George Price and Philip Goldson were still very much alive when Evan X foresaw Belize’s future. In fact, Price led Belize into what is now obviously, but was not perceived then, a counterfeit Independence the following year, which was 1981. How did a 33-year-old Hyde figure that the successors of Price and Goldson would be mainly Lilliputian minions who would betray the highest ideals of these two men, who in their own different ways truly loved Belize?
The cruise ships have now returned to Belize after 16 months of inactivity, because of the COVID pandemic. Belizeans, at present, are treated to strenuous explanations about the precautions taken on behalf of the vaccinated and the unvaccinated coming onshore. There is relief among those Belizeans who, being reliant on this sector of the tourism industry, had been unemployed. But the employment benefits from tourism in general are negligible, irrespective of what was projected 10 years ago by Belize’s National Sustainable Tourism Master Plan, for the period 2012 to 2030. Most jobs exist at the lower and poorer end of the service sector in the form of guides, drivers, attendants, waiters, security-men, cooks, cleaners, receptionists, bartenders, bouncers, and hangers-on.
Cruise ship tourists add little real value to any host nation’s economy, for besides their short, restricted stays, everything is packaged and paid for upfront to the company before the ships even reach the foreign ports and while on-board. Most studies show that they do not boost the economies of the countries they visit, even though the cruise ship industry makes an estimated $30 billion per year (2011 figures). The industry, in fact, engages in deals with local vendors, where it is known to take as much as 70 percent of onshore revenue. So, in reality, the local hosts do not make much out of these partnerships.
Cruise ship tourism, despite its attempts to mitigate the known disadvantages, wreaks unqualified damage to the earth’s environment. Our oceans, our coral reefs, the pristine coastal waters of countries like Belize, the marine life through which they traverse, often become polluted. This involves the dumping of solid waste, sewage sludge, bilge water (which contains oil and grease), grey-water (this contains laundry, kitchen and bath water), ballast water (various kinds of discharged water), incinerator ash, and other types of harmful waste that the ships’ treatment systems cannot really neutralise.
For while it is true that tourism generates taxes for the government and is the largest earner of foreign exchange in Belize, because tourism is controlled or dominated by international companies, foreign developers and their agents, much of its profits go to them and are lost in capital flight. George Price, to his credit, never drank the tourism nectar, and stubbornly remained out of step with the Caribbean nations and some of his Latinx neighbours. His slogan in the 1960s was: “We don’t want to become a nation of waiters”.
Today, tourist numbers have fallen considerably, seriously affecting the largely tourist-dependent economies of the Caribbean. But this is not just due to COVID, but also because a number of Caribbean states have refused to eliminate their anti-LGBTQ stance and laws, which American, Canadian and European tourists consider repugnant and unwelcoming. According to a recent report by the group, Open for Business (OFB), a coalition of companies agitating for LGBTQ equity, this is costing nine of the 12 countries in the English-speaking Caribbean which the study examined, $4.2 billion annually. In the end, the age-old axiom of he who pays the piper dictates the tune, will no doubt require these tourist-reliant Caribbean states to succumb to all the diktats of their visitors and investors. Or, they may sensibly find less transient and more productively sustainable ways to generate wealth and establish true independence for their people.
The four-decade old prescience displayed by a youthful Evan X, who was the poet who “saw tomorrow,” meant that no “true born Belizean”, except for a privileged few in a minuscule circle, would be able to buy any of the 71 studios and condominiums within the new 20+ acres beach resort on Belize’s largest island, San Pedro or Ambergris Caye, just 600 metres from the second largest barrier reef on Planet Earth, clearly visible from outer space. And, in respect of those luxurious ocean-front, three-bedroom villas, all a part of this boutique resort, which Belize “cruffy” would have US$1.3 million in 2021 Anno Domini to “shin out, just like that”? Those now leasing, selling and parcelling the National Patrimony, way back in 1980 were not even a gleam in the eye of Belize. But today, they represent far, far more than a gleam, or even one eye, but rather the face of Belize. In ancient Persia and Egypt, and throughout the Islamic world, one way of thanking people like Evan X Hyde is this wish: “May your shadow never be less”.
Thérèse Belisle-Nweke resides in Lagos, Nigeria.