Arguably, aside from December, the month of September is the most revered month on the Belizean calendar. It is a most festive time when we pause to celebrate our milestones and our achievements. We use this time to celebrate where we are and from whence we came. And in keeping with that spirit, about a week ago, the theme for this year’s September celebrations was announced. Social media was abuzz as members of the public posted denouncements of the theme, as many believe that it does not quite reflect the situation on the ground. Now, I will have you know that it is a beautiful and hopeful theme, and all honor and respect is due to the author. But as Belize gets ready to celebrate its 40th, we do so at a time when the poverty rate is at a confounding 52%! So with Belize at 40 and poverty at 52, what exactly are we celebrating?
I am one of those lovers of the month of September! I look forward to it each year with renewed hopes and optimism. I partake in the festivities and celebrations and with kindred spirits — family and friends — I look forward to a renewed and progressing Belize. But pandemic aside, forty years later, truth be told, we have very little to celebrate. We cannot celebrate a country at 40 when 52% of its population is impoverished. That is alarming — chilling to the bone. In other words, as we “march and sing and shout with merry glee”, there is 1 out of every 2 persons who lacks the basic necessities to provide for themselves and to survive.
So, then, what are we celebrating? A mere idle conjecture that spews empty hope and repugnant promises? What are we celebrating? Forty years of the fleecing of our natural resources and our fiscal coffers? What then are we celebrating? After forty years, a derailed democracy where some are more equal than others and where the 3% continue to ravage and exploit the 97% to no end? Forty years during which the proletariat has had to adjust and re-adjust (much like frogs in boiling water) to a point where the water has assumed the spaces of the alveoli of our lungs, rendering us unable to fend for air?
In these forty years passed, we have hopefully and cheerily sung their anthem and marched with glee; but they have sucked us out and left us to dry. Like a riverbank eroded by a steady and persistent river, we have been encroached upon, and as the river consumes the land, so have ourselves been consumed; and have watched before our very eyes as we have steadily and consistently lost more ground. The land (by its very nature) cannot stop the river from eroding it. But we, on the other hand, for forty years have allowed ourselves to be encroached upon and eroded, believing—hoping, that one day the waters would recede and yield to us once more.
But forty years later, clearly not! We are now pushed to the brink of utter destitution. Fifty-two percent of us are wallowing in penury. Fifty-two percent of us are lacking the rudimentary and requisite materials and resources for daily sustenance and survival. Fifty-two percent of us go to bed hungry or wake up in a state of sheer uncertainty and want. Fifty-two percent — fifty-two percent! This is unfathomable and cannot and must not ever be a cause to celebrate. So when I hear the songs of Belize at 40, I will choose to deafen my ears and instead resonate with the poverty at 52. That is what will permeate me and should resonate in you — for until we understand the gravity of poverty at 52, Belize at 40 will have no meaning.
Belize @ 40: Poverty at 52! Despondency, despair and destitution — our anthem, our horrid hurrahs and our hollowed songs!
Unchained Reflections Of A Liberal Pragmatist.