This Saturday we mark the 32nd anniversary of our political independence. Belize has changed a lot since independence in 1981, and there are some Belizeans who believe our country has changed for the worse. There seems to be a lot more wealth in Belize than 32 years ago, when you look at the fancy homes and huge office buildings, the late model SUVs and expensive powerboats, and so on and so forth. But, Belizean society has deteriorated before our very eyes. Today we have to watch far too many of our people strung out on drugs, afflicted by HIV/AIDS, suffering with mental illnesses, literally starving, and caged in the Kolbe prison at Hattieville. Where material things are concerned, we appear better off in Belize, but where our roots human resources are concerned, we Belizeans are in bad shape.
Personally, I welcomed the coming of television in 1982. I had watched television in America between 1965 and 1968, and in late 1970 Galento X Neal and I had watched Muhammad Ali fight Oscar Bonavena on a television set in a sidewalk café in Chetumal. In Belize City, we were hearing that Belizeans in the Corozal District were able to watch Mexican television, and in Belize City we were jealous. You have to remember that the 1968 Summer Olympics were held in Mexico City, as was the 1970 World Cup. The 1970 Copa was Pele’s third and final World Cup victory, and all football fanatics in Belize City engaged in passionate conversations about Tostao and Rivelino and Jairzinho and Carlos Alberto, but it was all hearsay in the city. Corozaleños were actually seeing these Brazilian idols. So, then, it was because of sports that I welcomed the coming of television to Belize.
The Hon. Said Musa, then Minister of Education, warned about the danger of television, but I was a sports fanatic. I paid no attention. What American cable television proceeded to do over the next three decades was take over the conditioning of our children’s minds. I wouldn’t have known that there would be hundreds of free channels made available in Belize, that these channels would be completely uncensored, and that in Belize we would be given the privilege of watching for free special events and channels that American citizens have to pay cash money to see. Why were we Belizeans to become so “blessed” in this special regard when we were practically cursed in several others?
While American television may have been the most dangerous thing to happen to Belize since independence, crack cocaine was probably the most traumatic. A few months after he became Belize’s first UDP Prime Minister in December of 1984, Rt. Hon. Manuel Esquivel gave the Americans permission to spray Belize’s marijuana fields with paraquat. I wonder, in the first instance, if he really knew what he was doing, and, in the second instance, if his thinking has changed in any material way since then.
Paraquat is a dangerous chemical which remains in the soil of our country. It should never have been used here in pristine Belize. Whatever marijuana production the Americans have destroyed in this region, has been replaced by domestic marijuana fields in the United States itself. All the American government was doing was keeping American dollars at home. Americans have continued to smoke weed; only now most of it is American grown. On this side, who can quantify the damage that has been done to our Belizean land, creeks and rivers by American paraquat?
As if on cue following the paraquat spraying, crack cocaine took the stage in Belize. The UDP Cabinet would not have known what would follow paraquat, and they could not have foreseen the gang violence devastation which crack would inflict on urban Belize. You have to be careful when you are dealing with the Americans: they don’t care what happens to Belize and Belizeans. They see us as insignificant. This is real.
So now, the question arises, what is the 2013 thinking of all those Belizeans who have migrated to the United States? Diaspora Belizeans potentially represent a massive resource base for Belize, but there is the question of how Americanized they have become. There is also the question of how PUDP-ized the Belize diaspora leaders have become.
There is very little serious discourse between Jewel Belizeans and diaspora Belizeans, even though modern telecommunications make this possible in sophisticated formats, such as teleconferencing. Diaspora Belizean leadership is monopolized by the ruling UDP and Opposition PUP organizations. In The Jewel, the situation is different. We “homies” look at the PUDP politicians with great skepticism, and sometimes with outright suspicion. After 44 years, we know their business.
I love my country. It’s the only one I have. We have seen that the basic agenda of our 1969 organization has been accepted by the masses of the Belizean people. What is important today is that our younger generations should be involved and empowered. We seek to do this at Kremandala. This is our contribution to independent Belize, that our people should be informed, educated and entertained outside of party politics and denominational religion. In return for our contribution, Jewel Belizeans have enabled us to make a living. We feel the love.
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.