I read with growing incredulity and sadness the complaint by two expatriates – Gary and Betty – that the Belizean Customs and Immigration Department “leaned on them” wrongfully when they arrived in Consejo from a Chetumal trip, during which they had shopped and purchased some Mexican goods. (See “Expats Gary and Betty say Consejo Customs ‘leaning on them’ wrongfully” – AMANDALA 25th February, 2017).
This letter was a mixture of incredible arrogance, condescension and contradictions beneath its sugar-coated intro. In one breath, we are told that this couple are retiree expats existing on “meagre retirement funds” who are now living in “paradise” Belize. In the next, we are patronisingly informed that it is their expats MILLIONS that are helping to keep Belize afloat. “They”, they affirm, are “a major part of the financial solution to Belize’s economic problems” and, if Belize’s Customs and Immigration Department continues with its “negative and aggressive attitude YOUR (that is, Belize’s) economic miseries will just get worse”.
In other words, characters like Gary and Betty are exceptional persons enriching the coffers of poverty- stricken Belize, and must be regarded and treated as such.
Now, what did the Customs and Immigration officials do to these people that was wrong or ill advised? Search their luggages and apportion duty on what was dutiable? But this is acceptable international practice. In fact, they also need to be extremely stringent with the Arab, Chinese and Indian traders, petty shopkeepers and fast food sellers when their goods arrive at our ports.
Or, was it the discomfort, or indignity, that the expats were exposed to for a couple of hours in the sun? At least they would not end up looking like Mr. T – The Orange Man – as their tan would be real and very comprehensive, even to under their eyelids, unlike his.
The only sector that is making any money in Belize today is tourism. All the others are on their knees and, in fact, almost comatose. However, tourism is owned and controlled by Americans and Europeans, with Belizeans picking the tiniest of crumbs and the bulk of the earnings flowing out of Belize. (For a more detailed exposition on this, see my article: “Neither oil nor water” in AMANDALA, June 22, 2015).
The cruise ships are packaged holidays with everything paid for upfront in America, or wherever, with the Government of Belize picking up miserable scraps of money in taxes and thinking they have hit gold. It is a given that national wealth is best achieved through economic complexity, and certainly not in concentrating on areas without much prospect for future, tangible development.
It is also an economic reality that the hordes of expats, who because of the pro-American and “pro-foreign anybody” policy of the UDP government have now descended on “paradise”, are not contributing much to the Belizean economy either in direct investment or achieving meaningful financial impact on the nation’s local communities.
What is, however, obvious to the eye is that they practically own most of the best Belizean locations, such as San Pedro Ambergris Caye, Placencia, Hopkins, Mountain Pine Ridge, seafront properties in Corozal, and private cayes, and now have discovered Punta Gorda, and are making inroads there.
Nuri Akbar, in his seminal analysis: “Race, Immigration and Belize’s Black Population” in AMANDALA of February 11, 2017 describes a dangerous situation where some cayes or islands are now “exclusive miniature city-states” with Belizeans “unaware of how many of these cayes have been sold off to Europeans and Americans” by the nation’s duplicitous and extraordinarily naive politicians.
On another note . . . I have witnessed at the tiny, Philip Goldson International Airport in Belize City the long arrival queue for “Belizean Only” citizens, or locals, with ONE immigration officer to attend them, and later their suitcases thoroughly ransacked and searched before they were allowed to go home.
On the other hand, the queue for foreigners, or expats, was relatively short, and there were THREE immigration officers and desks at their service. I stared in consternation when no one asked them to open their suitcases and they were quickly dispensed with and on their way.
Arriving from “in yu face” and “sharp-sharp, no nonsense” Nigeria and taking in the scene, I swiftly abandoned the queue meant for locals and joined that of the expats. On getting to the immigration desk and showing just my humble Belizean passport, the immigration official elicited surprise and asked for my foreign passport – to which I firmly replied: “This one ONLY”, and unsmilingly stared him “hard” in the face.
He sighed, hurriedly stamped my passport, and I left. Almost casually, I joined the group of white expats whose luggages were inviolate, unlike the locals, and like them I was swiftly waved away.
In Nigeria, we learn to survive in the smallest of ways. We also refuse to understand the meaning of “entitlement”.