By William (Mike) Campbell BRS

(Editorís note: Mike Campbell is a declared independent candidate seeking to become the area representative for the Belize Rural South constituency. His views, opinions, et cetera are his own and not necessarily those of The Independent.)

Since the days of colonialism Belize has been mired in an inability to prosper sufficiently to advance the standard of living of the population as a whole. Some of the population has prospered but the majority of the population is locked in a cycle of agrarian poverty and village sustenance economics. Widespread poverty exists in all three forms; food poverty, capabilities poverty and asset poverty. The family farm or shop usually but not always makes just enough to survive but never enough to really move forward.

There are few jobs that require a higher level of education hence there is no incentive for parents to require their children to complete basic high school education much less continue into the university system. Additionally many of our agricultural sectors are not competitive on the world market. What agricultural products we do produce are difficult to market because of lack of processing facilities and lack of access to international markets by our small producers.

Coupled with difficult road conditions and expensive fuel the typical rural Belizean has no hope of selling more than a few heads of cabbage to our local market if weather permits. It is well known there are many niche crops that could be grown in Belize however the obstacles in developing these industries are very difficult to overcome for any individual.

The most successful colonies expanded their economies by way of industrialization and massive infrastructure projects. Belize has always been and is being exploited for its natural resources by both foreigners and Belizeans alike. We have never developed the means to locally process our natural resources and hence add value and by successful marketing, expand our economy.

Indeed there are many problems associated with establishing viable manufacturing and processing industries in Belize. Lack of raw materials, high cost of electricity, high cost of fuel, lack of trained work force, lack of a developed market, and an inadequate transportation system are some of the major challenges we face in the task of bringing our nation out of the poverty that currently grips much of the population and government.

To some degree we must industrialize to survive. We simply donít have a large enough tax base to provide basic community services to the citizens of our nation and must examine immigration policies with the aim of attracting immigrants who can help us expand the tax base. We cannot reasonably expect to raise revenue by raising taxes on an overstressed economy with ingrained poverty at the levels we have.

Our plan is a logical extension of what history has taught us. We propose to move Belize forward by massive infrastructure projects coupled with planned industrial expansion. This is a course that has proven successful in other colonies and should work for us as well. The spine of our program will be an International Super Highway, which will be operated as a toll road connecting the rich farmlands and affluent populations of Guatemala with the markets of Cancun, Mexico and North America. If you draw a straight line from Cancun to the heartland of Central America you will see that a road across Belize is the logical and most direct route. As we complete the International Highway we will immediately become the Gateway to Central America going south and the Gateway to Mexico going north. Now all commercial and tourist traffic between Mexico and Central America uses the Guatemala/Chiapas border crossing. Belize will be able to compete from a position of strength for a share of that market.

Achieving a reasonable price of dependable electrical power for industrial development will be addressed by joining the Central American grid. An area in the Bay of Chetumal offshore from the Rocky Point area has been identified as having potential for a large wind farm. This would allow us to become net exporters of power and lower our costs. The offshore shallow water installation is much easier than an installation on land because of the associated costs of infrastructure required for installation and maintenance.

Our tourism industry, which has become a cornerstone of the economy, is in the doldrums as well. We are drifting along on a very turbulent sea with no apparent direction. Authorities are caught in the battle between commercial exploitation and sustainable ecotourism and are too easily swayed by the fast buck, catch and kill, mentality that haunts us and they seem unable to progress in either direction for long at a time.

From the Tourism standpoint, the International Highway will allow all of Central America to benefit from the International Airport in Cancun and all its connections to the European markets. Those who wish to study Maya history and ancient cultures will find it much easier than ever before by coming to and through Belize. Our International Highway will be similar to an interstate highway in the US reaching from our border with Mexico at Santa Elena to the Sarstoon at the Guatemala border tying into the Guatemala road system. The effects of this massive infrastructure project are far reaching and will forever change Belize from an out of the way difficult to reach destination to the gateway to Central America. It will also forever change the face of Central America and the migration patterns of its people.

Immediately to the North, Quintana Roo successfully attracts 5 million visitors annually. Although we would like to attract some of these visitors to Belize we have never formulated a plan that would achieve that result. Our transportation system and infrastructure is so inadequate that a trip to Belize from Mexico becomes more of an adventure than a vacation and very few find their way from Mexico to see the wonders of Belize. Except for the International Airport, Belize is effectively isolated from the rest of the world and its opportunities with little chance of change.

Immediately to the south of Belize lie the most affluent populations and productive agricultural areas of Guatemala including Rio Dulce and Puerto Barrios and is a short drive to Guatemala City. Even though we have many visitors from Guatemala the transportation infrastructure connecting our two countries is virtually non-existent and serves as the lynch pin of the ongoing territorial dispute.

As the International Highway bends around Belize City it will intersect with a sister Super Highway ending at the Guatemala border on the Western Frontier. As the development of these highways progress we will develop industrial zones at appropriate locations next to the highways. These zones will operate much as our current EPZís but will provide small farmers and manufacturers with cooperative processing and marketing facilities enabling them to add value to their products and be able to access markets by way of the International Highway.

This new Western Super Highway will make transportation of passengers, goods and materials from the Cayo District much safer and practical in all weather and provide a better link to our neighbor. Too many have lost their lives on the Western Highway and the human cost alone makes this part of the project worthwhile. This will enhance accessibility to the capitol in Belmopan as well as allow for the ever-growing tourism industry in the Cayo District to continue to expand in a safer fashion. As this district also produces much of our local agricultural goods the increased accessibility of the farmers and other producers to an efficient transportation system and processing facilities will benefit us all.

As the development of these highways progress we will develop industrial zones at appropriate locations next to the highways. These zones will operate much as our current EPZís but will provide small farmers and manufacturers with cooperative processing and marketing facilities enabling them to add value to their products and be able to access markets by way of the International Highway.

As the International Highway bends around Belize City it will intersect with a sister Super Highway ending at the Guatemala border on the Western Frontier. This new Western Super Highway will make transportation of passengers, goods and materials from the Cayo District much safer and practical in all weather and provide a better link to our neighbor. Too many have lost their lives on the Western Highway and the human cost alone makes this part of the project worthwhile. This will enhance accessibility to the capitol in Belmopan as well as allow for the ever-growing tourism industry in the Cayo District to continue to expand in a safer fashion. As this district also produces much of our local agricultural goods the increased accessibility of the farmers and other producers to an efficient transportation system and processing facilities will benefit us all.

As the new highway system opens there will be a reasonable way to import raw materials and export finished products or agricultural goods. These factors will all work together to make industrial development possible in Belize. As we attract factories by giving away land in the new Industrial Zones we will also attract more highly educated professionals to operate these new facilities. This will speed our transfer of technology and encourage our youths to seek higher education to fill these newly created positions and our educational system will start to develop according to the needs placed upon it.

As we all know the current brain drain retards our national capacities and retards the development of our society as the cream of the crop often stay abroad after going to university as there are no jobs suitable for their educational level in Belize. The expansion of the number of professionals and professions represented in Belize will further help our society mature and grow. Our nation has a current population of around 325,000. Of that number 45% are under the age of 18. These are our children and we have an obligation to provide them with education, jobs and a chance to have meaningful productive lives.

In order for this level of development to succeed we must truly expand our consciousness concerning our attitudes toward our environment. The DOE must be expanded and be allowed to operate without any political interference whatsoever. The undertaking of this level of development will raise many environmental issues. All must be resolved in the favor of sustainable development with a bias towards environmental conservatism. It has been said that a fool learns from his own mistakes while a wise man learns from the mistakes of others. We wish to be environmentally wise. Recent surveys have shown that travelers are willing to spend more on green destinations than conventional tourist destinations. As a nation we should embrace ecotourism to the fullest, complete with all its environmental responsibilities and try to develop policies and habits that can be admired worldwide. We only need the political will to do so.

This highway can be financed entirely by private sector but will be impossible in a corrupt economy as the investors will be unwilling to participate. The piece meal infrastructure projects we now undertake have no lasting economic impact. We must maximize the efficient use of our resources and make sure that the money we spend creates lasting jobs and meaningful infrastructure.

The Independent