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A visit to America, renewing kinship and seeking investment

EditorialA visit to America, renewing kinship and seeking investment

The government taking the Lands and Immigration departments to Belizeans living in the USA gets an “A”, the visit having the potential of increasing investment here substantially. Many Belizeans living in the US have both expertise and cash, and making it easier for them to travel home, and enabling their access to land/resolving issues they have with properties in the country, will encourage them to invest in construction (building houses), tourism, agriculture, food processing and manufacturing. It’s critical for Belize to attract new investors because our economy needs a boost, especially after the drag of the pandemic.

No country escaped the ravages of the 2020 pandemic. In particular it hurt our tourism industry, which was registering growth every year, up to 2019. Tourism is the backbone of our economy, and we depend on its growth to make all of us find the financial promised land.

The pandemic behind us, the tourism industry, buoyed by steady growth in the overnight sector, has rebounded to the point where we are almost back to the historic 2019 numbers. However, the cruise sector, where our governments have seen the opportunity for rapid expansion, has stalled. None of the project proposals which have been in discussion over the past ten years have contributed to the number of one-day visitors to our country. The only project that got the go-ahead, Port Coral on Stake Bank, is well under construction but is now in receivership because of financial issues. One, Port of Belize Ltd., failed to satisfy the environmental requirements, and another, Port of Magical Belize Ltd., is mired in political intrigue.

Despite slow growth in cruise tourism, and our major agro-industries grading between poor and fairly well, reports from the Statistical Institute of Belize are that the percentage of unemployed Belizeans is near an all-time low. Unfortunately, massive inflation since the pandemic has significantly shrunk the buying power of the local dollar, especially for the purchase of imported goods. Because of inflation, middle-income earners have little disposable cash, and our lowest wage earners, who received a paycheck increase of over 50%, have seen their gain eaten away.

Our economy could use an injection of fresh capital. Belizeans living abroad who maintain the bonds with their home country have their special interests, such as enhanced voting rights, and possibly running for office here, all issues that have to be sifted through. But on the matter of business, it’s all symbiotic. We are open for business, and who better to invest here than our people in the diaspora.

Earmarked for a car park for gamblers

Amandala’s files show that a UDP administration sold the southern section of the Barracks Green to the Ramada hotel chain, and then a PUP administration secured a sizable parcel at the north end of the Barracks for a favored family with a business interest. The middle portion of the Barracks, called the BTL Park, hosts a few small businesses, with the remaining expanse of turf reserved for music festivals. Cricket and football were played on the Barracks Green in the past, but there’s no space for playing ball there anymore. The Barracks Green is mostly gone, replaced by structures made out of cement and steel.

The Amandala has expressed the suspicion that when the south section of the Barracks was sold, the MCC Grounds, on the west side of the Barracks Green, was earmarked for sale to the hotelier for use as parking space for the hotel’s guests. The Amandala’s Tuesday editorial said, “Since September 18, 1978, when Hurricane Greta destroyed the pavilions and western bleachers at the MCC, they have not been replaced. And the field, which was once treated with care and nurturing, has been abused on a number of occasions during other events, and left to deteriorate to an abominable level, so much so that a visiting Trinidad team refused to have their players exercise there in preparation for an international friendly in Belmopan.” Judging from the way the MCC Grounds has been neglected over recent decades, it is reasonable to believe that it was indeed promised to the hotel’s owners. No, they can’t have already bought it.

In its heyday, the MCC Grounds, named for the world-famous Marylebone Cricket Club of London, England, hosted track & field meets, cycling races, and cricket, softball, and football tournaments at the highest levels.

Nostalgia—getting pleasure and holding on to things that were important to us in the past, isn’t trivial. We are a sentimental people. In Caye Caulker, early Belize City, Dangriga, and in Hopkins our people bury/buried their deceased loved ones in spaces near the sea. There is something special about the MCC for people who love football. The people of San Ignacio and Santa Elena could relate to the feelings of Belize City residents for the MCC, for they have a similar reverence for Broaster Stadium. MCC is hallowed ground. It was, until local politicians decided that a hotel was more important, and gambling.

But nostalgia must give way to progress, for the economic benefit of all. If it was “just” about nostalgia, the government might be sensible to bring in one of its bulldozers and open a space so guests of the hotel, and people who go there to gamble, can park their cars. The MCC is about much more than nostalgia. The MCC is a green space in a city that is woefully short of areas for athletes to play ball. The schools have small playgrounds for the children and youth; there is a single space where softball is played, but not baseball, because it is too small; and one full-sized multi-sports complex that includes a football field which just happens to have the worst pitch anywhere.

The continued limbo of the MCC is both sacrilege and ridiculous, sacrilege because it is one of the most glorious places on earth to play football, and ridiculous because the city has only one usable stadium when it should have four, two on each side of the Haulover Creek. If the city had four accessible, comfortable stadiums, not only would that stimulate businesses, and improve the quality of our football, but the camaraderie in urban neighborhoods would also be greatly enhanced. Belize City should be buying abandoned house lots to make parks, not be about destroying green spaces.

In the glory days of football in Belize City, parking was sometimes a problem at the MCC. And when it is refurbished, finally, parking will be a problem when big matches are played there. Both the MCC and the hotel have a parking problem. Progress brings problems; problems shouldn’t stop our progress. Our engineers and architects and all our creative minds should be busy working to find solutions.

Until a better idea comes along, a 100-yard long by 10-yards wide by 8-to-10-foot high overpass between the hotel and the MCC could be considered. A “car park” overhead made of ferroconcrete supports planked with wood from the Bullet Tree and the Sapodilla could hold over 50 small vehicles, and the cost could be covered by a toll. There are many ways to skin this cat, and we’ve got more than enough talent in this country to think this out, produce something practical at a reasonable cost.

Let the bola roll again at the MCC, the one-time Mecca for ball players in our country.

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