When Minister of Agriculture, Food Security and Enterprise, Hon. Jose Mai, told Love FM that if stevedores lost their jobs at the Port of Belize (PBL) they would just have to “find something else to do”, he was expressing the view of quite a number of Belizeans, that “it’s capitalism”, and the prize, without much consideration of workers or the environment, goes to the business that can get the job done at the lowest cost.
In the business of port services in Belize, the port in Big Creek is more efficient than PBL in Belize City; however, because of the far greater distance to Big Creek, PBL, ordinarily, would be the far better option for the loading of goods from Tower Hill in Orange Walk. In fact, it is an extraordinary notion that it could be cheaper for sugar from Tower Hill to go to Big Creek, as the sugar producers ASR/BSI claim. How that is possible is something that all the “it’s capitalism” proponents in our country should explain before they make pronouncements on the present situation.
One way to lower the cost of doing business at PBL would be to improve the facilities, which the present management has refused to do. Improved equipment would reduce the direct need for workers, but in the progressive economy, automation (machines) is cheered for increased results, not feared for causing displacement. Change will come; people have to be willing, even eager, to adapt to change, but there is a big picture for our economy, which is that it should work for all Belizeans, that all of us win. In the progressive economy, all the profits don’t go into the pockets of greedy individual corporations, workers get better pay and major investment is made in others so they can find placement in other areas of the economy.
Minister Mai expressed sympathy for the stevedores, who at best have lost a considerable portion of their earnings due to the new shipping arrangements for sugar, but explained that it’s just business, and the cane farmers will be benefiting from savings due to the Big Creek move. It is a very good thing for our cane farmers that they’ll be realizing greater profits. It has been a struggle for thousands of our small farmers for decades, and many have survived solely because in the countryside farmers can supplement their cash earnings with produce from their small farms.
It’s tough on farmers: problems with pests and droughts and floods, problems with stagnating prices for their products and increasing cost of foreign inputs. But, as mentioned, people living in rural areas usually can still feed their families when things are bad. It’s tough in rural areas when farms aren’t very productive—but it’s a disaster in a city when the breadwinner loses their job. For the stevedores and others in urban areas who have fallen on hard times, they are staring at homelessness, starvation, their sons falling prey to the gangs, and their daughters falling to prostitution.
The new government says its job is to ensure fair competition, to make sure that we all play by the rules. That looks like the right way to go about running a country, but much depends on the kind of country we want. If our dream is unfettered capitalism, our government will not quickly and ably step in when the end story of capitalism, monopolistic rogue businesses, emerge.
We are being told that we have to wake up and smell the coffee, understand that it’s capitalism, and in that system we say sorry, express sympathy and move on, but that is not the kind of capitalism in which all of us win. That kind of capitalism engenders discontent in the greater society; that kind of capitalism is narrow; that kind of capitalism must give way to a more humanitarian vision.
Minister Mai is a high-energy guy, and in a country where we’ve had far too many area representatives who confined themselves to posturing and self-enrichment, he’s a breath of fresh air. However, he has to expand his view. As minister, he is in the role of a general, and he must make the effort to see the full picture. His “find something else to do” was not completely thought through, just as the SMART attack on BTL wasn’t.
The primary concern of government of the people, by the people, for the people must be for the workers, the small farmers, and small entrepreneurs, and thus, in regard to the shipment of sugar, it is wrong, a dereliction of duty, for the government to be “hands off” regarding PBL and their obvious path to crush the stevedores. Left to operate without the people’s big brother, government, looking over their shoulders, big business will crush the smaller entities in our country.
While big business is an innocent party, according to the “it’s capitalism” view, the situation, sadly, is on the edge of devolving into friction between sugarcane farmers and stevedores. The farmers and the stevedores aren’t antagonistic, they aren’t enemies. The enemy is rapacious capitalism which has been exposed and rejected in many countries around the world.
Unchecked, big business will, as has happened often in Belize, gobble up the properties of small farmers until they are no more, and it will oversee the entry of cheaper un-unionized labor to bring down the amount it has to pay workers. There are great opportunities in our country for big players, but there is a frame inside which they should be forced to operate.
We all know this new government has been dealt a very difficult hand, and it has been forced to make some hard decisions. The last government burned this country badly, and a neglected people are desperate for relief. The people know there isn’t much in the national treasury, but they can ask for the decisions to be made with the best for them in mind.
The new government needs to be reminded that this country didn’t fight for the capitalism that produces businesses that dictate to government and run over people. If the present leaders have misplaced the script, they can go and ask Dr. Hector Silva. He will tell them that we broke up the huge estates so that our small farmers could own land, not be landless like our brothers and sisters in neighboring republics. That Belize that was born in the 1950s and 1960s built BTL, and BEL, and BWSL, and that Belize supported unions and fought for good-paying jobs for stevedores. That Belize is the country that is known as the jewel in our region.