Editorial — 29 October 2016
Message to Minister Manuel

“The simple truth is that oil is a finite resource. It is stored solar energy from the distant past – a one-time inheritance that we’ve been foolishly squandering, consuming it recklessly for the past hundred years. At this point, there is not enough oil left in the earth’s crust for us to go on living as we have for much longer.”

“And none of this even touches on the most devastating of all problems related to our oil addiction: global warming. So we’re left in a strangely paradoxical situation: there’s not enough oil to meet the world’s growing consumption, but that growing consumption is itself threatening to imperil the world.”

– pgs. 3, 4, BIG OIL, AND THE FIGHT FOR THE PLANET, by Linda McQuaig, Anchor Canada, 2004

Hon. Tourism Minister, Manuel Heredia, United Democratic Party (UDP) area representative for San Pedro Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, last week, under pressure from your substantive constituents, you said that you had dived the Barrier Reef for thirty years in making a living as a fisherman, and that you loved the reef more than you loved your Ministry. We believe you, Minister Manuel. To know the reef, is to love the reef.

Ninety years ago, an invalid British peer by the name of Baron Bliss came to Belize (then British Honduras) in his yacht, the Sea King. He spent only a couple months here before he died. He never set foot on the mainland of The Jewel. Baron Bliss fished the Barrier Reef, and he fell in love with the Barrier Reef, so much so that, as he was dying, he sent for the British Governor, Sir John Burdon, and prepared a will which left all his estate for the colony and its people.

Baron Bliss was Belize’s greatest benefactor. Ungrateful, or confused, UDP politicians a few years ago changed the March 9 holiday named after Baron Bliss from specifically honoring the Baron to a generic title – “Heroes and Benefactors’ Day.” One supposes those confused politicians felt that the Baron’s legacy reminded too much of the colonial days, and they wished to emphasize the anti-colonial struggle. Fair enough, but you don’t bite the hand that fed you, and, more relevant today, the UDP politicians apparently didn’t properly appreciate why it was that the Baron did what he did. It was the reef, baby; it was always the reef.

Again, perhaps the UDP politicians, the “drill, we will” Gucci/Armani set, were not confused; perhaps they knew exactly what they were doing. Perhaps this was how, and when, obscuring the Baron’s legacy, that they were embarking on their personally profitable journey to the world of petroleum futures.

The family that owns this newspaper may be considered committed environmentalists: we come from a sea and fishing background, just like Minister Manuel. To be truthful, we thought we were living in a private Camelot five, six decades ago in the area the cartographers used to call “The Triangles,” the area where Water Caye, Goff’s Caye, English Caye, Rendezvous Caye, Spanish Caye, and Robinson’s Point circle each other, and where the most important break (quebrado in Spanish) in the Barrier Reef, between Goff’s and English Cayes, first allowed ships, three and a half centuries ago, to enter the waters which led to the delta of the Haulover Creek, tributary of the Belize Old River, also known as the Mopan/Macal. There is much maritime history in this settlement of Belize, beloved.

As a family, Minister Manuel, we felt ourselves so privileged and private in our humble world of hurricane lanterns, fire hearths and “mangro’ wood”, sea breeze, the salts, sailing boats, and bountiful, fresh fish that we were resentful when the first evidence of tourism in Belize became visible after Hurricane Hattie.

Back then, Belize’s first Premier and later Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. George Price, was not a Gucci/Armani man: he had no problem with beans and tortillas and fish, and so he was careful to control tourism. Mr. Price was far more interested in Belizean fishing cooperatives than he was in encouraging foreign tourists to visit Belize. Mr. Price believed in hard work, not easy money. Mr. Price believed in national dignity, not Belizean subordination.

In retrospect, Belize and the Barrier Reef were so beautiful that there was no stopping tourism, we suppose, and so when your political party, Minister Manuel, first came to power in 1984, you opened the gates wide for foreign visitors and investors. When the PUP returned to power in 1989, Mr. Price remained Leader, but there were young Cabinet Ministers around him, most notably Glenn Godfrey, who were very excited about tourism and the real estate potential of La Isla Bonita. The gates the UDP first flung open, remained wide open under all subsequent PUDP administrations. Tourism, Minister Manuel, became king in our lifetime. There was no such animal in Belize when we were children.

There is a great irony here today, Minister Manuel. The irony is that it is now only tourism which can save us from the petroleum futures, which would be a far worse fate for us pure environmentalists than foreign tourism.

There is a specific point we wish to make to you today, Minister Manuel. When the Prime Minister sent the landlubber Senator Godwin Hulse to the media this week to attack us lovers of the reef, there was a very serious message there for you, Minister. Your UDP government is not with you, Minister. You now have to decide what you are going to do.

NOTE: In this cynical place which Belize has become, we must allow for the possibility that Minister Manuel is no longer who he says he is. If this is so, if the Minister has changed, we would be disappointed, but we would not attack him. Over these decades at this newspaper, we have seen so many people change, we have seen so many people gain the world and lose their soul. Such is life.

San Pedro Ambergris Caye is not a place with which we are much acquainted. The established population there first began to consider themselves separate from the rest of Belize in the 1970s when tourism-related prosperity began to raise La Isla Bonita’s standard of living above that of the rest of Belize. In 2016, Ambergris Caye is awesomely wealthy, but last week the people of La Isla Bonita had to use people power to fight against forces which are immeasurably more wealthy and more powerful than they – the forces of Big Oil.

San Pedranos realized last week that they had to fight for their way of life, and they fought. Big Oil will be back. San Pedro won a battle, but the war has really only just begun. In Belize, we have a way of life here which Mr. Price and Mr. Goldson spent their entire lives trying to protect and promote. Big Oil and our Belizean way of life cannot co-exist. That is the firm belief of this newspaper.

It is a long shot to defeat Big Oil, but if Belize is to have any hope at all of doing so, then Belizeans from the Hondo to the Sarstoon and from Benque Viejo to Half Moon, must begin to unite. We support the people of San Pedro Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker. There will be battles in other parts of the country where we will now expect San Pedro Ambergris to show solidarity. One nation, one people, one destiny.

Power to the people.

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