It must have been around 1971 or so, that I found myself waiting around the Cement Masons Union Hall in Santa Cruz,California, waiting for my number to be called so I could put food on the table. Having recently received a Bachelor’s university degree, and with the voter registration wars in the deep south still fresh memories, I needed to make a living — plain and simple.
Burned-out with academia and tired of sitting behind a desk, I enjoyed the immediate gratification at the end of the work day that comes from doing a measurable task (“product” not “process”) with a handful of other like-minded men, and surveying our accomplishment while having an ice-cold beer. Pouring concrete is hard work, but I always thought of it as “invigorating toil.”
Sitting next to me at the Union Hall on another of the many folding chairs strewn around the place, was a grizzled older black man who, judging from his accent, was from somewhere in the South, Louisiana maybe, or Mississippi. We made small talk, and I happened to be riffing on how Santa Cruz sure was changing with the rapid growth of the university and influx of new people, whereas until quite recently it had been home to many generations of Italian fishermen.
I was bemoaning all the changes when this man kindly pulled me up short and said, “If a town doesn’t grow, it dies.” I’ve never forgotten his words, and it’s easy to imagine his witnessing many a small town in the South collapsing from simple inertia, drying up and blowing away after the young people left and the old people died.
You may be wondering what —if anything at all— this has to do with Belize. Well, I’ll tell you. Like everyone else, I’m alive to the fact that tourism constitutes a large part of the Belizean economy— the number one foreign exchange earner. Important, for sure. Developers like to go on about how they create jobs and are the good guys, even though most employment in the tourist sector is of the low-paying “step ‘n fetchit” variety. It’s unclear to me as to how this kind of “growth” is of any lasting benefit to anyone other than the neocolonial pillagers who populate the government and cut the deals.
While I was living there, a lot of “growth” took place on the Placencia peninsula, but it always began with the cutting down and removal of large swaths of mangroves and other habitats — with bulldozers day and night providing the soundtrack that let you know there was no oversight on these projects at all. What the hell kind of “growth” is this ? Who were the real beneficiaries? Not the people of Belize.
Yes, it’s part of the inherited culture, and tourists fawn over the quaint Creole shibboleths that are brought up to explain most everything, but look around you and you’ll see that a more modern mentality is needed to carry the day, to move forward, to have a future, to stop being ripped off.
There’s an increasing consensus among the people of Belize that only a fool would continue to believe anything said by the morally bankrupt GOB. By now, you would think the government itself — in their private moments — must think, “How stupid can Belizeans be?”
Do you think suffering is a virtue, and that suffering in silence gets you closer to heaven ? Well, think again….