Our almost month-long September celebrations come to an end tomorrow, Thursday, September 21, our Independence Day. At midnight on September 20, 1981, with the greatest of hopes, and with some trepidation, while our inspiring National Anthem played, our unique blue, white and red flag with our coat of arms which features two workers, one with an axe and one with a paddle, unfurled in the skies above the Government House (present House of Culture), announcing our arrival as an independent nation.
Economic prosperity was the main promise of independence when Father of the Nation, George Price, signed the independence instruments with our colonizers and we took full control of our affairs. For too many, that promise has not yet become reality. But hope is not dead. We still have the land and sea with wealth untold that we inherited, and we demand of our leaders that they pursue, with all their strength, mind and body, to deliver the victory for those thousands of Belizeans who noh win yet.
While we celebrate on Thursday, we must count our blessings, say thanks to the Almighty for all that we have, but the poverty in our land must not be lost from any of our minds. That great economic victory must be ours. Happy Birthday, Beautiful Belize, our homeland by the sea!
42 years and the claim that won’t go away
Thursday, September 21, 2023 marks 42 years since we became an independent nation, and in a world ruled by the might of the gun, we would not have gained that status if not for the support of the UN, the UK, and the US. We came into existence only after the nations of the world declared almost unanimously that we have a right to determine our path in this world, that our territory should not be threatened by any military force, and called on the UK, which had colonized our country for over a hundred years, to lead a defense team to ensure that our borders were not violated.
The threat to our becoming an independent nation came from Guatemala, our neighbor to the west and south. Five times larger in size, forty plus times greater in population, by far militarily more powerful, and aggressive, Guatemala had persisted in a claim to our land for over a hundred years, and at times had acted belligerently. But with the world on our side, they couldn’t stop us.
Hopes that Guatemala’s anachronistic claim would fade away after we delimited our maritime rights in the south, to allow our neighbor unimpeded access to the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, and held discussions on reasonable trade arrangements, didn’t materialize. In the face of Guatemala’s intransigence, the claim against our territory is now before the International Court of Justice at The Hague, where it is being adjudicated.
Belize supports its allies, but will speak truth to power
The world cannot be disappointed for having bet on Belize, though our great benefactor, the US, cannot always be pleased with our positions. The US has always been a great friend of Belize. We were still a colony of the UK when Hurricane Hattie devastated our country, and in our time of greatest economic need, US support was overwhelming. There might be as many Belizean-Americans as there are Belizeans in this world.
We would not have become an independent country without the support of the US. It took the US a long time to support us, because Guatemala is also a friend of theirs, is a far more important business partner for them, and has backed them in positions that Belizeans have found unsupportable. US support for Belize’s independence came during a period when Guatemala’s leaders carried out a cruel genocidal war against its own people.
Our support for the US is at its lowest when selfish special interests in that country have influenced their leaders to follow unjust paths. When racist interests in the US pushed a soft policy toward Apartheid in South Africa, Belize condemned South Africa’s racist leaders; vengeful interests in the US persist in forcing the vicious embargo against Cuba, and Belize uses its vote at the UN to defend our island friends; religious zealots in the US encourage policies that allow Israel to trample the Palestinians, and Belize cries out against that injustice. But when fair forces in the US prevail, as they usually do, they can depend on Belize to be by their side, as we were with them and the UK in the Great Wars.
Belize’s support for the rights of Taiwan is steadfast. We support the rights of all peoples to self-determination and their territory. Our people demand of our leaders that they express more concern about the plight of our brothers and sisters in Haiti; wherever the issues are complicated we side with humanitarian solutions.
Tough economic times on our 42nd birthday
Economic prosperity was the promise when we gained independence in 1981, and many business persons and all highly educated Belizeans have attained a higher standard of living. There are many mansions in Belize where there were humble houses, and a stranger might think that everyone here owns an SUV, judging by the number of them that are seen on the highways daily. Our highways and other public infrastructure have also improved greatly since 1981. With the growth of tertiary institutions, particularly the University of Belize, a university education is now accessible to any Belizean who is determined to attain that level, and tertiary-level health care is now available but, unfortunately, only to those who can afford it.
Economic prosperity is yet to come for the masses. Some “kip haat” from a dream that sustained many prior to independence—a green card to the US. Participation in the illegal drug trade, which has made a few people in Belize very rich, has been chosen as the way out of poverty by some and, tragically, that illicit business has been a death trap for our young and has corrupted many charged with providing security in our nation.
Economic conditions would have been better in Belize, had it not been for blows to two of our main agro-industries, citrus and farmed shrimp. Around the turn of the century, those two industries actually surpassed sugar and bananas as foreign exchange earners, until they were felled by devastating diseases. The pandemic, Covid-19, caused the collapse of our tourism industry, which had become the backbone of our economy. Fortunately, that scourge has let up since last year (we still have to keep our guard up), and with that the industry is rebounding.
Global production and trade were disrupted by the pandemic, and war, and that has resulted in an extreme and painful rise in the cost of living. In response, the GoB has introduced legislation intended to contain price gouging. Maybe most worrying of all today is “climate change,” which has caused so many heat waves, floods, forest fires and storms this year that even the biggest skeptics now accept that something is very wrong with the health of our world.
These are tough times, all across the globe. We face some big problems at home, and many of the small ones haven’t gone away. But we remain hopeful that with “hope ignited, hands united, vision renewed”, we will all win.