“Way back in May last year, then Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Barrow, said the handwriting on the wall was that the next government of Belize would have to seek help from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
“We all recall when he said he grieved for poor Belize, and that we absolutely would need to get an injection of capital from abroad, and the international lenders as a condition would demand that we do what they have been advising us to do for years – introduce pension reform, trim the wage bill, and consider retrenchment in the public sector.” — Editorial, AMANDALA, Fri. Mar. 12, 2021
Because of the dire economic situation our country finds itself in, and the natural repercussions upon the livelihood of our citizens, especially those who are below the poverty line, the instinctive reaction for most is to point fingers at the government of the day, or the previous government. Somebody caused it, and somebody will have to get us out of this mess now, is the general reaction. Grassroots politics in Belize has over the years been reduced to simply, “what have you done for me lately?” But the situation is so bad this time, that a lot more emphasis will have to be placed on “we” if, as a nation that came into being following a “peaceful, constructive revolution,” we are not able to rebound from this precipice without first descending into a revolution of a different, and more common historical variety – violence and bloodshed.
It is the wisdom of ages that, for any journey to achieve its objective, it is best that you first know how you got to where you are, then you can plot the way forward with greater accuracy.
In Belize’s case, those of us old enough to remember the printed slogans at the time of our Independence in 1981, will recall that one such slogan read, “Independence today! Liberation tomorrow!” or something close to that. We certainly received our political independence from the United Kingdom, our former centuries-long colonial masters. No longer were we “British subjects,” but now we were citizens of the new nation of Belize. “Preesho,” our national hero, George Cadle Price, had successfully navigated our multi-ethnic ship into the realm of nationhood, with the 8,867 square miles of former real estate of the British Crown, now the sole possession of the new Belizean people. Or was it?
Perhaps we did not spend enough time looking back, but, despite our anthem’s boast of our “wealth untold,” almost immediately the new government of Belize began running into financial problems. So that, by 1984, it was a new government, the United Democratic Party (UDP), being swept into power by a landslide victory at the polls. And one of the first actions of the UDP was to dismantle BELCAST, the Belize College of Arts, Science and Technology; and replace it with a strictly business-oriented University College of Belize (UCB) in a sister relationship with Ferris State University in the USA. And then, the Princess Casino, which was a no-no under the previous People’s United Party (PUP) government, soon got the green light under the UDP. And then there were the passports…
Thereafter, our political history as a people seems to have been a continuing search for a new political messiah, going back and forth between the two major political parties, with one invariably over a certain period becoming the villain, and the other the savior, only to switch places in five years, with a few exceptions along the way. The major reason that any third party has not found great success in national elections, is that they have not been able to convince the electorate that they are indeed viable in the electoral process, which nowadays demands large financial inputs, which only the established big two, the PUP and UDP, seem able to command. Is there a clue to our problem there —where the campaign donors may later pull some important strings with the party elected to government? After all, it is commonly believed that political campaign donors often do hedge their bets with both major parties.
But, we are where we are; and we have gotten here under the stewardship of both the PUP and UDP over the past forty years of Independence. Faced with the pandemic-propelled economic crisis now upon us, perhaps it is time for some serious, sober reflection and analysis of our situation since Independence, in order to determine if we ever did chart a course forward from 1981 to true economic “liberation” of the Belizean nation and people. We were once a colony of Great Britain, but have we been truly “de-colonized,” or simply set on a path to continue the process of exploitation under new terms of neo-colonialism? Is the parliamentary system we inherited from the British designed to keep us in a mode to be continually exploited as a people? After all, looking further back to Emancipation in 1838, our enslaved ancestors were simply turned into desperate laborers with no money or land of their own; so they all had to go back to work for the same former slave-masters, only now at “slave” wages. And this “neo-colonial” process was effected principally by making land out of reach to the ordinary man. Interestingly, that is still a problem; and it requires a lot of historical explanation and review so our people can better understand where we are, and where they want to be under a new Constitution.
Getting out of this mess we are in will be no easy feat, and it will certainly require a stern resolve and unity of sacrifice of the Belizean people. We must help one another. Only together can we survive this economic pandemic that engulfs us. And to accomplish that unity, our minds have to be in the correct place. “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery!” Some folks denigrate the value of talk, but a lot of talking and thinking together is needed if we are to achieve the understanding and unity of mind and heart needed as a people to forge our way forward to true economic “liberation.” Can it be accomplished without bloodshed, as all other nations have experienced at some time? If it is possible, perhaps the great Belizean people, the “New Jerusalem,” as Dr. Leroy Taegar likened us, may be blessed with that distinction.
True liberation will be hard, because it will entail certain necessary changes in our Constitution, which may not favor the comfort and the power of any elected party in government. “Power gives up nothing without a demand.” And by nature, our Constitution requires those same elected members of government, three-quarters of them in the House of Representatives, to enact such drastic changes as may be necessary. Do our elected officials have that political will? Can people-power become strong enough to give them that will, without first enduring the storms and arrows of blood in the streets?
To endure and survive the challenges ahead, Belize may need a leader to grow into the spirit of a new political messiah, or at the very least to achieve a level of deep humility to hearken to the will of an enlightened and committed people, to make the necessary, even drastic changes needed to our Constitution, including those that will ensure that it no longer gives absolute power to any one elected party in government to change that Constitution. It is a bridge we have to cross someday on the journey to that “liberation” our independence patriots spoke of and dreamed about. And it is a bridge we may need to cross if we are to survive as a nation past the turbulent economic times ahead. Is Johnny the one?