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The dungeon in the city

EditorialThe dungeon in the city

Mon. May 8, 2023

As wars and conflicts lead to social disruptions, aggravated by extreme climate trends due to global warming, more and more it is the case that large masses of people are leaving their homelands in search of safety and better living conditions, as starvation and social violence engulf the cities and towns they leave behind. Many are trapped and cannot escape, while many others who thought they almost made it, are getting shipped or flown back home, from the doorsteps of what they hoped and dreamed would be a chance at a better life in the “land of milk and honey”.

Inevitably, hard times and natural disasters, combined with civil-war-level violence and starvation resulting from collapsed economies, are leading to more and more caravans of desperate people, heading to the very first world countries whose affluent economies have benefited from the impoverishment and exploitation of labor and natural resources over the decades and centuries from the little, third world, or “s…hole” countries, as one arrogant and bigoted leader of the mighty USA once described us small, struggling countries whose poor keep clinging to the hope and dream of the good life in the “promised lands” of America or Europe.

As the world observes the outrageously expensive and glamorous display of wealth and pageantry in the coronation of the English king Charles III, it is hard not to reflect on the plight of the poor amongst us in former colonies of the British empire. The poor will always be with us, so it is said. But in a global economy enduring convulsions and strains in this 21st century, with the widening gap between rich and poor, the poor have never been poorer, and if life was ever “haad out ya,” it has certainly gotten much harder just in the past year, when leaping inflation is part of the fallout from the Russian-Ukraine “war” and the sanctions imposed by the “West” have sapped the spending power of everyone, but the poor most severely. There is always a breaking point, and desperation in silent quarters inevitably leads to an increase in incidents of reckless adventurism and daring criminality among the energetic and bold young men who often are seduced with the “robin hood”-style image of glorified “gangsta” stars of music and television. In general, it is an age-old truth, that poverty tends to breed crime, because “a hungry man is an angry man.”

Man/woman, whatever, it is just a fact of life; if you are hungry, you are not contented. And if you are hungry in the presence of someone who is not only not hungry, but displaying a lavish table of food of all description along with an assortment of desserts, while telling you to “kip haat”, you know that something must be wrong. One thing leads to another, and despite the preaching of our pastors and the impressive speeches by our leaders in the House, and all the wondrous efforts of our L.I.U., which has certainly proven very effective in preventing outright war among the various gangs, still we have a serious problem of crime, especially of an economic nature – home invasions, armed robberies, burglaries, etc. being committed by mostly young men.

The times “they are a changing,” and even the mighty U.S. dollar is seemingly under threat by that nation’s humongous debt, while a growing number of big countries outside the “western bloc” have been agitating towards a new global financial order, no longer dictated by the American superpower. We uninformed underlings of the system only hear about major banks failing in the U.S., but things appear to be going on as normal over here, and we feel confident that a remedy will surely be devised by the genius of America. But we still know that food prices are rising more and more. Eating healthy is no longer a consideration of poor people; just eating is a challenge, trying to stretch the little that they have.

There is a dungeon right in the midst of our city, not necessarily geographically, but political canvassers who go from house to house get a firsthand look at the desperation of our poor people. Those who still have a steady job, and a salary to depend on, are surviving, but just managing to keep their “head above water.” Those who don’t have another reality.

When crack cocaine first became a problem in Belize back in the mid-1980s, it was a common observation what damage to an entire area could be occasioned by the presence of only one “crack head,” who it was said would steal anything in sight to feed his desperate habit. From women’s underclothes hanging on the line, to every movable object not being guarded, a whole block could be traumatized by the thieving of one poor “crack” addict. Perhaps the most depressing spectacle was an addicted couple, and the male pimping his female partner, so they both could indulge later—a result of this newfound slavery to the “white lady,” as youths referred to cocaine when it first took Belize by storm. The spread of AIDS was further facilitated by habits connected to crack addiction.

With a significant segment of our small population having succumbed “before their time” due to AIDS and the violence associated with gang conflicts over the crack cocaine business, our society has become accustomed to these realities by now in 2023. AIDS is still around, but treatments and preventive education have greatly improved. Fewer people are becoming “crack heads”, but its use is still common. Gang wars have subsided, thanks to the efforts of the L.I.U., but the illegal trafficking of drugs continues unabated, despite the half-hearted “decriminalization” of marijuana in limited quantities.

But with all this, the dungeon remains for many in the underprivileged class of Belizeans. There is a world “out there” that many of our people never got to see, and probably never will. Circumstances and economic strife keep them enclosed in a daily struggle for survival, with hunger an ever-present challenge, especially with young children around needing food and milk.

While this is taking place, kings are being crowned, with chariots laden with gold, and the lifestyle of the rich and famous is glorified and projected into the homes of people living in the dungeons of our city, along with images of tourist visitors exploring the wonders of our reef and sea life, snorkeling and scuba diving, checking the imposing Maya Ruins across the country, going zip-lining, or cave tubing, or horseback riding, or adventure mountain climbing and camping in the forest. There is so much to sea and explore – the amazing Halfmoon Caye, South Water Caye, the Ranguana and Sapodilla Cayes, the famous Hunting Caye and many others, Placencia and Hopkins, Sarteneja, even Caye Caulker and San Pedro, and St. George’s Caye, beautiful Goff’s Caye just twelve miles from Belize City. There is so, so much more to see and enjoy in this beautiful Jewel of ours that one can never get bored in trying to cover as much as one can. Tour guiding should be a most exciting and invigorating profession, so much to see and to share.

But there are many Belizeans still trapped in a dungeon of poverty and hopelessness inside this city. And it is the challenge of our leaders to chart a way forward, guided by our design of a new Constitution, to ensure that outlets and safety valves are in place, come inflation, hurricane or global warming, so that all our people can be released from that dungeon of poverty, so that no one is trapped below that level of poverty that is currently providing the breeding ground for unacceptable levels of youth crimes. Respect to perks to inspire brilliance at the top, but we must first guarantee to the least of us the basic substance of life and dignity. The alternative is a breeding ground that will get worse, and at some point you will have to “hand over” by bloody force, what common sense and Christian charity should tell us now to share “with the least of these.”

The message is the same for our little city and our poor, as it is for the big nations and their exploited “third world” struggling nations.

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