Within a matter of six hours on Saturday, November 28, two different sets of incidents occurred which probably exposed Belizeans’ exaggerated weekend nonchalance. In colonial days, government departments worked until 12:30 on Saturday afternoons, but today, Belizeans start shifting into weekend gear from Friday evenings.The tourism industry, which has grown substantially in the last two decades, contributes to the party atmosphere in the nation, because at any given time there are many non-Belizeans in Belize, some permanently and some temporarily, who do not work here, but have come here to retire or to party.
The Government of Belize no doubt took Belizeans’ weekend nonchalance into their deliberate calculus when they organized the visit of Guatemala’s President-elect, Jimmy Morales, to Belize. Morales is controversial in Belize, for more reasons than one. The security of a foreign head of state, especially a controversial one, was obviously a top priority for the recently re-elected Government of Belize.
A front page story in this newspaper last Friday declared that Morales would NOT be visiting Belize on his tour of Central American nations. This was what the Government of Belize wanted the people of Belize to believe. Friday afternoon, within ten hours of this newspaper’s hitting the streets of Belize City on Friday morning, however, news began to circulate that there would indeed be a Morales visit, and it would take place between Friday evening/night and Saturday morning. Belizeans had already gone into their weekend gear. This was how the Government of Belize wanted this tricky visit to be timed. We can see this no other way.
A group of four well-known activists – Patrick Rogers and Wil Maheia, Leader and Deputy Leader, respectively, of the Belize Progressive Party (BPP); Geovanni Brackett, the President of Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA); and Ya Ya Marin-Coleman, the Chairlady of the UBAD Educational Foundation (UEF), put together some demonstration plans early Saturday morning. They would be joined by Rosalie Staines, a local television talk show host.
This was a weak, token showing of Belizean disapproval of the one Morales, but it was better than nothing. The Government panicked and brought out the overly aggressive members of their Gang Suppression Unit (GSU), who were caught on camera needlessly roughing up Marin-Coleman, Brackett and Maheia.
On the street outside of Whitfield Tower on Coney Drive, where the Belize Prime Minister and the Guatemalan President-Elect met, things became haphazard. The demonstration was minuscule, partly because of Belizeans’ weekend mode, and the state response was stupid and extreme, an indirect result of weekend disorganization, we submit.
The tragedy which followed six hours later at the Princess Royal Youth Hostel at Mile 21 on the George Price Highway was the result of Belizean weekend nonchalance and carelessness at its worst. Three female minors, inmates of the Hostel, burned to death when staff were unable to open a padlocked door, which should not have been padlocked in the first place. The nation was horrified.
There are certain careers, you know, where the principals know that, by the very nature of the profession, they are on call twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. These are, most notably, members of the medical profession and members of the clergy. There are other professionals who understand that the nature of their job sometimes demands that they be prepared to work in a focused, serious manner on weekends and holidays. These include soldiers, police officers, security personnel, firemen, and the like. But, apart from these, most employed Belizeans consider it some kind of death sentence for them to be assigned to work on weekends and holidays. Such an assignment means they are missing the party, and this is where Belizean focus is: the focus is on fun.
It’s about time we Belizeans understand that the world does not come to an end on weekends and holidays. Serious things can happen on weekends and holidays which require maximum mobilization in certain areas and disciplines. There are very senior people in Belize who are always flying out of Belize for quality time in “foreign.” Yes, you can run your office adequately from “foreign” with modern telecommunications, but there are such things as emergencies. In emergencies, these very senior people will need to be available as quickly as possible.
Weekend staff at the Princess Royal Youth Hostel messed up big time, tragedy time, on Saturday afternoon. We are willing to bet that there are many other members of government or government-related offices and agencies where bad things could happen, or bad things could become worse, because of weekend nonchalance.
Now let’s return to Saturday morning on Coney Drive. The vast majority of Belizeans ended up in a viewer mode: they watched social media and television video postings on the abuse of patriotic Belizeans by our security forces. The Government of Belize has been trying to convince civilian Belizeans that we don’t have anything to do with the defence and security of our country, and that the Sarstoon and other border matters should be left in the exclusive hands of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of National Security. We disagree, categorically and vehemently.
Guatemala isn’t going away, and the Guatemalan claim to Belize isn’t going away. At some point it is going to take the total mobilization of the Belizean population, at home and abroad, if we are going to save The Jewel for ourselves. “Who fu go, gawn aready. Who fu stay, betta si down steady.” Nationhood is real, and nationhood is deadly business. Ask the Palestinians. Take a look at the human misery of the Syrian refugees, the African refugees. Some of the same very big people who are responsible for Palestine and Syria and Libya, decided that what’s good for the region is for Belize to become a part of Guatemala. This is in real time.
Power to the people. Remember Danny Conorquie. Fight for Belize.