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Greg Choc tells KREM Plus that Belize’s leadership lacks vision and COVID-19 gives us a chance to reset

HighlightsGreg Choc tells KREM Plus that Belize’s leadership lacks vision and COVID-19 gives us a chance to reset

Celebrated conservationist, attorney Mr. Greg Choc, told the host of KREM Plus, which is a show on Youtube that is hosted by Evan “Mose” Hyde, Jr., that Belize has been misdirected for 300 years by Western cultures, and that we have been trying to be what we are not. He said the pandemic gives us a chance to reset, to look at where we came from, and where we’re going. He said that we shouldn’t discount modern technology, but where we’re going must include our traditional way of life, living in harmony with the land, for this way of life has sustained us for a thousand years.

Speaking on the present situation in Toledo, in regards to the pandemic, Choc said that the leaders of the Maya in that district are very concerned about COVID-19, that there are uncertainties and challenges, but they must keep on doing what they usually do at this time, which is work in the fields, because if they don’t they will starve.

He said that physical distancing is part of the way of life in the Mayan villages. The farmers in Toledo work on plots that are far apart, and the houses in the villages are not crammed together. Choc says he is very worried about the disease because the medical facilities are poor, and the villagers closest to the Southern Regional Hospital have to travel for two hours to get there. It would take upwards of half a day or more for someone from the more distant villages to reach the hospital.

Choc explained that another problem is that many villagers are not accessing all the information about the disease. The government disseminates a lot of information via television and other electronic media, and those are not available in many villages. Choc said there is a Christian radio station in the Dump Area, and it is through this medium that many villagers get their information. He said it would help immensely if the information was delivered in the first language of the people who live in rural Toledo.

Choc said that at this time people are harvesting crops they planted (in December and January) and they are worried about their surplus corn and beans and pepitos which they would normally sell in Guatemala. The border is locked down at this time, and the farmers could lose a substantial amount of money, which they need to pay for new plantings, and to sustain their families until the next harvest.

Choc explained that their tradition is not to mono-crop, but to grow many crops so that when one fails there is always another crop to fall back on. He said that the global economy benefits big corporations, while our traditional culture reinforces our sovereignty, and helps us to build resistance so that we can withstand shocks, both internal and external.

Choc said that Toledo used to be the bread basket of Belize, but all that has changed because of our government’s policies that favor mass producers and sidelines traditional farmers. Speaking on the fact that so many Belizeans have to depend on food assistance during this pandemic, he said the consequences of government’s bad policies are upon us now.

Choc said that our education system masks who we really are, that it doesn’t build on our strengths. He said there’s a lot we can do if our leaders refocus, if they encourage a cross-fertilization of ideas to bring about a new Belize that is built on our wisdom.

Historically villagers, especially villagers in Toledo, are not included in the decision-making process, Choc explained. He said the government discounts the significant contribution villagers make to our economy, because it is largely informal.

In concluding, Choc warned that post COVID-19 the big countries “will want to rebuild their economies the quickest way possibly (and) they will look to the resources of countries like Belize.” He said he is hopeful “that our political leaders will be strong enough…will rally Belizeans to have an input …on how our resources are utilized…so we get the greatest benefit.” We shouldn’t make agreements with those “who will want to come and build their economies off the wealth of our country,” he said.

Feature photo: Greg Choc, former executive director of Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM), attorney, conservationist, and legendary Mayan activist

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