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Friday, October 30, 2020
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Critical days ahead

The Effects of COVID-19
For the long October 12th weekend, my family and I went down to La Isla Carinosa — the beautiful island of Caye Caulker. I particularly enjoy Caye Caulker for its serene and laid-back nature, but on this trip, we were up for a surprise. While Caye Caulker is known for its slow-paced nature, this particular weekend, the island was DEAD. And I mean dead.

My characterization of Caye Caulker as slow-paced and laid-back is simply made in comparison with the much more hustling and bustling island town of San Pedro. But that doesn’t negate the fact that Caye Caulker is usually teeming and abuzz. It normally has its parade of pedestrians who would stroll indolently along the beaches, cyclists who ride around the island with joy on their faces, and of course, the whirring of the golf cart engines as they strum along.

All this would be the norm, in addition to the numerous restaurants, shops and businesses that would be full of jostling customers and patrons, going in and out. Well, none of that was evident. Almost all the local businesses and restaurants were closed. Intricately varnished wooden tables and counters were plastered with beach sand. Finding good local food to eat was a frustrating challenge, as the doors and windows to such places were boarded shut.

As we strolled around, we noticed mostly Chinese stores open that sell mostly packaged merchandise. There were hardly activities or tours taking place. It resembled a ghost town, really, and the islanders were rarely seen.

When a glimpse of an islander was caught, their eyes were filled with dismay and their faces seemed distraught. As I spoke to a couple local inhabitants to inquire about a place to dine or some past-time activities to engage in, they all shrugged and referred to a singular cause of the lack of services: COVID-19.

COVID-19 was to blame for the desolation of the small island. The culprit that closed all the shops and restaurants was COVID-19. The reason that the faces of the islanders were pale and lacking vitality was COVID-19. The streets were desolate. Even the breeze blew sporadically, matching the current state of the island. It was quite a sight to see and take in. Much like the rest of the country, Caye Caulker has been badly hit by COVID-19 and was very much adversely affected. Our thoughts and well wishes for a robust rebound are with them.

Let’s Get Ready To Rumble 
While very little was seen around Caye Caulker, there was one particular thing that stood out: in fact, it was in abundance. There was an array of political banners and party paraphernalia on the lamp posts and on some houses and a few establishments. These political emblems were mostly from the two major parties, and while the island was desolate, they signaled that the elections are drawing nigh.

This then immediately reminded me that the House of Representatives has been dissolved and our country’s general elections are set for Wednesday, November 11, 2020. Not only is the date of the elections set, but we are less than a month away from the big bout. It’s gonna be a grand showdown, of Course, not in its usual fashion, given the restrictions brought on by COVID-19. I’d want to think that it’s a date that the populace is widely anticipating and that their calendars are marked. I pray God’s guidance and direction on the electorate as they choose a new set of representatives to lead us.

Admittedly, it’s never an easy task to select a representative to execute your mandate. This is for more than one reasons. Our country has watered down its standards so terribly that anybody can seek elected office. Our candidates are not required to conduct town halls; neither do they hold structured rallies to present their plans directly to the people in the various areas and thoroughfares. Their efforts involve only going door to door in the evenings starting about a month or two before the elections, and after a casual five minutes of chatter, they expect us to vote for them.

Really, this is what we as a people have allowed our standard to be. We don’t demand eloquent candidates who can adequately articulate a plan and later execute a mandate. It’s all a big joke— a loud hurrah; then we are stuck with them for five years. However, this year might be a little different. We might get to experience something new, for a change. A planned debate is underway, and debate organizers are hoping to engage all the leaders from the various political parties.

While confirmation from these political leaders hasn’t been forthcoming as yet, and of course there will be much limitation to the debate, we are indeed elated to know that a plan is in place. We are hoping that it would go through and that it can have the support and participation of all parties involved. While admittedly, it is my vehement belief that all candidates should debate and hold neighborhood town halls, I take solace in knowing that this debate is a move in the right direction. While I do have my skepticism and reservations about the debate, I hope that the participants put their best foot forward, because we will be watching and taking note; and, well, of course, may the best man win!

Who Will Carry the Mantle?
Obviously, if and when the debate takes place, there will be winners and losers. But that’s alright. It happens in all debates. One person presents him or herself better than the other candidates. But that doesn’t mean that that person may be the best candidate to lead the country —who knows? Anyways, the point I’m trying to make is this: debate or not, who will carry the mantle?

Needless to mention, these are some very critical times we find ourselves in. The days are becoming increasingly hard to deal with. But come what may, we’ve gotta do, what we’ve gotta do. Embrace what is and make prudent choices as we endeavor to move forward. And one such prudent choice we as a country have to make is the decision on who is more equipped to carry the mantle. The baton being left behind is one that is weighty and challenging, and it is more apparent than ever that we need a marathon runner who can organize a very good relay team to carry this baton.

Clearly, both sides are confident in victory. But truth be told, only one party can win: only one person will become Prime Minister and will lead the country. I’d like to think that the wider population of the country would have made two decisions by now: (I) whether or not they will vote and (2) the person or party for whom they will cast their vote. There is a small fraction of the voting populace who are still ambivalent, but for the most part, in the minds and good conscience of the people, the election is already determined.

As we now await the results, let me take this opportunity to encourage every registered voter to exercise their right to vote. For those who are still ambivalent and undecided, you have a month to listen keenly to both sides and make an informed decision that you will be satisfied with. Truth is, at a time like this, when we have been crippled by a virus and our economic future looks bleak, we need to look objectively at the situation and make an informed selection of the person whom you deem best-suited to carry the mantle.

Crucial Days Ahead
After the elections are over, and a leader is chosen, our trials will just be beginning. The election will not be an end to our struggles, but may very well be the start of our troubles. Whoever takes over must be a person who wears a cape. A proverbial superhero, because there’s a lot that needs rescuing. Let’s start with our ailing health care system that has been flooded as a result of COVID-19 and is now on life support, teetering on the brink of collapse.

Then, let’s talk about the tourism industry that has been reduced to skeletal remains. It mirrors the horrifying sight over the past weekend of Caye Caulker, which is normally teeming with tourists engaged in a flurry of activities. The new leader will have to take a serious look into unemployment. Tens of thousands have lost their jobs and their income and are dependent on the top-up relief program.

Additionally, before the new leader and his cabinet can even begin to work on their manifesto, they need to tackle the social programs that are inevitably coming to a close and seek ways to keep people on these programs that support their wellbeing. The new leader will be tasked to tackle the growing issue of poverty and seek to reduce our poverty level while simultaneously having to shrink the gaping hole between the middle class and the poor.

After November 11, the next government will be forced to make a critical decision on education. About reopening schools and resuming face-to-face instruction. Furthermore, they will have to consider reopening our land borders, banking on immunity, in an effort to save the economy while trying not to crash the healthcare system.

Truth be told, there’s a lot to contend with, and this is no nice time to take over the reins. Such an onerous and laborious task of leading this country for the next five years will require a giant of a man, a visionary. It would require a problem-solver, someone who can troubleshoot and deal with the issues as they arise. The next five years will require not just a cabinet, but a joint task force, because the future is bleak and the forecast is grim.

But anyways, come what may, there are some critical days ahead. And while we can’t solve all the problems that will be sure to arise, we can be a part of the discussion and select viable candidates to navigate us through. May we exercise our right accordingly and seek to elect our representatives based on merit that aligns with our core values and a moral compass that can steer us in the direction in which we desperately need to go. I pray for all of us, as we have a critical decision to make in the next month, and I pray for my beloved Belize.

God Bless Belize.

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