Editorial — 02 June 2018
The sharks of Santander

BELIZE CITY, Mon. May 28, 2018

Santander, the multinational sugar-producing company that began operations in the Cayo District in 2012, may be violating the terms of its EPZ arrangement with Belize by selling its sugar on the local market.

Reports in the local media are highlighting the fact that Santander has apparently begun viewing the local market as just another market where it can garner a quick profit by selling its sugar below the controlled price set by government for local sugar producers.

The move by the giant multinational company, which has its origin in Spain but has large regional investments in Guatemala, has caught local sugar producers by surprise.

– from the headline story by Rowland A. Parks, in the AMANDALA issue of Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Porfirio Diaz served a total of seven terms as President of Mexico, first from 1876 to 1880, and then from 1884 to 1911. His policies, especially from 1884 onwards, would be described, if we were to use modern terminology, as “neoliberal.” In other words, Diaz threw the Mexican economy open to rich foreign investors, most notably in the petroleum sector, where American, British, German, and French companies controlled Mexican oil until Lázaro Cárdenas nationalized said in 1938, near the end of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1940) which Porfirio Diaz’s dictatorial neoliberal policies had provoked.

There is a dilemma which faces the leaders of poor countries where their approach to economic development is concerned. By definition, the populations of poor countries are untrained and unskilled, so how can they be the foundation of a modern, industrialized economy? That is the reasoning offered by leaders who go neoliberal. A few Third World leaders, like Fidel Castro most prominently in our region, but also the late Hugo Chavez and the late Maurice Bishop, in seeking to preserve national sovereignty and protect national dignity, choose the hard road. They insist that development must come from the people. Other leaders, such as Porfirio Diaz and the Congo’s Mobutu Sese Seko, decide that only rich individuals and companies from the developed world can develop their countries and raise the standard of living. Along the way, leaders like Diaz and Sese Seko who choose neoliberalism always end up with bulging personal accounts in the banks of the developed world.

One of the problems with the Diaz and Sese Seko approach is that the people of Africa and Indigenous America, and these include the Mexican and Congolese people, who had been living in relatively splendid isolation from Europe until five-plus centuries ago, experienced various kinds of brutal trauma when the Europeans entered/invaded Africa and America five-plus centuries ago. Europe, which had been poor, became wealthy through a process of conquest and exploitation in Africa and America. Over the last century or so, the Eastern European nation of Russia and the Asian countries  of China and India have become players on the world economic stage, but the nation-states of Western Europe, along with the neo-European nation-states of the United States of America and Canada, have been the international shot callers in our lifetime.

When the Western European and neo-European nation-states involve themselves in the economies of poor countries, through the mechanism of foreign direct investment, it should first be noted, as a matter of fact, that the poor countries are always “of color,” as we would say. In the case of poor countries in Africa and America, their populations historically, over the past five hundred-plus years, experienced unhappiness as a result of their “contacts” with Europeans.

Before Belize achieved political independence in 1981, the Rt. Hon. George Price’s great achievement was probably the Belizeanization and expansion of the sugar industry, basically during the 1960s and 1970s. This was a controlled experiment, if we may describe it as such, and it is clear that the primary thing on Mr. Price’s mind was to protect the small farmers of Belize, to neutralize the invasive power of the European sharks. Mr. Price was somewhat like Benito Juárez, who led Mexico from 1858 to 1872.

When the United Democratic Party (UDP) first came to power in 1984 under Dr. Manuel Esquivel, it became clear after a while that their thinking was more like the thinking of Porfirio Diza than that of Benito Juárez. Esquivel’s UDP opened up the Belizean economy to rich investors in passports, real estate, and tourism. Belize’s economic growth rate shot up to 8 and 9 percent, but the growth was not sustainable growth.

Fast forward three decades to the UDP governments of Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Dean O. Barrow, and the experiences Belize has had with Santander, the Spanish multinational, and we can see why Mr. Price was so cautious when dealing with the European and neo-European giants. Almost from the beginning of their investment in cane farming and sugar production in Cayo, Santander has behaved as if it is writing its own laws in Belize. Mr. Barrow’s UDP has handled Santander with kid gloves, and Santander has reached the point where their executives assume they can break Belize’s laws with impunity.

There is a philosophy in this UDP government which appears to be inherited from their nakedly Anglophile and Eurocentric origins in the 1950s. We have been looking at this philosophy where their total concentration on infrastructural investments since 2015 is concerned. The Belizean people have been asking themselves the question, for whom are all these expensive streets, highways, roundabouts and auditoriums being built? The native population has not benefited from serious concomitant investments in education, health, and people-centered upliftment programs. Yes, Belizeans visiting from abroad are impressed with Belize’s infrastructure strides forward, but home-based Belizeans have been growing skeptical.

Ultimately, the question becomes a political one, of course.  We saw in Belize City in the March municipal elections that the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) won control of the Belize City Council by asking the people of Belize if they could eat streets. The question may be seen as simplistic, but it underlined a reality which Belizeans at the base of the socio-economic pyramid were able to feel and understand. The infrastructure is improving, but the community is collapsing.

In these times of pre-International Court of Justice (ICJ) referendum focus, everything ends up being viewed through the Guatemalan prism. Nowhere is there a better example of super infrastructure on top of an oppressed population than in the republic of Guatemala. When Belizeans rejected the Seventeen Proposals in 1968, because the Webster Proposals sought to make Belize a Guatemalan satellite state, the overriding concern amongst the Belizean masses may have been racial. In 2018, fifty years later, the issue may be more philosophical than racial, it does appear. Under Mr. Barrow’s UDP, the Belizean economy is behaving neoliberally. Ask Santander. When the cane farmers of the North go to the polls from now on, however, in any referendum or election, the chances are they will be thinking of Santander.

Power to the people.

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Deshawn Swasey

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