In a matter of less than three decades, Buttonwood Bay (originally Belama) has become an impressive residential community which boasts the Honorable Prime Minister as one of its residents. This was all mangrove swamp before the late 1970s.
A Panamanian named Javier Berbey Garcia came to Belize in the mid/late 1970s, and he is the one who created Bella Vista, the community which is just to the north of Buttonwood Bay. I believe Javier was a member of the ruling family in Panama which featured General Omar Torrijos as the big man. Belize Premier, Hon. George Price, and General Torrijos had become good friends, and out of this friendship Berbey Garcia came to Belize and began real estate and construction business here. Bella Vista was his first creation.
Bella Vista, a seafront community, was the first Belize City real estate project which featured canals cut into the dredging land fill. The canals helped to drain the swampy land, while providing access into their lots for rich residents who owned power boats. All the original landowners who invested in Bella Vista were Belizeans who had money.
The Belama/Buttonwood Bay land fill project came after Bella Vista, and my sense is Mr. Price’s PUP government may have been looking at less affluent homeowners for the original Belama. I can’t swear that Berbey Garcia was actually involved in Belama, if he suggested it, or only served as a consultant for the Ministry of Works. I always assumed he must have been involved, because of the name “Belama,” which is a combination of the beginning of “Belize” and the ending of “Panama.” But Buttonwood Bay does not have any of the canals which were cut in Bella Vista. And, the dredge which filled the mangrove swamp of Buttonwood Bay ended its life right there on the seafront. From my verandah on Seashore Drive, I can still see its rusted remains in the shallow sea water.
Buttonwood Bay was not intended to be as high-end as Bella Vista. That’s just a personal surmise. One of the reasons I say this is because the first house built in Buttonwood Bay belonged to a working man named Moses Thomas, who ended up selling his property some years after. I think his small pink house was already there when Ray Lightburn and I accompanied a public servant from the Lands Ministry to the site in early 1980. Otherwise from Moses Thomas’ home, the site that would become today’s Buttonwood Bay was empty.
The late Chef Ramon had taken me to see Lands Minister Florencio Marin early in 1980. I think Chef was saying that Mr. Price wanted me to get a piece of land because of my contributions to the 1979 general election victory, when most people believed the PUP would have lost. In early 1980 I was still struggling with Amandala. I was paying my bills, but wasn’t making any money to speak of.
Within a week after I got my seafront lease lot, a PUP attorney/crony came to my King’s Park home to buy me out. Listen, I said to him, every man is entitled to a dream. I was not in a position to build, he knew that, but I was “wide awake in a dream.”
By late 1980, the PUP and I had begun to separate, and that separation became aggravated with the March 1981 Heads of Agreement. It was at Buttonwood Bay, incidentally, that the PUP government decided to build the “independence houses” to host foreign guests for the independence celebrations in September of 1981. As the disagreements between me and the PUP intensified in 1982 and 1983, I always feared they would cancel my lease lot. Finally, in mid/late 1984, I made a building start. I couldn’t afford to drive piles, so Rufus X built me what is called a “floating foundation.”
It wasn’t until 1987 that I managed to move into my incomplete home with my wife, our four children, and one of my wife’s nieces. The late Gilly Moss built the room partitions, doors, and kitchen cabinet while we were living in the house. Moss drank heavily on weekends, but he was a really high class cabinet man. Respect.
When the UDP first came to power in December of 1984, they quickly saw the development potential of Buttonwood Bay. That is why most of the Buttonwood Bay land going south from me is owned by UDP people.
This area was part of the Freetown electoral constituency, Mr. Price’s turf, until 1984. In that year, Freetown was divided into two constituencies. Up here at Buttonwood Bay, which was relatively uninhabited, became part of a new Caribbean Shores division, while the old Freetown remained as was. Caribbean Shores was considered a much more favorable area for Mr. Esquivel than the old Freetown had been. So, he chose to run for Caribbean Shores, and the UDP gave the assignment to challenge Mr. Price in the old Freetown to the young Derek Aikman. The rest is history.
By 1990, Buttonwood Bay had a bunch of residents, but there was no recreation for the youth. I decided to hold a Christmas party for the young people in the area, using the new KREM Radio’s sound system, and asking stars like Presi-D and Heavy D to entertain. An Esquivel lady operative in the neighborhood instructed the young people from UDP families to boycott the party, because the Esquivel people figured the KREM Christmas party was a PUP initiative. They judged me wrongly. Then. Such is life.