On April 1, 2020, because of a disease called COVID-19 that is sickening people and causing deaths across the globe, the Government of Belize declared a state of emergency for the entire country for one month. During this month the borders of Belize were closed, the movements of our people were severely restricted, and the businesses in the country that were not considered essential were closed down.
This disease is causing our people much suffering. We would have been suffering even without the lockdown in our country because COVID-19 has stopped people from traveling, and thousands of our people who were employed in the tourism industry lost their jobs. This is a bad, bad time in Belize. Our fragile economic system, which provided most of us with a weekly paycheck that lasted until the next paycheck, has crumbled. The weekly paychecks most of us got were so small that only a few of us had some savings to fall back on, so the majority of us are now in a state of deprivation.
There are many things to be said about our old economy, about how it was run, about the way our government did things without any transparency and accountability, and about corruption and pettiness. There are also things to be said about what kind of country we want in the future, but at this moment the most important matter is how we can get back to a semblance of the Belize we lived in, so that we can begin to pick up the shattered pieces of our lives. We can only do that if we keep COVID-19 at bay.
The authorities have set in place another state of emergency, this one for two months, but we expect that on May 1 there will be some easing of the restrictions that helped us to halt the spread of the disease. The state of emergency allows for the authorities to immediately put us under LOCKDOWN again if we have more cases of COVID-19. We don’t want that to happen, so we must do everything we can to keep the disease out of our country.
We have to trust that the authorities will do their part by protecting our borders, and by providing more testing for our people so that wherever the disease pops up they can address it before it spreads. Our brothers and sisters who live in villages on the borders must resist the urge to travel outside of the country at this time. We love our brothers and sisters in neighboring countries, but at this time it is best for their sakes and ours that we are apart. When our medical authorities get the test kits we need, we must not shy away from getting tested. We have to know where the disease is at all times, so that our medical authorities can deal with it.
It appears that during the first state of emergency some of us did not fully grasp the critical importance of physical distancing. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Physical distancing means that we consider every person we meet – friend, family, or foe — as a potential carrier. Even in our households we are to keep as much distance as we can from family members we don’t absolutely need to be rubbing against. We do it for our nation. We do it so that we don’t have to be under LOCKDOWN again.
It also appears that some people don’t want to wear face masks when they are in public. No one wants to wear face masks. They are uncomfortable, but necessary to keep the air that we breathe out from becoming a part of the air that our neighbors breathe in. We have seen what this disease has done to human health and to our economy. We wear a face mask because we love our brothers and sisters, and because we don’t want to be under LOCKDOWN again.
We must not ease up on disinfecting our hands and clothing and the objects that we all touch. We must not ease up on any of the measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, because if we do our country will be placed under LOCKDOWN again.
Our children will condemn us if we lose the Vaca and the Chiquibul
We were left with our mouths agape when Belizean conservationist, Mr. Wil Maheia, told Krem WuB on Tuesday morning that sections of the Vaca Forest Reserve had been de-reserved by our political leaders and given out to party favorites, that these favorites had hired hands to cut the prime forest and that they were burning these areas, contributing to the smoke that was reducing the air quality across our country.
Belizeans are aware that for years some Guatemalans have been illegally entering the Chiquibul Forest Reserve to cut down sections to make milpas, and even to make pastures for cattle, because Mr. Rafael Manzanero, the Executive Director of Friends for Conservation and Development, frequently informs the nation of the devastation of the prime forest. The authorities have supplied some manpower, some soldiers and forest rangers, to keep out the relentless woodcutters and poachers coming across the western border, but it has not been sufficient.
It is important that every Belizean knows the real value of maintaining our forest reserves in their pristine state. A primary forest is not easily burned down. It is easy to burn the grasslands and the secondary forests, but the primary forest is humid, so when fire spreads into it, only the litter, dry leaves and small brush, are burned. However, if our primary forests are assaulted by fires year after year, and there is an extremely dry year, we could lose these priceless treasures.
As long as we keep the forest reserves in their pristine state, Belize will survive. We will have fresh water, for the primary forests that cover the hills in the west and south protect the watersheds. Our precious barrier reef is under constant attack from improper farming practices, but it will survive if the pristine Chiquibul, Vaca, Rio Bravo, and Mountain Pine Ridge forest reserves, and prime forested areas of the Peten too, are not cut down.
Belize must be very careful with its land use in the future. We have to take stock of what we have under cultivation. Areas near to the rivers and creeks have to be returned to the forest. Before we contemplate clearing more primary forest, we must make sure that we are maximizing the use of what we already have under cultivation. Only marginal land should be used for making pastures for cattle. With proper management we can develop pastures that produce quality beef and mutton on marginal lands.
We should lower the price of diesel, not for the purpose of clearing vast acreages of prime forest, but for building canals and improving drainage on existing farmlands so that we maximize the land’s productive capacity. We should be increasing the size of village lots, not decreasing them. We should be helping small farmers to clear their land and we should be showing them how to improve soil quality so that they can grow more crops while being less dependent on imported fertilizers.