When I was a child growing up in British Honduras in the 1950s, our people did not rate members of our community by how much money and possessions they had. Perhaps I was too young to appreciate the subtleties of the human rating system in our Belize City society, but that’s the way it seemed to me back then. We rated Belize people on their social/family pride and performance, their excellence in their work, in education, in sports, and the arts, and their personal vibes, so to speak.
Today in Belize, and it appears to me this has been so for three or four decades, we rate Belizeans almost strictly by how much money they have. It doesn’t really matter how you obtained your money: in 2021 you don’t rate if you don’t have money.
When it came to the rackets back in the 1950s, there were activities like prostitution, gambling, loan sharking, and so on, but respectable Belize society did not put such people on a pedestal, no matter how much money they had. Again, it just seemed that way to me. But remember, I was from a middle class family, and from a neighborhood (Regent Street West and West Canal Street) which was middle class mixed with some roots. A couple blocks away, in most of the streets like George and West, there were probably more roots than middle class. Remember one more time: I was a child.
What I want to talk about today is money, and the reason I want to talk about money is because of Lord Michael Ashcroft, and how he has used money to shackle us Belizeans in a kind of debt slavery which suggests that our time in the struggle for self-rule in the 1960s and 1970s was wasted. Beginning in the early 1960s, with the acquisition of the then monopoly telecommunications company on the eve of the June 1993 general election, Lord Ashcroft, when we speak of money, has become the 2021 King of Belize.
The disturbing thing to me is just how much many basically decent Belizeans publicly embrace his kingdom, or have absolutely nothing to say about the dreadful financial crisis in which Lord Michael Ashcroft, who has said repeatedly that he loves us Belizeans dearly, holds us hostage.
Most of us Belizeans seek to give the impression that money is not the dominant factor in our lives. Yes, most of us like, treasure even, material things (consumer goods), but I think we are, generally speaking, Ten Commandments people. Well, at least that’s the way it was when I was a child. The coming of American cable television almost forty years ago has polluted the values of our younger generation, but these younger generations will have to speak for themselves.
How did Belizeans get into this hole where we owe Lord Ashcroft so much money? It started with the ruling People’s United Party (PUP) in the early 1990s, but there is reason to believe that the United Democratic Party (UDP), as sanctimonious as its rhetoric was, which ruled from 2008 to 2020, really played some games with Ashcroft which benefited him far more than was good for The Jewel.
Generally speaking, even today, we Belizeans like to act as if money is not the most powerful factor in our lives. But, let us be honest. Money is very, very important, and there are future considerations as well as present ones. People jump at opportunities to secure their futures, to make sure that as they age they have enough assets to deal with life’s various responsibilities. There are some very talented Belizeans who became Ashcroft assets, and those Belizeans have assisted hugely in frigging us. I will not indict or condemn them, however. What I will say is, the man Ashcroft did a superb job of identifying and recruiting the best of our Belizean talent.
Let me tell you a story. Some years ago, when Ashcroft used to visit Belize and hang out at Jeremy Spooner’s restaurant on North Front Street, Ashcroft told the late, great Kareem Clarke, our gifted reporter at the newspaper, that he wanted to talk to me and that I should not worry about the “beefing” that he and Kremandala had had.
I ignored the message, not because I am more righteous than anyone Lord Ashcroft has bought, but because I had been around long enough to know that Ashcroft and I were opponents, fundamental and inveterate opponents, even though his personality is so pleasant.
To those of our Belizeans who have been seduced, I will say that I will not condemn you. But I urge you to consider our Belizean situation in the light of where we came, from 1838 and the BEC days. We are in bad shape. We owe too much money. What did we do with the money? Where is it?
On Saturday morning in the heat of the sun, I saw a black man lying on his back in the middle of the Philip Goldson Highway, where the highway meets the junction with the Vista del Mar cutoff. His legs were curled up. Two policemen were coming from the nearby police booth to check him out. I thought to myself, beloved, this is a time for grieving. In the words of the late, great Mister Program, “Nobody want to see I rise.” Nobody.