The recent visit to mainland China by a super-talented delegation from Belize that included Caribbean Shores area representative, Honorable Kareem Musa; Belize City Council deputy mayor, Oscar Arnold; Belize City councilor, Michael Noralez; and attorney Kevin Arthurs, the vice president of the Human Rights Commission in Belize, raised eyebrows across the political spectrum and in most media. Three members of the delegation are from the main Opposition party, the People’s United Party (PUP), and some members of the media have speculated that the attorney must be a PUP sympathizer.
The PUP does not set foreign policy for Belize; however, as the country’s main Opposition, which is the political party most likely to form the next government if the present party in government is defeated when Belizeans go to the polls to choose a new government in the near future, what they do and say is of concern to all of us.
The highest ranking member of the delegation, Hon. Kareem Musa, insisted that he visited mainland China in an unofficial capacity, and that his purpose for going there, at the invitation of the president of the Belize/Chinese Association, was educational. Musa said he was extremely impressed by the excellent work China had done to decrease poverty and he wanted to see firsthand what they were doing.
A regular columnist in the Belize Times, “Belly of the Beast”, said, without any disclaimer, “We love Taiwan. Taiwan has always been a friend. But Taiwan has gotten way too chummy with the UDP, and somewhere along the way, Taiwan’s assistance started helping the UDP more than it helped the people.”
When the PUP was in power, it was said that they received the same largesse from Taiwan. In this world no one is without sin, so it behooves the Taiwanese to pay attention to what the PUP is saying.
The PUP did not issue a statement before the delegation left for China, and they have not issued a statement since the delegation returned. The Leader of the Opposition was in a traffic accident recently, and although his injuries were not life-threatening, he is still under the care of his doctors. It is somewhat understandable, with their leader not fully recovered from that accident, that they haven’t issued a statement about the trip to China.
Detractors of the visit have opined that the PUP didn’t need to go to China to learn their programs to uplift their people, and these detractors have also said that it is not wise to send mixed messages about the two Chinas in the present political climate in our world. Hon. Kareem Musa has said that the leaders of the UDP also received invitations to visit China. It is fair for Belizeans to wonder about the position of the PUP on the two Chinas.
It was the PUP that established diplomatic relations with Taiwan, a little over a month after winning the 1989 general election. Prior to the 1989 general election the PUP had accused the UDP of amending our laws “to register passport buyers as voters.” Most of the passport buyers were from mainland China. The quote is taken from a Belize Times newspaper from that period, and the next paragraph also draws from that newspaper, from that period.
The PUP, in 1989, said that the UDP had diplomatic relations with mainland China while maintaining trade relations with Taiwan, and they, as the new government, were establishing diplomatic relations with Taiwan as “a declaration of a two-China policy.” The PUP said that former foreign minister, Hon. Dean Barrow, had called for the resignation of Hon. Said Musa, the new foreign minister, when he learned of Belize’s establishing of diplomatic relations with Taiwan. In 1990 the PUP government entered into negotiations with Taiwan for funding for a new swing bridge in Belize City.
The story of that new bridge, called the BelChina, is quite sensational. A prominent historian told us that the UDP government of 1984-89 had already negotiated a deal for a new swing bridge, with mainland China, and when the PUP came to power in 1989 the bridge was already here. That bridge was sent on to Jamaica when the PUP established diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
Belize has had diplomatic relations with Taiwan almost 30 years now, and the benefits have been huge for us. The numbers are hard to come by, but conservative estimates are that Taiwan has aided Belize with hundreds of millions of dollars over those near 30 years. Just a year ago, the president of Taiwan, Dr. Tsai Ing-Wen, addressed a special sitting of our National Assembly.
We are not aware of any policy shift in the PUP, but we are not in the habit of siding with big countries that want to grab their neighbors’ land. Belize has had very friendly relations with Venezuela, but that country is aware that we don’t support them when they forward their territorial claim on Guyana, their neighbor. The people of Belize don’t support great China’s designs on Taiwan either. This newspaper does not support powerful Israel’s grab of Palestinian land.
If China doesn’t make it a requisite that we drop our support of Taiwan, we have no reason to steer away from a good relationship with that great country. We are just not about to change our vote at the UN.
We will not get drawn into all the political intrigue on the local scene about this visit anymore, but will instead shift our concern to the physical situation on the ground with the Chinese. They are here, and they have made and are making a dramatic change on the Belizean landscape.
The Taiwanese have supported Belize with many millions of dollars to help tide us over when there are budget shortfalls; in education they have given our youth hundreds of scholarships; in agriculture they have transferred technology in machinery, rice, vegetables, and small livestock production, specifically sheep.
The Chinese from the mainland have taken over merchandizing of groceries, fast food, illicit sex, and gambling enterprises. When Belize introduced the economic citizenship program back in the mid-1980s, and these citizenships were gobbled up by the Chinese, we were led to believe that they would be bringing with them their factories and opening up their vast markets to us. The Belizean economy was supposed to grow by leaps and bounds, and there would have been plentiful, high-paying jobs for Roots Belizeans. That was pie in the sky.
Many of our Chinese brothers and sisters came here as poor as the poorest of us. Our political leaders who were selling our citizenships told us that all of such Chinese would be rich, and they would have the capacity to open the kinds of businesses we did not possess, and there would be jobs, high-paying ones. We said that before.
Roots Belizeans have been displaced, instead of getting jobs. We have to face the truths of our world. The Chinese tribe taking over so many of the business places means that the children of other tribes no longer have summer jobs in these areas, and the support for Belizean citizen initiatives in sports and the arts has dried up. The Chinese Association reportedly makes contributions, but these are to political operatives of the government, to use to further their narrow little agendas.
When it comes to race relations, these are not easy things to discuss, but problems do not normally go away when you bury your head in the sand. There is the Belize of tomorrow that we have to consider. How will it work out for our children, and grandchildren, and great grandchildren, and those to come further on? A nation that allows any of its tribes to be left behind will have a bitter future.
We are a nation in decay and our political leaders have shown that they are petty, have too much personal ambition, to right our ship before it is too late. Some say it is already too late, but we don’t think so.
In our free market system anyone can open a grocery shop anywhere, so we really can’t complain about any tribe making hay while others relax in indolence. What is obvious is that the Chinese tribe is working together, and it is great for the members of a tribe to work together. They say that charity begins at home, so it is natural for this cooperation to extend to the tribe, first, before it extends to others. That’s how it works, when it is working.
One business of government is to give assistance to those who are getting left behind, and one mechanism for government to effect that is a tax structure that encourages businesses and collects enough so that the basic needs of all citizens are met. When we are all eating good food, when we all have good homes, when all our children are getting a good education and have jobs, and when all our citizens can afford good quality health care, then a government can rest on its laurels.
We are failing massively on the basics of good food, good housing, good education, and good, affordable health care. There are serious problems ahead for a multi-racial society when all the tribes are not getting a good, fair bite of the national pie.
We are glad for the Chinese (and all our successful tribes); we don’t wish that any of them have less. We are not glad for those of us who are slipping behind. For the good of all, we need serious, sincere discussions, desperately.