There was this incredible statement Rt. Hon. George Price made to a foreign journalist way back when. This would have been maybe around 1958 or 1959, when Mr. Price told the journalist that if independence did not work out, he would give the northern half of the country to Mexico and the southern half to Guatemala.
I am sure Mr. Price regretted making this statement. To the best of my knowledge, he had never said anything like it publicly before, and he never said anything like that publicly again. Nevertheless, they say that the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the fact of the matter is that Mr. Price led Belize to independence with all its territory intact. Mr. Price proved his mettle. So, I bring up that controversial statement only to use it as a backdrop for this column’s material.
As I understand it, Guatemala is claiming from the Sibun River south to the Sarstoon, which means it is claiming the Stann Creek and Toledo Districts. These two Districts are normally the most peaceful of places, so it was noteworthy this past week when turmoil began to take place in both of them. In Toledo, the issue involved a foreign oil company (US Capital Energy) trying to beat down the opposition of the indigenous Q’eqchi’ Maya (led by SATIIM, which is the Sarstoon –Temash Institute for Indigenous Management), and in Stann Creek’s Pomona Valley the Citrus Growers Association (CGA) was battling against the foreign-controlled Citrus Products of Belize Limited (CPBL).
The two matters are not directly related, but in both cases we can identify organizations which are largely Belizean, confronting institutions which have more money, more technology, and a foreign power base. (For all intents and purposes, CPBL is being controlled by Banks Holdings of Barbados.)
The confrontations in the Toledo and Stann Creek Districts are the subjects of thorough, factual news stories by Amandala’s exceptional Adele Ramos in our mid-week issue. I had to refer to Adele’s two articles in order to get my facts straight for this column, and I pay her respect.
Mr. Price was very careful with foreign investment in his political prime. He was a man who lived an austere, old-fashioned life, and he was not tempted by money and material things. Yet, more than most of his generation, he had travelled in the big cities of the United States and he had seen the wonders of the world, so to speak. He believed, if we are to judge from his policies and decisions, that big money from outside could have damaging effects on the Belizean people.
It was only natural that Belizean people, especially the younger generations, became impatient with Mr. Price’s approach, and we longed for a change. This change took place in 1984, and the new UDP leaders opened up Belize to foreign money. Today, both the ruling UDP and the Opposition PUP subscribe to the theory that foreign investment is essential for the economic development of Belize.
The thing about foreign investors is that they are looking for a good deal, which is to say, the largest possible returns on their capital input. There is no love or affection involved in this process. Some of these savage capitalists become philanthropists after they have made more money than they or their descendants can possibly spend, but I don’t see any philanthropists among the predators who are investing in Belize. They no Baron Bliss. They are looking for cheap labor, soft or non-existent trade unions, and the fewest possible environmental regulations. What this means, in effect, is that they are looking for political leaders who can be bought.
The lawyer/politicians have a good thing going in Belize, because the “ethics” of their profession allow them to change horses in mid-stream. There are some lawyer/politicians here who have worked for SATIIM but are now supporting US Capital Energy. When the lawyer/politicians are in the political Opposition, they defend all the big-time drug traffickers, but when they are elected to government, they are in charge of the apparatus which is supposed to prosecute the exact same traffickers. Lawyers are allowed to do these types of things.
Niall Gillett is a high-class public relations consultant. Niall felt that he had the right to hire out his services to US Capital Energy on a professional basis. The issues between that oil company and SATIIM, however, had become emotional ones over the years, and what made the situation more tricky for Niall was that he had been linked, at a leadership level, with Oceana, the environmental group which had started out fighting against offshore oil drilling, but which had quickly extended their crusade to opposing oil drilling in national parks and protected areas. I am not sure what was the exact nature of the relationship between Oceana and Mr. Gillett, but for sure he had been a highly visible spokesman for Oceana.
Niall didn’t ask anybody when he decided to enter a business relationship with the oil company. He should have. Only lawyers can get away with that in Belize.
Niall apparently does not believe that his personal beliefs should interfere with his professional duties. Belizeans assumed that he had personal beliefs, convictions in fact, where oil drilling was concerned when he was an Oceana spokesman. They came down hard on him when he became the local voice for US Capital Energy.
To make matters worse, for some months Niall Gillett had been a host on Ya Ya Marin Coleman’s “Sunday Review” radio/television show on KREM. (This is a much bigger show than some people want to acknowledge.) Ya Ya is an extremist. Niall’s had been a voice of reason on the show. Ya Ya has now openly condemned Niall’s US Capital move.
Personally, I am sorry Niall has gotten himself into such a controversy. He is a good guy, and very talented. The lawyers get away with these things all the time, so Niall’s situation is not fair. So what? Oil around Sarstoon/Temash is big business, on the one hand; emotional business, on the other. You get in the middle, you better come hard. It’s rough down there at the Sarstoon-Temash.
Now, it’s getting rough in the Pomona Valley. These things are not PUP and UDP business. These are matters of national economic development, and the philosophy/ideology with which Belizeans will decide to approach these challenges. This is deep water. As Belizeans, we need to be as informed and educated as we can be. After information and education comes empowerment.
Power to the people.