Features — 18 May 2019
How did we get here, Belize?

I’ve written many things about Belize based on my own knowledge/information, and of course I carry my own perspective based on my lived experiences and my inner sense of self, my belief of right and wrong, and my instilled values and principles. It will soon be half a century since I have been on this earth and of these, thirty years I have spent at the frontline and in the trenches, always as an independent-minded person who learnt the very hard way what it is to stand alone once my conscience says my positon is right.

I have worked from my first job as a drama coordinator, to a government press officer, to a radio news reporter, then a TV news reporter and even the pioneer of Channel 7 news, to a newspaper columnist and the founding editor of the Guardian newspaper, to the host of my various television shows and also at one point I was Opposition Senator for the United Democratic Party.  Now, as an advocate with a law degree which allows me to be named as one in the legal profession, for the past 14 years, I keep working to share my knowledge of the law and to remain an independent-minded advocate. Often the positions I take keep me standing on my own, and I have learned to accept the isolation of being independent, yet I put myself out to advocate and question and share ideas and educate others about issues, especially their rights, because that is who I am at my core!

All my career paths and employment opportunities have taken me to all corners of this country and even travels abroad. I have met and shook hands with Queen Elizabeth II and met world leaders and presidents, interviewed every prime minister this country has ever had,  and I have met the poorest of the poor, advocated for women, cane farmers, workers, children and even prisoners. I am widely read and travelled and amidst it all I found time to be a mother, wife, friend and community activist. I am not a johnny-come-lately on the socio-political scene of this country. I am a constant advocate and I speak my mind and I take my licks and I mete out my punches too, when and where it is needed. I can hold my own and raise my family without any political favours or corrupt deals and I do not sell my soul!… Not many in this country can say that! I am self-made and do not rely on any family name or relative or connection to get ahead! Imagine I can live without kissing ass and I thank God for that!

I say all this because I am trying to answer my own question to myself – “how did we get here, Belize?”

The Belize of now!

And when I say how we got here, the here I am talking about is as follows:

1. We have had the most dishonest and corrupt leaderships in government, yet they seem to prosper, and the marginalized seem to keep on electing them!

2. Women have gone into politics, and they are as corrupt as the men, showing that gender does not matter – it’s individual integrity.

3. We have seen the worst of crimes, especially murder and white-collar crimes, yet the conviction rate for one is 3%, while the other is 0%, respectively.

4. We have seen our literacy rate go down from our previously boasted 98% to a meagre, yet generous, 70%, and some say it is less.

5. We have seen poverty as high as 43% and unemployment as high as 20%, yet even those who work can’t earn a living wage and are counted below the poverty line!

6. We have seen a massive loss in every case the government has taken on, from the UHS to BTL, to Maya lands rights, and the list goes one, yet all the attorneys they hire are the “best” private attorneys, costing us more, but also relatives or friends of the Prime Minister.

7. We have seen the worst land scandals and the massive taking away of people’s lands ever, yet we do not get any minister charged much less convicted; rather they keep getting the fruits of their political clout.

8. The worst of every passport and visa scandal has been investigated, and no one was held responsible.

9. We have massive, bloated street and road contracts, yet the same “paved” surfaces don’t last long and break up and no one is held responsible, as if we do not have a contractor general!

10. We have the highest deficit ever and we are still borrowing and have no “human development” to show, as our people remain poor and marginalized and unemployed!

11. The political divisiveness is at an all-time high, and the government of the day has found ways to legitimize bribery of the voters using taxpayers’ money!

12. The trend under the Barrow administration is to break the law and then pass laws to make legal that which was illegal and also to get around court orders by abusing the legislative process.

13. The most drug planes ever have landed in this country and it is obvious that the drug money is rolling and if election bribery is any indicator, then we must agree our economy remains afloat due to the circulating of money from drugs and money laundering!

Individual interest over national interest!

The list can get much longer, but you get my point! However, I think for me the worst of all I see is where we, individually, have failed to think for ourselves and demand better from our leadership. I see even the most educated toeing the corruption line and gladly awaiting an appointment to some high-paying job as CEO or consultant or all sorts of created posts, or appointee of some board or department etc. They even justify it and defend their newfound “entitlement” by foregoing any principle of their profession or just violating the basic notion of right and wrong! It’s like even the so-called educated have no moral compass and it’s all about what each can get, at the loss of the notion of nationalism and nation-development!

Few, and I mean very few, professionals are not about their self-enrichment, few public officers stand for right but suffer the consequences, and even members of their union are positioned to see what they can get, from trips to scholarships to land to favours! No integrity at all! Those just seeking a comfortable, easy life, with no care for the plight of the masses, include ministers, senators, CEO’s, attorneys, engineers, accountants, doctors, pastors/preachers, media-owners and workers, business people and educators, to name some, and overall political cronies and party  loyalists etc. There are also many who came into the political arena with no money or little education but have amassed massive wealth, including lots of land, apartment complexes and houses or even businesses, and some are suddenly contractors with no knowledge of construction or engineering!

Meanwhile the lower category of dependents on the system of corruption are just wanting to survive and are glad for a light bill to be paid; or a weekly $50.00 handout; or a menial job obtained by political favour; or even a letter of recommendation to get a plot of land or a recommendation to get into the police force, BDF, Immigration, Customs or the public service on a whole. It’s like they have resigned themselves that, that is all they will get, so screw all principles and rightness and just survive at any cost! So they have come to accept corruption as the norm and even participate in it, since they believe that is the only way they will get anything to meet their own self-interest too! It’s a symptom of how the abused yields and seeks only to survive.

Social destruction

Looking at the social well-being and the mental health of our people is yet another massive problem. The reported cases of incest, sexual abuse, and rape are astronomical and we have no social nor support system to assist victims, so we have an abused and abusive national mentality, and so it accounts for the level of abuse we as citizens are able to accept without question. Many are not “woke,” and the drug and alcohol abuse to cope with the tragedies of life, are rampant and on the rise. Unfortunately, not one leader is interested in investing in people development.  We totally lack early childhood development programs so we can raise healthier, more balanced and cared-for children who then will become adults and move this country forward! And who will become parents and do a better job at raising better citizens. It has to start somewhere!

We lack the vision to see that crime will be solved when our children grow up in a better environment and are raised by better parents; thus we must now do parenting classes to help them. Our leaders failed to realize that we will be a production nation instead of a consumer nation when we incorporate in childhood teaching creative techniques and encourage creativity and explore the use of technology in learning instead of these “dinosaurous” methods that keep producing the same results!

Sadly, our education system remains antiquated and too often students are asked to operate in a box that no longer encompasses the realities of industry and technology of our times. We do not create critical thinkers and independent-minded youths/students because they are dangerous to the status quo. It seems that every politician’s unwritten motto is “remain in power at whatever cost,” and the cost is often to keep our people poor, marginalized, dependent and feeding off a non-productive system!

I am very concerned that what we are aiming at is creating a nation of dependents, like people on crack, but the crack is a system that ensures social destruction, destruction of institutions of those who oppose the system, and of the independent-minded so as to create a full dependency syndrome for political leaders who feed them just enough crack to keep them coming back for more, but no unshackling to allow them to be free-thinkers and self-sufficient, as this will allow them to question the powers that be!

When I see even the attorneys, who I always thought were independent thinkers and natural advocates for justice, lining up to collect their little position and fame through government, then I know how screwed we are, since I know for one, the reason I chose this profession is that lawyers have a portable profession, can always survive self-employed, know the law and can defend their position and are versed enough to advocate for social change, accountability, transparency and justice! Yet history has shown us that some of our worst enemies in this country have been the attorneys, be it as prime ministers, senators, politicians, or just the advisers that have caused us so much financial loss in all our cases while collecting massive legal fees! Then, I wake up from my dream and remember I am an advocate with a legal degree and certification… they are politicians with a legal degree and certification and doing business as attorneys!

Better yet… I wake up to the reality that we can make all the laws we want, and be trained in the best of professions and know all the laws, but one thing we cannot do is legislate INTEGRITY, and that is what is lacking in the professionals and by extension the national psyche of our people and country … it’s like we never chased the buccaneers and marauders from our shores, we just evolved into them at a new level! So ask yourself: how did we get here, Belize?

Peace out, Belize!

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Deshawn Swasey

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