Belize’s annual month-long period of celebration and merrymaking is behind us and we now move on to face the harsh realities of everyday living. Our families and friends from abroad have all returned to their greener pasture and we are now left to face these troubles and hardships alone. They have no doubt returned with a better idea of what we are facing here at home. Many were appalled at the high price of fuel, which even at the “two to one” currency exchange, far outpace the three and four US dollars per gallon prices that they are used to paying in the states. Many quickly realized that this was not the Belize that they had left behind.
Apart from the socializing, festivities and parades associated with September, the occasion offers both government and opposition the opportunity to present to the people their respective views on the “state of the union”. Listening to the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, one might be tempted to believe that these two men live in totally different worlds.
The Leader of the Opposition, while calling for a “unity of spirit and purpose” warned against “the growing danger of intense individualism”. He was practical and sincere in pointing out the difficult challenges that awaited us after the festivities were over and done with. Belize is faced with high unemployment, high cost of living, 43% poverty rate and a crime problem that has crippled our social lifestyle. No less than four rapes were reported over the long weekend along with a number of robberies, burglaries and other serious crimes. While he struggled to remain positive, the Leader of the Opposition was forced to acknowledge that things in Belize were far from what they should or could be.
The Prime Minister on the other hand, was his usual pretentious and grandiloquent self. He flaunted his stock of words and tossed around quotations like a beggar squandering wishes. At the end of the day, Prime Minister Barrow had very little to offer and spent most of his time recounting events of the pass year. Mr. Barrow spoke of Rowan Garel, Jasmine Lowe and a couple of doctors who performed Belize’s first open heart surgery. Big respect to Dr. Coye and Dr. Cervantes but for the record Mr. Barrow, the world’s first open heart surgery was performed on July 9th, 1893. Good to see that Belize is catching up though.
Mr. Barrow went on to beat his chest some more about the “nationalizing” of BTL and BEL. No word yet on how or when the previous owners of these utilities will be paid. In the same breath, Mr. Barrow boasted about the 200 million dollar sale of Belize Sugar Industries to foreign investors. Am I the only one who sees some sort of contradiction here? Neither was any word mentioned about the huge tax exemptions that these new owners are getting from government. This includes exemption of income and business taxes retroactive to 2008 as well as the withholding of “tax on dividends, on payments for technical services and tax exemptions for ten years on custom and excise duties and environmental tax.” Talk about an “accommodation agreement”, not even BTL’s pot was that sweet.
Mr. Barrow’s big announcement came early in his speech when he announced the renaming of Belize’s two major highways. According to the Prime Minister, "The Government of Belize, in conjunction with the National September Celebrations Committee is officially renaming the Western Highway the George Price Highway; and the Northern Highway the Philip SW Goldson Highway." Wow, can they do that!
Should there not be some process of consultation? And when Mr. Barrow speaks of the Government of Belize, does that not also include the Opposition? Mr. Barrow’s continued refusal to consult with the Opposition on any matter is completely disrespectful and an insult to our system of Democracy. The PUP might need to start flexing its political muscle.
There is a question that is being asked in most forums where this decision is being discussed. Just exactly how will this name change help Belize? Will the name change create jobs? Will it lower our debt? Will it help to alleviate poverty? Will it in anyway help to reduce crime? If your answer to any or all of the above is no, then we really must question the real motive behind this move. With all the serious issues confronting Belize today, is this really the best that Dean Barrow has to offer.
Dean Barrow is apparently trying to latch onto the coattail of Mr. Price’s popularity. This, after spending a lifetime opposing every policy that the Right Honorable gentleman had tried to implement! Hypocrisy at its highest level! Mr. Barrow was also among those who were vehemently opposed to Belize attaining Independence when it did. He could definitely be considered one of “the Cassandra’s” who predicted that Belize would not make it as an independent state. Yet ironically enough, 31 years and counting, Dean Barrow is now the man to stand and extol the virtues of the Father of our Nation and exploit his good name for political gain.
There are many who believe that a more fitting tribute to Mr. Price would be to finish the George Price Boulevard in Belmopan. The road which provides a practical and convenient alternate route into the capital sits in a state of complete neglect and disrepair. There is also another George Price Boulevard in Santa Elena and many other towns that can use attention. And did we not already honor Goldson by naming our only international airport after him? Dean Barrow is apparently trying to employ this feel-good strategy to divert people’s attention from the very huge problems that confront us.
While we did get some of the same old cock and bull story about cows going to Mexico, (remember two years ago there were 3,000 at the border waiting to cross?), at least we didn’t get more promises of Voip, cheaper internet and an oil refinery. Mr. Barrow seems to be running out of lies, running out of excuses and running out of time. Nation building is indeed a task for giants, Mr. Prime Minister, not for little people with big words. Rise up Belizeans, we have much to do.
G. Michael Reid
Citizen of the world