The passing of the iconic figure, Miss Jane, last week, and her burial on Tuesday of this week, after lying in state at Holy Redeemer Credit Union, where her personality dominated that institution for more than half a century, marks the end of an era in the social and political life of the young nation of Belize. Her fame and popularity crossed all barriers. She was the face of HRCU to Belizeans from all walks of life and all political persuasions. Our sincere condolences to all her family, even as the grateful nation celebrates the gift of her long and fruitful life among us. Miss Jane will be aptly eulogized in services and by various media this week, but this editorial is focusing more on the changing times that her passing signifies, even as the old year nears its end, and a new one is about to begin.
A new generation is slowly taking over, and us old folks are gradually moving on; and the passing of Miss Jane, who has been with some of us for all, and with many of us for most, of our lives, is a reminder to us that time is marching on, and the days of our lives are numbered. Indeed, coming as it did near the end of the year, her passing emphasizes the importance of reflection on where we are, where we have come from, and where we are trying to go in the coming New Year and years ahead. While we celebrate “Crismos” and give thanks for the blessings we have received, we also look ahead and make resolutions and plans to make better use of the time and opportunity that life offers us in the coming year.
But Christmas is not all joy in households in Belize. Escalating violent crime has caused many a home to be in mourning and remembrance of the pain of lost loved ones due to gun violence — senseless gun violence — and reckless road casualties. Besides, the high cost of healthcare is becoming a crisis for poor households, and poverty affects a significant portion of our population. The ravages of diabetes and hypertension are taking a heavy toll, especially on the increasing masses of poor and indigent citizens. And AIDS continues to cut down our citizens in what should be the prime of their young lives. Then there is rampant obesity, not from good living, but from the tainted, processed imported foods, and especially cheap artificial cooking oils, that compounds our health problems. So, amidst the joy and celebration of Christmas in lucky households, there is continuing pain and sorrow among those unfortunately struggling to make ends meet, or visited by the angel of sickness or violent death.
Fortunately, “Crismos” in Belize is still a time when the spirit of giving and sharing is still strong, where the “milk of human kindness” flows in generous streams across the nation, and some businesses show their appreciation to customers by offering big discounts, and giving special deals and contributions to charities in favor of the poor. There is still a lot of love in our little Belize, and it is reflected in the songs of our youth, who show their respect and appreciation for the legacy of the old folks by rekindling “Good maanin, Miss Lady” while bravely chanting, “mek we bring back the old time Crismos.” But while our spirits are lifted by the season of love and joy, and we cherish the meaning of the birth of that special child, there is still a lot of pain and sorrow, and hunger in Belize, among the many still unemployed, and those whose earnings have not kept pace with inflation these past few years.
Is it a coincidence that increasing poverty, unemployment and political interference with law enforcement has accompanied the escalating rate of violent crime and robberies, even in the heart of the “Crismos” season? While most Belizeans try to spread the love, and live the message of Christ at Christmas, there are still too many of us, especially among our young men, who are living in a different world, a different reality, and are increasingly lured by the temptation of quick, easy money from crime, which too often pays in Belize. “Idleness is the devil’s workshop,” and among the many unemployed young men, some become ready and easy prey for the devil’s mischief. But it is certainly not a deterrent to their bad choices, when they hear of un-prosecuted financial crimes in high places, where political influence gives a pass for elected officials to get away with “murder.” Ghetto youths are poor, but not stupid; and a culture of crime has been slowly developing in a small but significant segment of our young male population, where it is rationalized and justified by what they perceive as immunity for big people. “If they can do it, so can we.”
“Where did it all begin? When will it end?” Will it be, as Bob Marley sang, “total destruction, the only solution?”
In 2008, a new UDP administration took office in a landslide 25-6 vote, after a couple years of public agitation that culminated in demonstrations and strikes directed at perceived corruption in the PUP government — specifically targeting UHS (Universal Health Services), DFC, BTL and the Social Security Board. Almost ushering in that new UDP administration, two days following the Thursday, February 7 general election, was a sensational, gang-related shooting at the Putt Putt Bar & Grill on Princess Margaret Drive, where the Monday, February 11, news headline on News 5 said, “two dead, thirteen injured in gang shooting sprees,” while 7 News declared, “Friday night mayhem at Putt Putt Bar.” In a dramatic show by the incoming Prime Minister at his UDP headquarters on Youth for the Future Drive a few days later, it was declared that this new era would be marked by “honesty, transparency and accountability,” and “not even a whiff of corruption” would be tolerated.
In the era of Price and Goldson, politicians were mostly drawn from those involved with religious or union activity, inspired by the social justice doctrine espoused in the Catholic Pope’s encyclical, Rerum Novarum. In recent times, our leaders have been lawyers — Musa from 1998-2008, and now Barrow from 2008-2018. And the perceived corruption tolerated by the former, has to all appearances been compounded under the nose of the latter. We won’t go into details or point fingers, except to make the observation that young defence lawyers have a lot of contact with “street” characters. Some have boasted of their abilities “from the boardroom to the bases.” But here we are in 2018, after a decade of 100 plus murders per year, and no nearer to chopping off the head of corruption or stemming the tide of crime and violence in our midst. Something is not working right.
As 2018 draws to an end, there is the dramatic story of shooting and murder on Princess Margaret Drive, a stone’s throw from where Putt Putt was, this time at Pier One Bar on the beach of BTL Park. And the circumstances leading to this tragedy reek of corruption in the said administration that embarked on a “clean up corruption” campaign in 2008. From Putt Putt to Pier One, it seems we have gotten nowhere.
Can we fight fire with fire? Are these not our children, grown into young adulthood, who are unleashing a “reign of terror” on the rest of law-abiding citizens? Is the solution as easy as Tuco suggested, “Kill them all and come back alone”? For sure, we need discipline to bring back sanity to our society; but our young men need the reassurance that justice will be meted out to all, and, as night follows day, opportunities will accrue for their gainful employment and a positive road to fruitful family life.
The ageless message of Christmas, when we remove the cobwebs of materialism and selfish escapism that cloud our vision, is love, love for “the least of these,” as the blessed babe in the manger exemplifies. Love conquers all; and if there is any hope for our young nation in the trying days ahead, it is our Belizean love that will see us through. The love for one another that is rekindled at “Crismos,” as Charles Brown sang, “should linger throughout the year.”
Let us pray that this time of loss and tragedy in 2018 indeed marks the end of an era in Belize. We will forever treasure the memory and work of Miss Jane, whose legacy will continue to live on in the members of HRCU; but our pledge and wish going forward, is that this closing year marks the end of a style of governance that, in tackling the twin devils of crime and corruption, has been a disappointment, to put it mildly.
Peace, love and joy to all this Christmas. “Come, mek wi bring back di old fashion Crismos…”
And let us try to be real and righteous in 2019!