Mon. Nov. 15, 2021
It’s probably way too much for us ordinary Belizean citizens to comprehend, all the technical financial details surrounding the negotiations and the final declaration that the fearsome Superbond has finally been laid to rest; and the current PUP government, just celebrating a year in office on November 11, should be justly proud of steering the process through to completion. We do still have some obligations going forward according to the signed agreement with The Nature Conservancy; but we are in a far better place now than we were a year ago, when the future looked really bleak, prompting then Prime Minister Barrow to sympathetically lament the economic prospects facing his successor. Nevertheless, these are challenging times, with many major issues on our doorstep, and it will require the continued resilience and commitment of the Belizean people to help guide our leaders through the upcoming battles with crime and corruption, poverty and the pandemic, and the ever-present temptation to risk what has become our nation’s saving grace, our precious natural resources – land and sea, for the glitter of glorious promises from get-rich-quick capitalist adventurers.
Year One has been a good one overall for the John Briceno-led government, though the raging battle continues with Covid-19, with over 530 precious lives lost so far. The immediate challenge, to rein in the unsustainable government wage bill by convincing public servants to accept a 10% salary cut, was accomplished after much effort and negotiations; and that success was ultimately a testament to what then P.M. Barrow had described in his last Independence Day address as “the selflessness of the many.. outdoing the selfishness of the few.” Our public servants, and especially our security and health workers, are deserving of much appreciation for staying the course through the long, demanding work hours in these troubled times.
Thankfully, the dire economic predictions of Barrow have not come true; in fact, Briceno’s vision and optimism have led to the major breakthrough in negotiations with bondholders that has resulted in a dismantling of the dreaded Superbond. Back in September of 2020 (See 7News of September 9, 2020), Briceno had criticized P.M. Barrow for not seizing the opportunity, in light of the global economic crisis brought on by Covid-19 which was severely affecting Belize, “to restructure the debt, the Superbond debt, right now.” As Briceno then explained, “The bondholders recognize that countries all across the world, their economies have shrunk. In the case of Belize, it has shrunk by 23%…” And he went on to predict: “But I can tell you that the new PUP government, we are going to sit down with these bondholders, and we’re going to tell them we have to renegotiate. We have to restructure, and we will be looking at a haircut…” And so it was done. Critical to the process was the engagement with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) which generated major financial sponsorship of our forest and marine conservation programs, which proved vital in the Superbond negotiations.
Notwithstanding our efforts in Belize and the financial gains to be made with the conservation partnerships, it is still prudent for our government and people to remain vigilant and watchful of situations that could make us more vulnerable going forward, especially our coastal communities. And in that regard, perhaps our most vulnerable citizens, because of their cultural/historical connection to the sea, are our Garifuna people whose coastal communities of Dangriga, Hopkins, Seine Bight, Punta Gorda and Barranco, like all our islands and other coastal villages and towns, face imminent danger of rising sea levels from global warming. The last ditch efforts at COP26 have only achieved modest commitments from the major fossil-fuel-consuming nations to limit their carbon emissions which are driving temperature increase across the globe at a pace predicted to result in catastrophic consequences in a few decades. All our best efforts therefore need to be to avoid any action that could make us more susceptible to the effects of global warming, which the experts are saying, if the current global trend continues, will result in “worsening of slow onset events and extreme events, including more intense storms, along with heavy or continuous rainfall events, ocean acidification, increased marine heatwaves, rising sea levels together with storm surges resulting in coastal inundations, saltwater intrusion into aquifers and shoreline retreat…” (from CARICOM declaration, see Amandala p. 42 of Friday, November 12, 2021). As bad as it could get, the immense value of our near-coast mangrove islands which have been our buffer against high winds and seas, should be acknowledged and appreciated, and factored into any proposed new development.
We are indeed in a better place today than we were a year ago. Hope is on the horizon for our economy, and an effective remedy may be not far off for Covid-19. Belizeans went to the polls last year and gave an overwhelming mandate to a new government, which has not been perfect; but we must acknowledge the energetic and proactive initiatives they have launched in industry, agriculture, homes and infrastructure, land distribution, education and curriculum improvements, and creative approaches to reduce crime and poverty through job training and entrepreneurial assistance, etc.
However, there are areas that still need greater focus and attention, starting with our healthcare system, where we have followed the footsteps of the previous administration with a non-medical person as minister, and our judiciary continues to be seriously under-financed, with an Acting Chief Justice for over a year. We can, and we must do better in protecting our precious Chiquibul and Colombia forest reserves from unabated, wanton pillaging by intruders across our borders, and the same with our marine resources from foreign poachers, day and night, as well as pirates endangering the lives of our hardworking fisherfolk. Hopefully, the recent drug bust and arrest of rogue police officers is not just the “tip of the iceberg,” and will lead to a marked improvement of morale and effectiveness of our law enforcement authorities, along with increased confidence and cooperation from our citizens.
Times remain hard, but we still need to count our blessings, while we struggle to make it better in these Covid times. All who can, should lend a helping hand where needed. There is a silver lining ahead. With all their faults, our government is trying, and as citizens we need to “play them close” so they don’t go “off track.”
It looks like we might have passed another hurricane season without a big one, which is becoming due; so we better begin early to be ready for whatever comes our way next year. Since Earl in 2016 we have been “dodging the bullet;” but with this global warming, it is only a matter of time.
Hold tight, Belize! We’re going to make it to better days if we just stay together. Big up the new government and make them feel good, and give us an even better effort in their second year. And as the theme for this year’s Garifuna Settlement Day says, “Au Bun, Amuru Nu.” In English, “I for You; You for Me;” and eena Kriol, “Me fi you, and you fi me.” Happy Garifuna Settlement Day to all Belizeans and Garifuna everywhere!
(NOTE: The National Garifuna Council has said that this year the celebrations will be held under the theme “Au Bun, Amürü Nu Hagabüribei Garinagu; Awanse Wamá Lau”: “ ‘I for You, You for Me’ Is the Garifuna Way; Let Us Move Forward”.)