One night on the UBAD rostrum many years ago, in the early 1970s, out of nowhere the late Galento X Neal, a UBAD officer, suddenly said to the crowd at the Courthouse Wharf, “Tourism da whorism, mi bredda.”
I was caught off guard by Galento’s comment, to tell the truth, because tourism was not a really big deal in Belize at the time. Lobster fishing was still the biggest thing in San Pedro Ambergris Caye in those days where the island natives were concerned, but today the only natives who own waterfront land on La Isla Bonita are Homero Escalante and his wife, Lois. Americans run things. Tourism rules on Ambergris Caye, and it has become a fabulous money earner, attracting workers from all the districts of Belize and from the neighboring republics even.
Money is a very big deal, no one can deny. As the saying goes, when someone says it’s not about the money, it is usually about the money. There are very, very few saints in Belize. In fact, the reality is that we were a poor people in colonial days, and we desired upward financial mobility. We became Americanized in the post-colonial era, in the sense of placing a high value on consumer goods. We began to rate each other by the amount of American “finish” in our visible assets – home, automobile, and so on. It was not like that in the colonial days. Character used to be more important than consumer assets.
My column today is about the moral aspect of this tourism on which we Belizeans grew to depend, and this tourism for which we are now willing to risk our nation’s Covid-19 free status. Morality is not a subject on which I personally have any authority: morality with reference to Belize’s tourism is a subject we should be hearing about today from the leaders of our churches/religious groups. But, their silence is deafening, and their silence has always been deafening. Straight up.
All my sources have said to me that the moral standards on San Pedro Ambergris Caye have been devastated over the decades of tourism growth. The island is the most wealthy piece of real estate in our nation, and our morality paid a price for that wealth. The money brought here by billionaires like John MacAfee bought our morals.
Belize City has not been immune where this moral decay is concerned. As Sandra Coye pointed out on Wednesday morning on KREM Radio, as an example, we’ve been watching truckloads of drunken American tourists parading in Belize’s streets with music blaring very loudly for months and years now, and nobody has ever said anything.
You know, the people who became tour guides and fishing guides in places like Ambergris Caye and Placencia came from many generations of fishermen. It was much easier work and much more profitable to guide tourists than to chase fish and lobster. I saw the changes begin in Placencia in the late 1980s and early 1990s. What could you say? Easier work, more money: how could you argue with that?
There was a deep water place down south where the snappers were large and plentiful in the May month, if I remember correctly. (I hope someone who has experienced this phenomenon tells you about it sometime, because I’ve never been there.) What I do remember is that one of my late maternal uncles took his brother-in-law down there to fish one time.
The water was deep, to repeat, and the seas were rough. The hassle comes with hauling up your anchor to change your position under these conditions. I remember my uncle saying that his brother-in-law was taking a licking having to work the anchor, and he told my uncle that he would never again try to “beat down” the fishermen at the market where the prices of their fish were concerned, because now he knew for himself how hard the work was.
Personally, I used to think that if I didn’t make it with the academics, I could have worked as a fisherman. Today, I think otherwise. I would not have survived as a fisherman. So then, would I have become a tourist guide for sports fishermen from America? Now, that’s a thought.
You can’t begin to examine the moral degradation which accompanies tourism without taking a hard look at Carnival. But, the money people in Belize wouldn’t want you to do that. Carnival is as sacred as tourism in Belize. The church leaders “don’t say nothing.” In the words of the Right Hon. Prime Minister, it is what it is.