Features — 18 April 2018
Tax them

It is too much for one week. Earlier in the week, a brilliant, wonderful Belizean had some bad things to say about cigarettes on his Facebook page. I am not one hundred percent with the anti-smoking lobby so I threw a little jab. I got chided by the author of the page, and one of his fb friends. I apologized.

I would have left that at that if another brilliant, wonderful brother hadn’t said some pretty tough things this week about alcohol in his column, “All About the People,” in The Reporter.

I played at “prohibitionist” once. In one of my regrettable moments (I have no shortage of those), I took a cigarette from the mouth of one of my close friends and squashed it under my heel. I am overcome with remorse every time I think about that folly in my youth. What faysinis of me!

Of course these gentlemen are right when they write about the cost of smoking and drinking to the individual, and the cost to the nation too. But we cannot downplay the benefits associated with smoking, smoke, and drinking. It is not just the joy some of us get when we smoke or drink. Not all of us in this world are perfectly round pegs. Some of us need a little something for our tranquilo.

The smell of kerosene burning in a stove or lamp, or a buttonwood fire, takes me to places divine. My fondest memories of one of my uncles, is sitting downwind of him on fishing trips and sucking in the smell of his cigarettes. This uncle is the only adult male in my family who I would say might have been called a chain smoker.

Some family members, I know who they are, will say, yes, but he ended up on an oxygen tank. Well, my uncle didn’t smoke cigarettes so I could suck in his second smoke. He smoked cigarettes because cigarettes did something for him. And he was past four score when he died.

Clearly, the cigarette companies were dishonest with their promotions, before science won out and forced governments to insist that cigarette manufacturers and sellers inform people about the dangers associated with smoking. But science is guilty of an equal crime when it starts listing the number of deaths cigarettes cause each year.

There are a few people who are blessed to live well past the allotted three score and ten. Some are doubly blessed: they spend their old age in relatively good health. For a large part, these are the ones who have invested a lot in healthy living.

If you look at males who enjoy a “successful” old age, almost all of them know where their next meal is coming from. If you check the histories of these “successful” old males, you will find that the vast majority of them never did RISKY jobs. I don’t think there is one person on this planet who worked in a mine, who wouldn’t have preferred a job which allowed them to suck in fresh air all day. A lot of us do things for a living that really are tough. But people have to take care of their families.

If science was honest it would consider only persons under three score and ten when it tabulates statistics on deaths caused by cancer. Science would also consider ALL the other factors in modern living that cause cancer.

Maybe the smell of a lighted kerosene stove, burning buttonwood, and yes, someone puffing a cigarette, doesn’t do good things for you, but these things take some of us to a higher place. For some people, SMOKE is divine.

Maybe a drink with your friends is just to keep something in your hands. Some of us can’t think of a good time without a bottle of something to sip. Maybe you are the type who can go to the Agric and Trade Show and feel right at home. But there are some of us who would feel absolutely lost, alone, in that crowd.

I will discourage smoking every day, and if you drink fighting rum, or absolutely don’t know when to quit drinkng, I will advise you to get another vice. The arguments the brothers made have merit, but I think they may not appreciate what these vices do for some people.

Vice has its costs. Healthy living is an admirable goal. Adults who encourage children to drink and smoke should be dealt with. The government must use every means to educate citizens about the full cost of smoking and drinking. And then continue doing what it is doing now: tax them.

No Brexit

Sunday, April 15. I was surprised to hear Ambassador Alexis Rosado say in an interview that he expected around 20% of Guatemalan voters, maybe a little more, to cast their ballots in the referendum in their country today. Ambassador Rosado cited two previous referendums in Guatemala that didn’t elicit a large turnout. I expect he also had information on the ground in Guatemala to back up his projection.

 I thought Ambassador Rosado shouldn’t have commented before the fact. If he is correct, it proves that he knows his job, at least that aspect of it. Bully for him, and Sedi. If he is wrong, way wrong, it’s a negative for Belize. It will be a negative for Belize because it will make us look like we don’t have a good grasp of how our neighbors feel about Belize. If we choose we can forgive the ambassador, because of the company he keeps. Sedi Elrington is a corrupting influence.

More than 72% of the people in the United Kingdom turned out to vote when that kingdom decided,  51.9% to 48.1%, to exit the European Union in 2016. This was a very consequential vote because it affected almost all the people over there. They had to decide if they believed the UK was better off economically with the Euro, or with the Pound.

Guatemala has enshrined in its Constitution, since 1945, that about half of Belize belongs to them. They make it their business to teach their children in school that this is so. One should expect that a referendum over there on this matter would have Brexit proportions.

If less than 50% of Guatemalans turn out to vote it will mean that despite all their mis-education, this claim is purely a government thing, pure oligarchy business. Past referendums should be no indicator.

The Wikipedia says that two past referendums in Guatemala were about their system of governance. In 1994, after President Serrano “attempted (a) self-coup on 25 May 1993,” there was a constitutional crisis and one of the reforms proposed was to “reduce the parliamentary term of the current government.” 15.9% of Guatemalans who were registered to vote participated in the process.

In 1999, Guatemala had another referendum, this one having to do with social rights, the role of the military, reforming the judiciary, and such matters. The turnout was 18.6%.

It must not be lost that these referendums were held more than twenty years ago. Twenty years ago Guatemala was still sending out its army to murder its citizens. The genocide, which saw 200,000 people of the poorer classes murdered, and unbelievable other atrocities, officially ended in 1996.

That country is not the monster it once was. We are happy that Guatemala is working hard to become a better country.

It is hard to believe that Guatemalans who believe that half of Belize is theirs, could think there is a better way to resolve the matter than going to court. The fact is that they base their claim on their belief that the law is on their side. At the ICJ, if we go there, it should matter that Guatemala had a dubious claim before 1859. And then, of course, there is the 1859 Treaty and so many other developments that re-enforce Belize’s rights from the Hondo to the Sarstoon.

When Belize holds its referendum the people will have a real decision. Many voters will enter the polling station NOT KNOWING which way they’re going to vote. This referendum is a no-brainer for Guatemalans. Most voters today will vote “yes.” That is not important. What is important is the turnout. A less than 50% turn out of the registered voters in that country will say that their people don’t agree with their government’s claims that they were done wrong by the British.

Monday, April 16. The complete results of the referendum in Guatemala are in and all’s well that ends well. If the Guatemalan people supported the ambition of the Guatemalan government, there would easily have been a 50% turn out. If I heard correctly, Guatemala mobilized 150,000 people to get that 25 or so percent vote. That means their agents barely brought in 10 people each. (We’ll have to wait for the complete results to get that tally.)

In the end, Guatemala did not get that assistance for the road because they were busy doing what they were doing for far too long, which was, being aggressive towards their neighours and their Indigenous peoples. The fact is that the British were interested in that road too. But Guatemala was too much into being quarrelsome.

P.S. Belize must be congratulated for not interfering in Guatemala’s process. In no way did we try to influence how they voted, and voter turnout. They failed on their own.

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Deshawn Swasey

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