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Taiwan prez was in Belize

EditorialTaiwan prez was in Belize

H.E. Dr. Tsai Ing-Wen, the president of Taiwan, arrived in Belize on Sunday with a delegation that included that country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of the Overseas Community Affairs Council. KREM News said that 40 international reporters were here to cover the brief visit. Since we established relations with Taiwan in 1989, we have never looked back. The relationship is good for Belize. We genuinely support Taiwan’s right to self-determination. And our wealthy friend has been more than generous.

The new poverty assessment

The second decade of this century could have been some of our best years, because Belize was rolling in our share from the oil wells at Spanish Lookout and from extremely soft loans provided through the Alba Petro Caribe program. Unfortunately, though, two of our main industries, citrus and farmed shrimp, were near collapse, and payments to holders of the Super Bond, and to the Ashcroft Alliance for BTL after a disappointing deal in Miami, were a severe drain on the national treasury. Thus, instead of being financially strong, Belize was limping along when the pandemic struck at the end of the first quarter of 2020.

Our economy has improved since the worst of the pandemic, but Belizeans still struggle to find the cash to pay their bills. The pandemic and an ongoing war between the giant European powers have caused a massive increase in inflation, to levels not seen since the last world war. The high cost of fuel and groceries, everything, has hit the pockets of Belizeans extremely hard.

While there has been exponential growth in the BPO industry, the oil wells are flowing at a trickle, the Alba Petro Caribe program has been shut down since 2017, the citrus and farmed shrimp industries still haven’t recovered, and production in the banana industry is down. Many of us are yet to “win,” and that’s why, despite being informed that the measuring tool for poverty was different, some were a little shocked when the Prime Minister declared in his recent budget presentation that “68,000 fewer Belizeans are poor.”

There is still the cold fact that we are living in a capitalist country, meaning cash is king, but apart from monetary poverty, the new multi-dimensional poverty index (MPI) gives attention to health, education, employment, and living standards. A September 2021 MPI study found that 35.7 percent of Belizean households were multi-dimensionally poor, deprived in 39 percent of the 17 areas on the survey.

Poverty is indeed multi-dimensional. Our country is blessed with natural gifts, and stability. Many people drool over what we have. Many Belizeans, however, can’t afford tertiary medical care. Reports are, though, that in the US, one of the wealthiest countries on the planet, despite most Americans having some form of insurance, one in five individuals struggle to pay for tertiary health care. But in Cuba, which is dirt poor if poverty is measured in terms of cash, tertiary health care is available to ALL its citizens.

Some decades ago, after a poverty assessment by an external agency had declared that Belizeans living in the Toledo District were dirt poor, an indigenous leader from the area remarked that prior to the assessment he had thought of himself and the others in his district as relatively well-off. During the Covid-19 pandemic, when thousands of urban Belizeans were dependent on grocery baskets provided by the government, the former executive director of SATIIM, Greg Ch’oc, told KREM’s Mose Hyde that their way of life, living in harmony with the land, helped them to resist shocks, and that the significant contribution villagers make to our economy is discounted by the government because it is largely informal.

The MPI is a new tool, and like all new tools it will take some time to understand and use properly. There are grey areas. How much weight does money carry among the 17 indicators? A GoB release says “the highest levels of multidimensional poverty were seen in the Toledo district, while the Belize district had the lowest”, and that “persons living in rural communities were more likely to be multi-dimensionally poor than those in urban areas.” The proof of the pudding is still in the eating, and poverty is supposed to breed crime. Why, then, is crime lowest in areas where we have the worst poverty? Urban Belizeans have more educational opportunities and access to medical care, but rural Belizeans live in far less stressful environments.

The release also said that “higher levels of multidimensional poverty were also seen among male headed households than among households headed by females.” That’s an interesting observation. There are usually two parents in households headed by males in Belize, while households headed by females are almost always single parent. Did the surveyors find the few single-parent households headed by males and compare them with those led by females?

The MPI is superior to the old poverty assessment. It will help those of us who are poor to better understand the system, and focus on what is important to us. And, as we mentioned in a previous editorial, the notion that “fewer” of us are poor will ease the tension in a country with a widening gap between the well-off and the financially poor.

Happy Easter!

On Sunday, Christians across the globe will celebrate Easter Sunday, the day the Christ rose from the dead three days after being crucified on a cross at Calvary. That is what the special celebration is about. Many Christians, about a quarter, don’t believe that Jesus physically rose from the dead. There are those who say He survived the six hours on the cross, and that is how He came to appear to the Apostles.

What is certain is that Jesus’s Apostles, those who were with Him when He was crucified, believed in the resurrection. What is also certain is that in the three-year duration of His ministry, He led an exemplary life and taught us many valuable lessons. Jesus called out all who take advantage of the poor and the sick, and those wealthy ones who followed Him shared their good fortune with their brothers and sisters. He left us two commandments—that we love our God with all our hearts and that we love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Some Black and Brown Belizeans have trouble accepting Jesus because of the way He was used by the Europeans to subjugate the peoples of Africa and the Americas. The image that the Europeans present in their books is false. The fact is that Jesus was born in a Brown country, between Black Africa and White Europe. Because of 500 years of indoctrination, the European picture of Jesus comes to mind when we close our eyes and think of Him. It is no bother to some; some close their eyes tighter so no image appears and, unfortunately, some, unable to clear their vision, reject Him.

Christians who believe the physical Jesus rose from the dead say anyone who doesn’t believe in the risen Christ cannot be a Christian. Whether He was in the flesh or in the spirit, to all Christians He rose from the grave, and that is why all Christians sing on Easter Sunday, with all their hearts, Alleluia! Our Triumphant Holy Day!

Happy Easter to all Belizeans! And do be safe. Speed kills, so slow down on the highways! Follow the safety rules when you are on the water.

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