We are living in some serious times, indeed, with upheavals and calamities both on the foreign and local scene. And it is like the Belizean people, who once sprang into gear at the mention of a possible “sellout” of the country to Guatemala, are in a state of shock, unable to wrap their minds around all that is going on, and seemingly paralyzed or in a daze, as daring, silent hands move to take away the precious national prize for which they once battled in the streets of the old capital. For that is what it is: take away the business of the largest employer in the country, Government, and no way can BTL survive. The incredible part of this situation is that we, our Belize government, “owns” BTL; so how on earth will we, our Belize Government, not give our business support to BTL?
There used to be a vibrant little group called COLA (Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action), which would certainly have been energized and activated with this latest revealed abomination; but some of their stalwart leaders have passed on, and others may have been displaced or otherwise dispersed. It must be that the architects of this move have figured that Belizeans are at their weakest and most distracted point, with all the sensational news of a world in turmoil; and thus they feel they can get away with it.
The great USA is currently being “run out of town” in Afghanistan, where the extremist Taliban is now taking full control. Meanwhile, tropical storm Fred is in the Gulf of Mexico, as tropical depression Grace follows in its footsteps, and another tropical depression just formed in the Atlantic; while the U.S. southern border security continues to be challenged by thousands of Central American asylum seekers.
Global warming is in full effect, with wildfires raging in northern California and the American mid-west, as well as in Russia’s northeastern Siberia, parts of Greece, Turkey, Italy and Canada. Meanwhile, massive flooding and mudslides from heavy rains are affecting southeastern Japan, northern Turkey, parts of India, and elsewhere across the globe.
A magnitude 7.2 earthquake just devastated Haiti on Saturday, with the death toll reaching 1,297 on Sunday; thousands of structures reduced to rubble; 5,700 people injured; and more than 7,000 homes destroyed, leaving many thousands homeless; and they now have to face the approaching tropical depression Grace.
Then there is Covid-19. It is wreaking havoc to lives everywhere, as most countries are now experiencing a third wave of infections and deaths, and Belize is no exception. It’s been some seventeen months of no football, no basketball, no Krem Classic or Cross Country — with fans not even being allowed inside the stadium to see Verdes lose 1-0 to Costa Rica’s Santos Guapiles in Concacaf play last Thursday. The already troubling unemployment situation was only made worse with Covid-19, as many are struggling to put bread on the table. There seemed to be a slight lull in the pandemic recently, and the Belizean economy was just looking to make a slight comeback, with the first cruise ships making a stop here, and parents anticipating the reopening of primary and secondary schools, when the third Covid wave said, “see mi ya!” with the Delta variant; and we’re back into curfew mode and virtual classes again.
The secondary effects of this Covid-19 pandemic cannot be overlooked. Rising prices and high unemployment have only aggravated the already bad crime situation, as the police force seems overwhelmed by the number of seemingly well- planned and executed broad daylight robberies across the country. And the murder rate stays high, with the young increasingly targeted in the turf and gang conflicts.
Aside from the murders, there is what appears to be an alarmingly high death rate from “natural causes,” which would have to be somehow affected by the societal stress, economic hard times, and general atmosphere of anxiety and sadness being experienced by a population under duress from many angles as an indirect result of this raging pandemic. How else can we explain the loss of three prominent roots personalities in just about a week – namely Beans (Patrick Lawrence Lewis) of “RAYDAZ!” fame; Mutt (Emmerth Michael), the one-time ice cream man based on Baymen Avenue; and the original Miss Afro drummer Kunjai (Raymond Murton Gill) who was a regular snow cones vendor at football games in the City. There were so many funerals this past weekend that some attendees braving the Covid-19 restrictions still didn’t get a chance to show their support to our living legend, the Mighty Lord Rhaburn, whose wife of fifty-plus years, Rose Usher Rhaburn, was also laid to rest on Saturday. R.I.P. all.
It’s a perfect storm in which the authorities are trying to focus the nation’s attention on the life and death issue of Covid-19, with much energy being spent on pushing the vaccination program, and they are even considering the mandatory approach, which is another hotly debated issue that is drawing a lot of public attention.
There is the looming crisis of the Belize City stevedores, who are fighting for their bread and butter against three big giants who seem to be ignoring their plight, one of them being the Government, which was once known as the champion of the small man; the other two, PBL (Port of Belize, owned by Lord Ashcroft), and BSI/ASR, can’t be expected to be interested in the welfare of southside stevedores. The stevedores’ union, the Christian Workers Union (CWU), has presented a signed contract agreement between the Government and PBL, and it is left to be seen if this PUP government will now follow through on its campaign pledge that “everybadi fi win.”
It is now in the midst of all these foreign and local issues of burning interest that may grab the attention of Belizean citizens, that the information was released last week by the Public Service Union (PSU) that our Government is currently in the process of changing its telephone provider from BTL, which it owns, to the privately owned Speednet Communications (SMART).
It may be more than a coincidence that in last Friday’s 7News, it was learnt that the recently appointed and highly qualified Governor of the Central Bank, Gustavo Manuel Vasquez, was removed and replaced by known PUP stalwart Sydney Campbell, who had served as the bank’s governor during the infamous Ralph Fonseca era of a previous PUP government. Incidentally, the Central Bank of Belize reportedly currently holds 8.1% of the shares in BTL; Government owns 49.3%; the Social Security Board, 34.3%; and small shareholders, 8.3%.
It is a climate such as this that saw the birth in the 1990s of a grassroots citizen protest group called COLA. COLA now seems dormant, and with current Covid-19-induced curfew and social distancing regulations, it may be that Government does not anticipate much protest against its bold switch to SMART, of which relatives of Prime Minister John Briceño are said to be shareholders.
What’s going on, Belize?