I don’t pay too much attention to what goes on in Belmopan because I don’t live there anymore, but if I ever give in to nostalgia I know where a big chunk of my heart will be. Belmopan is where I spent my teen years, and there was a time when I knew every corner. Before BYGEA youth came on the scene, my gang had a garden where there is now Piccini, and another garden where there is now Mountain View.
Just about the first meeting Amandala readers had with me came about because one day, in Belmopan, I parked my vehicle in a place where I used to roam, and the Belmopan City Council gave me a parking ticket. I understood the new rules in the growing city, but I felt rejected. In my youth, all of Belmopan turf was home to me, and all Belmopanese were my family.
I can tell you that when you talk Hilltop, you’re talking sacred ground. It should never have gone into private hands, and all must be done to get it back.
The main labor force for the construction of Belmopan came from the villages in its surrounds. I can tell you that men from the village where I live were prominent in the famous strike against Pauling in Belmopan in the late 1960s.
The first houses in Belmopan were constructed by the Public Works Department in that upscale area, called Orchid Garden. The houses were constructed for the coming expatriates, the men from Pauling Co. which had won the contract to build the new city. I am told that one of the first things the men from Pauling did when they came was build the tennis court at the foot of the hill. Then they dug out the top of the hill and started putting in their swimming pool.
We can’t blame the British for putting in an exercise facility. We are not British in Camalote, but we know the value of exercise and that’s one of the reasons why we are irate about what the government did to our pathway. Let me not segweh into that today because I wahn get really bex.
The swimming pool was an essential, to prevent those white folk from melting. That little Belmopan, despite the best efforts of those tree lovers, Father of the Nation, George Price, and Belmopan’s first mayor, Anthony Chanona, is a little oven in the dry season. The climate is a lot, lot better than it was back in the days when Belmopan just opened. Then, there were little cement houses, all in a row; there was rubble, waste cement, piled up; and there were streets and deep drains. It was no garden then. There were few trees and no green grass.
Hilltop also had a hall, for meetings and dancing, and in the old days it was kind of exclusive, for the Pauling men and women, and the Belmopan elite. After Pauling left, the management of the super facility at Hilltop went into the hands of a few of George Price’s favorites at ReConDev, namely Hugh Fuller and Mr. Smith.
My memory tells me that the “doors” at Hill Top weren’t flung open at the start for kids like me, but somehow my gang ended up in the swimming pool, and after that, after getting our foot in the door, it became a regular cool-out spot on the weekends in the dry season, when we didn’t go to swim in the falls in Roaring Creek and in the Belize River.
I remember when I was a young man, after I left the sea and was working at Hummingbird Hershey Ltd., that when I got tired of eating dry bread and sachiz I’d go to Hill Top for something to eat, and a beer wash down. At that time, the 1980s, the ReConDev had rented out the spot and it was crowded most evenings with young men and young women doing the socializing thing.
I believe the PSU took it over some time in the 1990s. I know they had the ambition to do things with the place (the swimming pool had fallen into disrepair), restore it to its former glory, but it never happened. I believe the PSU never felt any politician would dare take it away and sell it to a private person, because the place is iconic. Hill Top is sacred turf in Belmopan.
You can’t tell me that the young mayor of Belmopan was so brash, all alone, to make the decision to sell it. Khalid Belisle came to glory with no sin. He can’t be blamed for challenging former Belmopan mayor, Simeon Lopez, and he can’t be blamed for having the support of the most powerful Belmopan politician in his party, John Saldivar, in his corner, and he can’t be blamed for the PUP becoming very weak in Belmopan.
It is not impossible that there was a cash flow problem at the BMP City Council. But at the time he was the fair-haired boy of a sitting govt. Would they have denied him some funds?
His father is an economist. We are all good people, but when there is a cash flow crush, economists are bankers, they will do what they have to do. But Khalid’s dad is also old BMP stock. He knows the sentiments around Hill Top. Would he have advised his son so poorly?
Khalid’s big mistake came at the Sept. 21 celebrations ceremony in Belmopan, where he spoke to the nation about the “gravity of the decision [ICJ decision]” before us. He counseled that it is a personal decision, one that we must make on our own. “Belize da fu we,” he said, “and we must decide.” He said he had given the decision much thought, but he remained “undecided” about how he would cast his vote. Khalid also congratulated Ms. Diana Alford, who would not be denied by Guatemalan Armed Forces when they tried to stop her from reaching the shores of Sarstoon Island.
About a week after the 21st, our nation’s security leaders all appeared on a Love FM morning show, to endorse going to the ICJ.
Khalid was thinking independently. On October 23 he told News Five, “Definitely I am still in the information stage myself, listening to the pros and cons if you will. I am trying to make sure that come the tenth of April my decision is one that I can live with for the rest of my life and I would want the future generations to live with as well.”
There was no room for independent thinking in the UDP camp. In fact, there is never any room in the UDP camp for independent thinking.
If I was a lazy so and so, I’d point the finger directly at John Saldivar, alone. Hill Top is in the constituency that he represents at this time. Khalid was getting very popular. John has all the politician characteristics — very ambitious, and very, very, very personal. The arrows definitely lead in his direction.
I won’t go and research all the right things he said when Khalid was going through the glaring exposure after he sold the property from underneath the PSU. In short, John rode in to say that government should reacquire Hill Top for the people of Belmopan, and the PSU should get another place.
Reporting on the PSU picketing the Belmopan mayor’s office on May 21, Amandala journalist Rowland A. Parks reminded us of the Prime Minister’s stated position after the sale blew up on Khalid. Parks said the Prime Minister “had indicated that the union could take out a loan from the National Bank to repurchase the property.” That didn’t happen.
Khalid didn’t squeal under pressure. In November, about a month after the sale, he told News Five that the “PSU was simply not meeting its commitments and that triggered the sale to Xin Ni.” The News Five report said that the businessman had “paid significantly less to the Belmopan City Council than what the property had been assessed for.”
Poor Khalid, the Prime Minister said the right thing, and John said the right thing. Poor Khalid, could he, of his own, have made this decision? How do you sell off an iconic property when you are a member of the most calculating political party since the “best” days of George Price?
We know about the best days of George Price, a time when that party did not allow any of their other leaders to be without sin. If you wanted to be a big PUP, you had to prove that you were no saint. The UDP has copied the old PUP blueprint in loads of things. There was Khalid with no sin. But the big deal was that the party was getting set to call for a total YES to the ICJ, and he wasn’t on board. The UDP made him pay, by selling sacred patrimony. End of sainthood.
For Khalid’s independence he had to be made to look bad. John and the PM look like saints. As it stands, they will slide away with their noble comments, when the arrows say their hands, or one, forced the hand that signed the shameful deed.
The PSU might have been lax, maybe believing that the government couldn’t be so crazy. They couldn’t have known that the government was about to force Khalid into egregious sin, to put him in his place.
They did what they set out to do. Now it is time for restitution. The GoB should make every effort to get back Hill Top and put it back in the hands of the public organization, the PSU. The PSU could consider joining with the BNTU, so there are more funds available to restore Hill Top.