At the end of week before last, I had hit a wall, for different reasons. I needed to free my mind, so to speak, so my wife and I drove to Hopkins on Wednesday morning (August 10). That Wednesday evening, Wil Maheia located me in the Stann Creek seaside village on telephone, and drove home arguments based on the fact that I’ve owed him and Punta Gorda/Toledo a visit for years. That is pure truth.
I first visited Punta Gorda in the summer of 1964 while a teenaged student at St. John’s College Sixth Form. The trip was all day by sea on the Heron H (though it was possibly the Maya Prince), and I can’t remember exactly how many of us in the class took the trip. We had three Punta Gorda residents in our class – Vance Vernon, Lennox Vernon and Marion Paulino, and it was out of our camaraderie with them that we were making the trip. I am sure that Carlson “Buzzy” Gough and Carlos Perdomo were on the trip. But I am not sure if Neil Garbutt (the late urologist), Geoffrey Frankson, Pedro Carrillo, and Julian Castillo took the boat ride. I believe Trevor Agard, a friend who was not a classmate, may have been on the trip. (Perhaps one of my classmates will flesh out the facts after reading this.)
I remember accompanying my father, the Postmaster General, on a trip to Punta Gorda by Land Rover to check out the post office there. But I’m not sure if this was before or after the S.J.C. trip. I can’t remember which took longer – the boat ride or the road ride. I can say for sure, however, that the road was a terribly rough experience.
Today, you can drive from Hopkins to P.G. in an hour and a half. Things have changed a lot since 1964. In those days, Punta Gorda and Toledo were just totally remote, as if in another world. Toledo was often referred to as “the forgotten district.” It was much easier to go south to Guatemala from Toledo than to link north with the rest of British Honduras.
This time, I reached Punta Gorda just before lunch on Thursday. By early afternoon, Wil had me and my wife on the new $46 million highway south to Jalacte, the highway which, when completed, will take you by pavement from Punta Gorda to the Guatemala border. The highway is in the early weeks of construction, so most of the road is still the rough ride it has been from the days way back when.
I became even more impressed with Wil Maheia than I had already been. He taught me so many things in the few hours on the road that it will take me a while to go over them in my mind, check stats with him, and discuss later for the benefit of you readers.
The thing that stuck with me big time was the continuing extraction of Toledo’s rosewood, a process which obviously has protection at high authority levels. The Toledo rosewood issue has been discussed at length in this newspaper on previous occasions. All I would like to say is this: in 2011, it is long past time for Belize to be exporting cheap raw materials. The key to any kind of development is “value added.” This means that you must only export material on which your skilled citizens have worked. The reason countries with fabulous natural resources are poor, is because they export their raw materials, then have to buy finished products from abroad, where the skilled workers in those foreign countries have added the value to the material.
Now, one of the reasons I had hit a wall was that I had come to see how desperate the situation of the majority of our Belizean citizens are, and I had reached a state of mental helplessness. I was still grieving for Brother Nick, and this underlined the larger question of our people’s situation and what were our prospects as a people, four decades after our personal generation here, as young men and young women, had tried to change things for the better.
I had thought Wil Maheia was around Mose’s age, but he is between myself and Mose in age. While there is the full consciousness on his part of his Toledo people’s plight, there is this bursting energy, this bubbling enthusiasm in Wil Maheia.
Wil introduced me to many, many people in Punta Gorda and Toledo, but the day and night I spent in Toledo was not about politics for me. On matters of the land and the sea and the waterways and the people, Wil Maheia is a kindred spirit of mine. As such, I wish him all the best in his endeavors.
As soon as I arrived in P.G., I had insisted that Wil take me to visit Herman Lewis, a Punta Gorda institution I have known from the 1970’s. Herman had been ailing recently, but he was up and working in his office at the time of my visit.
On Friday morning before my departure, I walked around the P.G. market with Wil and my wife. One of the persons I met was a son of Alejandro Vernon. He may actually be Junior. The young man said that he had been at S.J.C. Sixth Form with Cordel, my second son. I then said to him, you must be Marion Paulino’s nephew. It was so. The vignette was classic Belize. Alejandro Vernon, Sr., and I have always been socio-political opponents, but Marion J. Paulino was my closest friend at S.J.C. Sixth Form during my difficult second year.
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.