Features — 15 July 2017 — by Neri O. Briceño
San Pedro Ambergris Caye: two distinct, different communities!

Over the years power on the island of San Pedro Ambergris Caye has slowly been transferred from the local San Pedranos to the foreign white-dominated expatriate elite. They have become to the island, what the British colonial government was to the then, colony of Belize. Through the control of the lucrative tourism industry, they have managed to garnish the most prized real estate and virtually dominate the financial atmosphere of the island. In so doing, as money has done in every other economy, they have wrestled away power from the locals.

The foreign elite in San Pedro over the years have become more and more untouchable, for the simple fact that they control the economy. They have managed to divide the island into two distinct different communities. One, the playground for the rich tourists and well-to-do Belizeans, and the other part for the dirt poor residents who cater to their needs.

The structure is such that it is almost impossible for those at the poorest levels of the economic totem pole to work themselves out of poverty because the cost of living is so high. This is because even though San Pedro remains a huge tax base for the nation because of the huge influx of much needed foreign currency, it is offered little or no relief to alleviate the tax burden on the ordinary citizen. It is incomprehensible that a community that gives so much to the nation, is offered so little in return to improve their standard of living.

For the most part, the island has become a state within a state and the government I must say, and some of the citizens, but not all, have turned a blind eye to a myriad of social, economic, moral and public issues that lie at the underbelly of the community, in an effort to do one thing only, keep the tourist dollars flowing.

The tragic case of Fay Lin Cannon is an end result of this. There is no excuse why the Department of Human Services failed to grasp the magnitude of the abuse that was inflicted on this child. It was common knowledge on the island that the children under the care of these two individuals, since I refuse to call them parents, were being abused. I have seen the Department removed kids from guardians for far less. It is painfully obvious that these individuals were treated with satin gloves because they were white and fell into that protected category in the island – the foreign investor who keeps the tourist dollars flowing. Had they been from the other side of town, the swamp-infested, low-lying, poverty stricken areas of the community, the authorities would have been on them, like sand-flies on fresh skin.

The death of this child who will never get to see another birthday, graduate, get married or have children of her own, is a direct result of the inequality that has separated this island. It has now come full course and bitten us in the rear. We must commend the people of that community who were willing to stand up to abuse and were brave enough to report this matter when they suspected it. The blood of this beautiful teenager rests on those who will compromise anything for money. The case of Fay Lin is one that had played out through the length and breadth of this nation and is just now being addressed.

I grew up in PG in the 1970’s and for those of us from the Massi Rock Front Street area, we can relate. Sometimes in the mid-1970’s, an expatriate Whiteman moved into one of the beachside houses on Front Street. Up to this day I have no idea where he was from and I believe most residents did not know either. He never worked so it was even more difficult for us to ascertain how he earned a living. We all knew he was probably American because of his accent, but we knew nothing more. This man was probably one of the most prolific pedophiles in PG history and his choice was irrespective of gender. It was an open secret what he was doing and I am sure every adult in the southern part of the community knew what he was up to. As kids all we did was to avoid his house and never took anything from him, which was pretty much his lure. However, he preyed on those poor struggling families and kids who went to his house selling bread, pastries or other small trinkets. Eventually he left PG and I believe he moved to Guatemala. He would probably be dead by now unless he is like a 120 years old. Nothing was ever done to this man and I would say that the number of sexually abused kids that he left behind would be well over 50.

While I will admit that times were different back then and the cases are not totally similar, two things are common then and now, that protected these individuals – the colour of their skin and the influence of money. It cannot be that in 2017, as Belizeans we are still allowing these two things to protect anyone. San Pedro, like PG, suffered a great loss of innocence because of these two critical factors.

No stone must be left unturned in the investigation of this child’s death. I challenge the authorities to bring the full force of the state to bear on these two individuals. If this heartless behavior is what they exhibit against a child, then they must have the stomach to do other illegal things. Check their immigration status. Are they in Belize legally? If they have residency, then check how they got it. Check if they are paying their taxes, if they are paying GST on their store, if they are hiring anyone to work illegally for them, if they have parking tickets? Check EVERYTHING! My big question has always been, how are we allowing these types of people to enter and live in the country? Is there any background check done on anyone? Or is it automatic that if you are Caucasian and have money, you get a pass?

The balance of power in San Pedro must be restored if the ordinary man is to regain his place in the community. The power on the island can only be gotten when the industry is controlled by real Belizeans. Incentives should be offered to every local or Belizean living on the island that opens a business and there has to be some type of tax break offered to locals, be that on fuel, butane, GST, Income Tax, Property Tax, or taxes on essential food items since most of the food are imported.

In the narrow-mindedness of the tourism industry, we have imported the same tourist philosophy that prevails on all the islands of the Caribbean. What the industry has failed and blatantly refused to realize is that most overnight tourists, which is what San Pedro has, want to enjoy the ambience, culture and local cuisine of the community. In other words, the rich, large and powerful resorts cannot work in isolation and therefore they cannot get the lion share of the returns.

The expatriates control everything; they syphon all the foreign currency into international banks and work the locals to maintain the status quo. This is justified by claiming foreign investment and jobs for the community. Explain to me if this is anything different from the exploitation of raw material by our colonial masters that this nation experienced during the first part of its existence.

Last week I wrote the Taiwanese Ambassador about the Asian situation. Now the influence of the “White Hand” is showing its ugly face. When will real Belizean interest come first? When will the ordinary man start to prosper?

It’s all about the people!!!!

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Eden Cruz

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