According to a news story in the Tuesday issue of the Amandala (Sept. 7, 2021), the Nature Conservancy (TNC) and its partners are about to finance “the purchase of the Superbond through its Blue Bonds for Ocean Conservation program.” This development is very encouraging news, for our so-called Superbond, an international debt totaling over US$500 million, has been a severe drag on our economy for more than a decade.
If the negotiations are successful, congratulations will be due to our Prime Minister and his government, and our negotiating team which has been working for many years to find the best solution to this burden that was placed on our backs in great part because some of our leaders were reckless, or dishonest.
When the PUP won a five-year term in 1998, under the leadership of Said Musa, who replaced George Price when he retired in 1996, the party entered government with an ambitious plan to grow the economy. This plan was very appealing to most Belizeans, because the previous government, UDP (1993-1998), had run a very tight ship. When the PUP came to power in 1998, our external public debt was less than US$400 million, but by 2005 (the midpoint of a second PUP term) it had ballooned to US$1.1 billion.
Musa, who rose to national prominence as a center-left politician, embarked on a full-scale privatization of national utilities — telecommunications (BTL), electricity (BEL), and water (BWSL) in his 1998-2003 administration. The Musa government also embarked on a massive housing scheme, and education, health, and transportation reform.
Intriguingly, at the fore of the 1998-2003 PUP administration were two far right PUP politicians, Ralph Fonseca, an elected minister, and Glenn Godfrey, a former elected minister. Fonseca, a son of a highly esteemed former financial secretary, Rafael Fonseca, who handled the purse of our country with prudent hands up to his untimely death in a traffic accident in 1978, was his father’s polar opposite. At best, Ralph Fonseca could be described as profligate. Godfrey, a lawyer/novelist, also could be described as a wild spender, at best.
In discussing the PUP administration (1998-2003) that holds the most responsibility for the amalgamated debts in the Superbond, it has to be noted that it had an inordinate share of bad luck. In the first three years of that government’s existence, Belize was affected by three hurricanes: Mitch, a Cat 5 in 1998, which didn’t hit Belize but dumped massive amounts of water on the country; Keith, a Cat 3 in 2000, which severely damaged our number one tourist destination, San Pedro/Cay Caulker; and Iris, a Cat 4 in 2001, which destroyed crops and buildings in South Stann Creek and Toledo and severely affected our second most visited tourist destination, Placencia. The global shocks caused by 9/11 in 2001 didn’t help.
There was development to show for the Superbond, and some of it had to do with recovery after the natural disasters (hurricanes), but the widespread belief – we must say belief because no one went to jail – is that a sizable portion of the debt was due to squander and dishonesty.
Since the birth of the Superbond (2006/7), it has been the lead story in every discussion of Belize’s economy, and it figured hugely in recent general elections. The UDP, under former Prime Minister Dean Barrow, did not skimp on external borrowing, and they were wasteful in their spending of the taxes from an oil find in Spanish Lookout and the largesse from the Alba Petro Caribe Fund, but they were masterful in focusing blame for the onerous Superbond on its main architects, the PUP. This strategy helped catapult the UDP to victory in three consecutive general elections.
If you are an environmentalist, this debt being taken on through the TNC in exchange for more marine conservation (we are told the conservation will extend beyond the reef, into our exclusive economic zone) will be described as God taking bad (the Superbond) and making good (preserving the environment). Most Belizeans grasp that our world is in danger. As the Tuesday Amandala editorial pointed out, “the recent wave of weather-driven international calamities…has all but silenced any remaining skeptics about the reality of Global Warming.”
Apart from the “Blue Bond”, the Tuesday Amandala (Sept. 7) also reported on another deal between Belize and the TNC, one made by “the previous administration to allow for the conservation of 236,000 acres of the Maya Forest Corridor located in Belize known as the Belize Maya Forest.”
The “developers” in our midst most likely won’t be overly enthused by the TNC and its partners purchasing the Superbond for its ocean conservation program, and some will express their reservations about so much of our natural resources being locked away from direct exploitation. The protests of the “developers” will fall mostly on deaf ears, though, because most Belizeans appreciate the tremendous benefits that have accrued to Belize through the establishment of reserve areas in the sea and forest. The first serves to replenish fish stocks, and the latter protects our watersheds and biodiversity.
Effectively, when the deal is signed we will have less area to directly exploit. However, if we are more careful and more efficient with our management of our remaining available land and sea, the end of this curse of a Superbond will be a total blessing.
223rd anniversary of the Battle of St. George’s Cay
Friday, September 10, 2021 marks the 223rd anniversary of the Battle of St. George’s Cay, and while this victory, first commemorated 100 years after the battle (Sept. 10, 1898), has lost some of its glory for various reasons, especially since Belize got its Independence on Sept. 21, 1981, it remains an important day for Belize.
At the time of the battle, Belize, then a settlement, was under the rule of British slave masters, and it was they who were at the fore of the decision on June 1, 1797, to stay and fight. The forebears of many Belizeans, the enslaved Africans, had no say in that decision, and their “mulatto children”, and others, were minor factors.
The victory at the Battle of St. George’s Cay did not result in any betterment for our enslaved ancestors, as evidenced by repeated uprisings and escapes from the settlement afterward, and so-called manumission didn’t come until 1838; however, the lot of their high-brown and near-white offspring was better. Some of them would inherit property after their White fathers returned to Merry England.
Happy 10th celebrations to all Belizeans! And stay safe!