The 1984-89 UDP administration of the Right Hon. Dr. Manuel Esquivel made at least three controversial moves. One was to begin selling Belizean passports. This was reportedly a proposal which had been in the PUP pipeline before they were voted out of office in December of 1984. Another very controversial Esquivel move was to allow the American government to spray Belize’s marijuana fields with paraquat. The third move was to begin the privatization of the Barracks green by selling the southern section of the seafront to the transnational Ramada hotel chain.
Subsequently, a prominent PUP family managed to grab the northern portion of the green, where they have built the Marina Towers. Between the Ramada/Princess and the Marina Towers there remained a central seafront section, which became known as “BTL Park.”
It is one of the deep and abiding differences between the traditional indigenous view of life, on the one hand, and the modern capitalist mode of economics on the other, that indigenous people view certain God-given treasures as having been gifted to the people as a body in perpetuity, whereas rapacious capitalists believe that the Gospel of private property is supreme, that individuals and corporations can own anything once they have enough money to buy it.
After the fall of Russian communism in 1989, neoliberal capitalism galloped unchecked across planet earth. Privatization became the way to go, and in countries like Belize almost everything went on sale. There were ostentatious explosions of privately-owned wealth in relatively poor countries like Belize, but after that the bill from the bankers came due, and it was the masses of the Belizean people who had to foot the bills. The “welcome to the party” was over.
In various countries of the Western Hemisphere, such as Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, leaders were elected in the third millennium who began to include indigenous perspectives in their deliberations. We saw Chavez of Venezuela demand its oil back from the privateers. Morales of Bolivia seized back the nation’s waterways. Correa of Ecuador pursued a similar line.
On the other, western side of the Barracks green, across the street, attacks were being launched on the MCC Grounds and the Ex-Servicemen’s Headquarters. A second casino began a-building where the Polo Club and the Belize Club of the colonial days had been replaced by the Pickwick Club after independence.
It is in the context of all the aforementioned that one should view the present excitement, near euphoria, surrounding the new BTL Park. This is a portion of hallowed ground in the psyche of the Belize City population. In times past, the Barracks was where the great athletes came to perform, and this was where the people came to marvel at their prowess. The Barracks had its mystique. It may have been that Dr. Esquivel did not know of this. But then again, perhaps he did not care.
Belize City never made a lot of sense unless you factored in the sea and the Haulover Creek delta and the old capital’s proximity to the English Caye quebrado. It was at the Barracks green that the masses of the city population had open, unfettered access to the Caribbean Sea. The water was not pretty, but it was clean. There was no beach, but the Barracks belonged to the people. Or, this is how the people had always conceived of it.
The politicians, for their part, have always tended to treat Battlefield/Central Park as the hallowed ground, because this was where they historically held their public meetings and gatherings. Unbeknownst to them, it was always the Barracks that was the hallowed ground in the soul of the people.
We don’t want to go on too much about the recent BTL Park excitement. It may be that Mayor Darrell Bradley is not aware of the ghosts he has awakened. In fact, there is no reason to believe that the Mayor is consciously seeking to do anything to reverse the plans for the Barracks which began their unfolding more than a quarter of a century ago with the Ramada privatization.
Decisions were made around some big tables by big fish at home and abroad back then, and the people of Belize City were neither consulted or taken into account. These are the unfortunate decisions which are made when you have representative democracy instead of participatory democracy. Power to the people.