It’s quite the popular saying: Belize is a young country. It’s about 40 years since we became an independent nation and our poverty rate keeps going in the wrong direction. We’re not going to turn that dismal fact around just because we are eighty years old. It will happen because we did the things we had to do, to make progress.
How did Taiwan become one of the world’s top economies and how long did it take them to do it? Like most countries, Taiwan’s economy was based on agriculture. The government reformed land policies so that their farmers got land, and they made sure they got the equipment and other inputs they needed so that they could maximize the productivity of their fields. Taiwan, taking a page from the British, provided huge subsidies for irrigation and drainage projects, and farm roads.
Taiwan moved into the industrial age by funding its entrepreneurs, and providing the protection they needed so that their industries could survive. Taiwan discouraged corruption and favoritism, and channeled the country’s resources into the development of their people and their productive sector, not into the pockets of the greedy.
In time, they were able to compete with the world. Taiwan wasn’t the country it is today, at its inception some years after WWII. But it didn’t take them forty years to discover the blueprint that catapulted them to where they are right now.
In most every successful country we go, the blueprint is about the same. Some countries did not have the agricultural capacity, but they were able to leapfrog into industrialization (making things for themselves and for export) through honest governance, and incentives to encourage their entrepreneurial talent who were involved in projects that benefited the country.
Another fact about Taiwan and other successful small countries that cannot be ignored is that they insist that their people have a lot of discipline. Some countries are extreme with their insistence on discipline, and it is not likely that we could ever be that regimented. Maybe being too regimented is not desirable, but no nation can make it without a modicum of discipline.
Unfortunately, Europe, with a few dollars, bought out the right to determine how we instill discipline in our nation. If you are not sure what we are referring to here, there are strings attached to every aid package that comes from Europe. (All the member states of the European Union have banned the death penalty for peacetime crimes, and almost all of them disallow the smacking of children in schools.) The EU member states insist that we copy their ideas about civilized behavior. It is just impossible that Europe is telling us how to raise our children and youth.
These are a group of old, rich countries that can afford to pay for every youthful folly and waste. ALL their children have access to the highest levels of education, if that is their calling, and the best medical care is available to repair their injuries and treat their diseases. And their murder rates are infinitesimal compared to ours. Their low murder rates, we suggest, have much more to do with their being extremely well off, than with their not smacking unruly children.
Thousands, hundreds of years ago, the blueprint to develop a country wasn’t at the fingertips of government leaders. They had to depend on innate savvy and sheer determination to make a go of it. Now, it’s all there. Thousands of years’ worth of knowledge, gained through trial and error, experience, research, is contained in books. The wheel has already been made.
We can make any kind of country we want, if we are sincere. A nation that wants to be anything just can’t afford corruption and favoritism. A nation that wants to amount to anything just cannot allow violent elements to create fear.
And just like a sports team cannot downplay talent and hard work, the nation must find a way to encourage its most talented, diligent people. In every sphere, talent and diligence must be protected, encouraged.
Only in Belize, only in Belize would political leaders dare to pass off their follies on growing pains. What we are experiencing here is not associated with growing up. Our poverty should be decreasing, not increasing. Our murder rate should be decreasing, not getting worse.
The foundation years
If we want to stick with hiding behind our relatively short years since independence, we can’t run very far from the fact that youth is one’s formative years. They say, and this is irrefutable, that you can’t bend a mature tree. It takes a lot of love and talent and patience to shape a tree to make it produce more or bigger fruit, improve its health, or make it look pretty. The “forming” has to start when the tree is young.
Belize’s political system is similar to the one practiced in the highly advanced UK, but our leaders have made a farce of ours. Our political leaders use the system to throttle the people, not to liberate them. The people are banned from participating in the governance of the country. Effectively, we have turned democracy into dictatorship. A few people in government decide everything, especially how government funds are spent.
Our government invests local capital and takes loans to develop infrastructure. Much of this infrastructure is necessary but unfortunately Belize produces little of the building materials. We are limited to limestone excavated from the hills and sand and gravel taken from the river beds. All the cement, steel, and asphalt needs are met from outside the country.
There was a time when the lumber used on construction sites was made in Belize. Incredibly, a credible panelist on the KREM Sunday News Review talk show informed us recently that Belize is now importing most of the lumber she uses. That is hard to process. A nation built on forest products is now dependent on the forest products of other countries.
Not all the projects the government invests in are critical to the development of the country. Some are for tourists, so that they can tell their family and friends back home that not only does Belize have flora and fauna, she has some first world infrastructure too. If you’re into concrete, San Pedro and Placencia have some fantastic palaces.
Really, we’re a tale of two worlds. The rich one runs in top government circles. This world can’t wait for the country to mature; they will extract theirs no matter how much it costs the nation’s development.
The poor one is struggling and not eating right. There is individual hope. If a talented young person can get a top education they can join the dwindling middle class. If a talented young person can’t get that education, then their only hope for upward movement is to find a package of drugs that dropped out of a plane.
Our old-time poverty was better than this. We had time for our children then. Now, we’re on the move from sun up to sun down without a minute to spare for quality time with our children.
We are struggling because our foundation is structurally deficient. We either do the necessary repairs or we will have to tear the entire thing down and start again. We can’t blame our failures on being young. There are structural problems, and this includes too much hustling up top.