials attempted to acquire territorial possessions in that region, private citizens (known as “filibusterers”) also organized armed expeditions to various places in Mexico, Central America, and Cuba…Many pro-slavery Southerners sought to expand southwards, allowing for more territory where slavery could continue to grow and expand. Some even imagined the United States as a great slave-owning republic that would stretch across the Caribbean to Brazil.

…These expansionist dreams were aided at first by a Venezuelan-born resident of Cuba, Narciso Lopez, who, like some wealthy Cuban slave-owners, was wary of shaky Spanish rule over the island, and thus sought to have it annexed by the United States in order to ensure slavery’s preservation in Cuba. Cuban property owners were concerned that Spain would give in to British pressure to abolish slavery in Cuba…

…In an attempt to mollify the Democratic Party’s staunch proslavery wing, the new President, Franklin Pierce, appointed the proslavery politician Pierre Soul as Minister to Spain in 1853…Soul disregarded his instructions to preserve Spanish sovereignty … In 1854, Soul met with other U.S. Ministers to draft a document known as the Ostend Manifesto, which outlined U.S. reasons for attempting to purchase Cuba from Spain…the Spanish Government began to take countermeasures against U.S. interests in Cuba.

…American William Walker, who had led a failed filibustering expedition to Baja California in 1853, launched an expedition to Nicaragua in 1855. Allying himself at first with the Liberal faction in Nicaraguan politics, he eliminated his local rivals and became president in 1856. However, Walker’s policies hurt British business interests, as well as those of American tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt.

…Overall, official U.S. policy toward filibusterers was one of initial lenience driven by popular support. However, U.S. officials ultimately did take steps to curb filibusterers’ actions once they proved embarrassing to U.S. diplomatic relations. Despite this official ambivalence toward these filibusterers, U.S. leaders often protested the lack of due process by which foreign governments imprisoned and executed U.S. citizens involved in filibustering.

So, what we have here in this part of the world, in the 1800s, is that Spain has abandoned and there is a new conquistador on the block. It isn’t the British. The new conquistador is American. The Americans, aided by the French, won their independence from the British in 1776.

The new American power is “flexing” in the 1800s, expanding her wings. She will seize vast territories from her neighbor directly to the south, Mexico. We see in that bit of declassified information from their archives that they were sweating after Cuba.

And what of the countries south of Mexico? America sends out the filibusters. It is important to note that their most famous filibuster, William Walker, is captured by the British and handed over to the government in Honduras, who executed him.

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Deshawn Swasey

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