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Thursday, December 12, 2019
Home Editorial 38 years after independence, our democracy in peril

38 years after independence, our democracy in peril

By early 1981, Belizeans across the length and breadth of the country knew that momentum was building toward Premier Price’s dream of leading Belize to independence. Most of the clutter in the path to independence had been cleared away when the United Nations voted overwhelmingly for us to attain a seat at the table of that august body by the end of 1980, but the perennial stumbling block, the stubborn Guatemalan government, insisted on standing in our way.

Former Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Said Musa, wrote, in his book: With Malice toward None, “The months leading up to independence were tumultuous. In an ‘eleventh hour’ attempt to get the Guatemalan government to accept the inevitable … an agreement was signed between Britain, Guatemala and Belize called the ‘Heads of Agreement’… But there were features of the ‘Heads’ … that provoked public unrest.”

Belizeans across the country rejected “the Heads”, which were introduced in March 1981, and they showed their disapproval with mass demonstrations and rioting in the streets of Belize City that were not contained until the British Governor, Sir James Hennessy, declared a state of emergency. The Heads of Agreement did not get the approval of the Belizean people, and the Guatemalan claim to our country remained, but internal strife, and external threats (from Guatemala) did not deter Premier Price from keeping in step with the UN resolution.

Thirty-eight years ago, on July 26, 1981, he announced that we would be making the giant step in less than two months, on September 21. At the time there was much distrust of Price’s leadership, largely because of the Heads of Agreement, and despite his reaching out to his detractors, we went into independence far from a completely united nation. The final days leading up to the great day were tense.

On September 10, 1981, Premier Price, speaking at the Court House Plaza, said: “The world history of decolonization and the emergence of independent nations testify that with independence there is more development. This situation should also apply to an independent Belize where there will be a continuing need for more work but where our work will have a greater reward.

“…on the anniversary of the events at St. George’s Caye, when our ancestors asserted their right to have and to hold the settlement of Belize, we, their heirs, must save the land and we save it by going forward to independence.” (from the Belize Sunday Times, September 13, 1981)

The Beacon, the newspaper of the Opposition, UDP, said in its editorial on September 19, 1981: “While … we disagree with the timing of independence … It is our wish that Independence be meaningful. That it bring development and progress to our people. That the efforts of unity and appeasement which we witnessed … will continue. That now that the government have reached their promised land they see their way to acting like statesmen rather than small town politicians.”

The Reporter, in its editorial of September 13, 1981, said: “We regret this brash independence knowing that we have no resources to fall back on, and knowing that we can fall prey to any outside force determined to wreck our economy. But we must nonetheless strive to the best of our abilities for the survival and growth of Belize, our home.”

The Amandala editorial didn’t zero in on independence in its September 18, 1981 issue, but the Amandala publisher, who had experienced the brutality of Price’s security forces, had some cautionary words in his “From the Publisher” column in the newspaper. The Amandala publisher said that with independence the Premier would be taking “a giant step from elected political leader to strong man caudillo”, but the “people of this society will not suffer this silently.”

After independence Price did not set about reforming the political system to improve our democracy, nor did he relax his stifling control of radio in the country, but he did not become a “strong man caudillo.” Three years after independence, when his party lost at the polls in 1984, he graciously handed over power.

The PUP, which formed the government between 1989 and 1993, would be accused of trying to subvert the democratic process when they were defeated at the polls in 1993. The vanquished PUP allegedly tried to seduce two members of the UDP to “cross over” in the House of Representatives, so that they could retain power. Rt. Hon. Price, however, was not daubed as a mastermind or party to that charge of skullduggery.

This month, as we mark the 38th anniversary of our independence, we are being ruled by small town politicians, not statesmen; we have a government that is not far from resembling a “strong man caudillo” regime. Our democracy is challenged as it has never been before. The present government didn’t want the 13th senator, doesn’t want transparency and accountability, and doesn’t want state-of-the-art forensic capacity. Belizeans are living in a state of fear – fear of losing their jobs, fear of not getting a job, fear of losing their businesses, fear that they will lose their very limbs and lives.

Fear is not a tool of democracy: transparency and accountability are. Our fight, our resolve as we celebrate this 38th anniversary of our independence, must be that we will protect our democracy from every assault.

Independent Belize must stop poisoning our people

In 2017, the country of Belize decriminalized possession of a small quantity of marijuana, 10 grams, and this might be as far as the government could go in respecting the rights of adult Belizeans to access this plant that has so many uses.

The government did not relax the prohibition of the sale of marijuana. This puts people involved with the illegal production of marijuana in Belize and in countries around us, on the same plane. It is possible for our authorities to try and control marijuana production in our country. No such possibilities exist for the control of marijuana produced abroad, and this gives them a huge advantage over local producers. We could continue this discussion about marijuana production, but what we want to focus on today are the reports that imported marijuana is a lot more potent than marijuana produced here and, also, that the foreign product is adulterated/contaminated.

The concern here is that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, must protect the health of Belizeans. Our government must ensure that the marijuana consumed in Belize is pure. One way the government can do that is by easing the excessive pressure on small local producers.

Independent Belize must not allow extinction of Macaws

Human beings are God’s greatest creation, but being chosen does not give human beings the right to preside over the extinction of any of God’s creations. We battle the elements, and these include pests that endanger our crops and livestock, and us directly, but to cause the extinction of any of them, or the extinction of any species that poses no harm to us, is arrogance, and a crime of mammoth proportions.

Our authorities must aggressively address the incursions and pillaging that are taking place in the Chiquibul and Columbia forest reserves. On September 9, the FCD (Friends for Conservation and Development) issued a press release, titled “Macaws in danger of disappearing”, in which the organization warned that if “this trend continues, the species will become extinct in a very short period.”

We, our scarlet macaws, and our flora and fauna, are all parts that make Belize a glorious land. Happy Independence Day!

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