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Thursday, October 22, 2020
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Casino baggage

In Belize in the post-independence era, we have seen that general election landslides can bring unpleasant policy decisions amid and in the aftermath of the euphoria. After the UDP landslide victory of December 1984, there came passport sales and there came paraquat spraying of our pristine lands and waterways. We would be hyperbolic if we called these unmitigated evils, but, we insist, they were evils. The PUP landslide victory of August 1998 brought us casinos, and the problems Belizeans have had with casinos have hitherto been in the area of personal financial catastrophes, and the problems have been sub-surface.

The thing is, students of Caribbean history knew that the American casinos entrenched in the Cuban capital of Havana, American casinos which owned the dictator Fulgencio Bautista lock, stock, and barrel, had been some of the major, hated targets of the Cuban Revolution of 1959. Because we Belizeans like to gamble, and because we like the Las Vegas hype of America, we were not, in principle, hostile to casinos, we didn’t know how insidious they can be in the societal sense, and the extended George Price era had convinced Belizeans that the People’s United Party (PUP) had a moral compass in whose guidance they could be confident. (NOTE: The casino initiative had first penetrated a PUP Cabinet in 1969. There were two prominent Cabinet Ministers who openly supported it. It was the late Madame Gwendolyn Lizarraga and her United Women’s Group who led the opposition to casinos, and Mr. Price sided with her. The Roman Catholic diocese, under the leadership of Bishop Robert L. Hodapp, refused to support the casino initiative. When Bishop Hodapp was shot {he survived} in New Orleans a few months later, there was some speculation that it was because he opposed the casino package.)

Just a few months after the Said Musa PUP government took power in August of 1998, they introduced casinos into Belize. They succeeded in neutralizing the churches with the argument that the casinos were only intended as a stimulus to Belize’s tourist industry: the casinos would not be for Belizeans. This has been proven to be an absolutely bogus argument, and the PUP leaders knew that they were telling a lie. More than that, the Musa government had a good idea of the havoc that casinos had wreaked in Cuba, and the new Maximum Leader himself had been considered an admirer of the Cuban Revolution in his early years in public life. So, why did Belize embrace what the Cubans had shed blood to expel?

This newspaper congratulates the new president of the Football Federation of Belize (FFB), Ruperto Vicente, for coming to the defence of the historic, sacred MCC Garden. Almost as soon as the Belize City casino came on stream, its owners realized they were in need of more Barracks parking space. They focused on the MCC Grounds. The casino people did not believe acquisition of the MCC would be the problem it turned out to be, because most things in Belize are for sale. It so happened, however, that the Minister of Sports from 1998 to 2003 was Hon. Cordel Hyde, and he, of all people, realized that this could never be: the MCC Garden was not for sale.

Even though the casino people had reached the stage where they felt they absolutely had to have the MCC space when Cordel was replaced by Hon. Francis Fonseca in 2003, the issue had become somewhat more public. We have no idea what the Hon. Fonseca’s position was, but the 2003-2008 PUP administration began to run into serious political problems a little more than a year after being elected in March of 2003.

You have to understand something about tourism, and it is that this industry always brings human flotsam and jetsam, and in greater amounts the more popular the “destination” becomes. Belize has not only been attracting huge quantities of sex deviates and pedophiles, Belize is also attracting many criminal fugitives from America. You don’t need a passport to enter Belize if you are an American citizen. And, they speak English in Belize. American criminals can operate below the radar in Belize. Every now and then one of them is smoked out, but the Belizean tourist intake requires some monitoring.

The latest attack on the MCC Garden came out of the Ministry of Tourism. It may be that this is only a coincidence, but Belizean night life of the sort being promoted for this weekend encourages our innocent youth to expose themselves to strangers. Tourists are in search of playgrounds in tiny countries like Belize. It is automatic that the morality of our young people would come under attack.

Belizeans have been making a lot of mistakes because of the lure of easy money, so to speak. Our national football program is one of the mechanisms through which we instill certain universally-accepted values in our youth. The MCC Garden is a vital part of that football program. If we sacrifice the MCC to tourism-related projects and industries, we would be exchanging the steel of our legacy for the false promises of corruption.

Big respect, Ruperto. This is a strong move you have made here, and you will come under pressure for it.

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