In Belize it is well nigh impossible to criticize prominent people in public office without that criticism being taken personally. That said, let us proceed. Damn the torpedoes. The Rt. Hon. Prime Minister Dean Barrow has tied himself into a bunch of knots over the course of this year, and we want to focus in this editorial on two specific areas – the Placencia Peninsula and the Sarstoon/Temash.
As we look back over Belize’s modern history and consider our four Prime Ministers, we at this newspaper are more interested in their philosophies than in their personalities. As politicians, these four men have probably resorted to pragmatism on many, many occasions, and one cannot properly analyze their administrations from a philosophical standpoint in a brief essay like this one. But, we have to make an attempt of sorts.
Belize’s first Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. George Price, was Prime Minister for seven years – from 1981 to 1984, and then from 1989 to 1993. These were not the important years of his leadership, philosophically speaking. Mr. Price had been First Minister and then Premier from 1961 to 1981, and these are the years when he was most himself, so to speak. Mr. Price understood Belize for what it was – a small country with a small and diverse population. He saw how vulnerable Belizeans were as a people, and he was very protective of Belize. His opponents argued that he did not want to develop Belize, bring it into the region’s modern era, because his first priority was maintaining his hold on the unsophisticated people of Belize. Be that as it may, bottom line was that Mr. Price’s approach to development was careful, cautious, and almost suspicious.
The Rt. Hon. Manuel Esquivel, Belize’s second Prime Minister, was basically a free market capitalist who opened up the country to foreign investment. He was very much pro-Washington. The economy of Belize grew wonderfully in his first term, but the growth was not sustainable: it was based on huge real estate deals which alienated Belizean land, passport sales, rapid tourism expansion, and the like, programs which did not raise the Belizean people to a higher level of training and productivity.
Belize’s third Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Said Musa, who had been a socialist in his early years in public life, went completely neoliberal during his two terms of office, and in so doing took Mr. Esquivel’s free market capitalism to the wide-open levels of free trade, privatization, and globalization. One noticeable aspect of the Musa years was that the gap between Belize’s rich and poor widened perceptibly, even dramatically.
Pardon us if we glance briefly at personality. Mr. Price enjoyed power because he imagined himself a priest in a secular capacity. Mr. Barrow enjoys power as an intellectual exercise, a game of brains, and sometimes as a triumph of vanity. Strangely enough, the Price and Barrow personalities are perhaps more similar to each other than any of the four are to each other. The evidence suggests that Messrs. Price and Barrow are Belize’s two most nationalistic Prime Ministers. This is perhaps not saying all that much, because politicians, as a feature of their profession, sacrifice anything to expediency.
So now, Mr. Barrow has to decide whether he will sacrifice the Placencia Peninsula to Norwegian Cruise Lines and the Sarstoon/Temash to U.S. Capital Energy. The Belizeans of the Placencia Peninsula and the Belizeans of the Sarstoon/Temash are quite different in ethnicity, culture, and perspective. Similarity lies in the fact that they both may be about to be drowned by the tidal waves of “foreign direct investment.” The Placencia Peninsula Belizeans and the Sarstoon/Temash Belizeans are sitting on gold mines which big people crave. The Mr. Price of 1961 to 1981 would have protected Placencia Peninsula and Sarstoon/Temash Belizeans in every way he could.
But, things have changed. Could Mr. Price have been able to do this in 2013? More important, does Mr. Barrow have the philosophy and desire to do so today? In Belize, the Prime Minister has a lot of power. In his glory days, Mr. Price’s power seemed unlimited. If a poll were taken, the chances are most Belizeans believe it is within Mr. Barrow’s power to protect the Belizeans of the Placencia Peninsula and the Sartsoon/Temash. We wish he would.
There are men around Mr. Barrow who are consumed by personal and family greed. In Belize electoral politics is viewed as a fight you engage in so that you can achieve power and enrich yourself and those who are loyal to you. This was not how nationalist politics began here in 1950, but perhaps along the way it became the thinking that: we can’t fatten everybody, might as well fatten ourselves. Today, this is how it is in Belize.
And remember, when the cruise ship company and the oil company enter the picture, they systematically create impressions favorable to themselves. These are experienced predators. They will finance a small group of domestic collaborators to help design their public relations and sell their message. All the Belizeans in the Placencia Peninsula and in the Sarstoon/Temash will not unite against the foreign direct investment. The FDI will even be presented as “popular.”
In order to resist, a small nation would have had to believe in a clear development philosophy, to which the indigenous resistance could have pointed for reference. But in fact, in the case of both the Placencia Peninsula and the Sarstoon/Temash, there are such clear development philosophies already in place. In the Peninsula, it is the pocket cruise tourism model, and in the Sarstoon/Temash it is the national park model. So, it appears to be the case that some powerful Belizeans have chosen to violate the development models. Does that list include the Prime Minister?