REPORT #50 Feb 1999

Produced by the Belize Development Trust
-excerpt ideas from Latin American Persepectives ( Sept 1998)
The following is an excerpt from an article featured in Latin American Perspecitves, v25n5 (Sep 1998) that I thought some of you may find interesting. Tried to cut and paste the entire thing, but the text was too long and I got a weird message with truncated mess. The article was written by Laurie Kroshus Medina who earned her Ph.D. in Anthropology at UCLA and is an assistant professor at Michigan State University. Some of you may know her as she has done extensive field work in Belize. I don't know her personally; but I found her article rather interesting. Excerpt follows:


President Clinton has called for free trade throughout the Americas by the year 2005. Meanwhile, the protected access to U.S. markets afforded to Caribbean countries under the CBI has already been eroded by the inclusion of citrus in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) despite combined Floridian and Caribbean lobbying efforts." Worse, even while Belize still enjoys protected trade status vis-a-vis Brazil in United States, European, and Caribbean markets, prices for citrus in Belize have fallen drastically because of increases in Brazilian production. The 1992/93 world orange crop set a record, and the quantity of citrus processed increased 23 percent; however, demand for processed citrus grew only 2 percent (FAO,1994: 142-144). As a result, world market prices for frozen concentrate orange juice plummeted, and the prices that Belizean citrus growers received were halved: While implementation of the CBI had increased citrus prices from $6.85 to $10.75/box, in 199293 prices fell to $4.22/box. The Belizean government made interest-free loans available to farmers during the 1992/93 crop season to encourage them to continue applying chemicals to their groves. However, many small growers, skeptical that they would earn enough on the harvest to cover the costs of chemicals in addition to their other farm and household expenses, curtailed their use of inputs, reducing the size of their crops. Many had to reschedule their payments on the loans that had financed their expansion. A small number of growers have sold their farms, and there is widespread concern in the industry that many more may lose their farms or decide to sell them, unable to make loan payments or turn a profit at current prices. International agencies have stopped funding agro-export expansion in Belize.

Prices that Belizean growers receive would drop even further under hemisphere wide free trade, which would force Belizean citrus producers to compete directly with Brazil. In a free-trade future, could Belizeans continue to produce and sell frozen concentrate orange juice profitably? What price might a small producer like Belize pay if forced to compete in an open market with much larger producers? Some Belizean citrus farmers argue that the recent drastic drop in fruit prices has begun a process of consolidation of citrus holdings in the hands of the largest estate owners, who can increase their efficiency more easily than smallholders. Whereas the Belizean government defined 20 acres as an economic acreage in 1990, CGA officials estimate that an economic acreage would now have to be well over 50 acres. Further steep declines in fruit prices resulting from the elimination of current trade privileges would almost certainly accelerate the process of consolidation if not the collapse of the industry.

A parallel process is beginning in the Belizean banana industry. The European Union (EU) had extended preferences for bananas from African, Caribbean, and Pacific countries, in part to support small Caribbean countries that depend heavily on banana exports and are seen as being unable to compete directly with lower-cost, high-volume producers in Latin America. These preferences had revitalized the Belizean banana industry. However, the United States filed a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO) at the behest of the banana giant Chiquita, charging that EU policy is unfair to Latin American banana producers. The WTO recently issued a preliminary ruling in support of the U.S. position, which would curtail the Caribbean's preferential access to European markets. The chairman of the Belize Banana Growers Association responded with the charge that "'the Belize banana industry has been sentenced to death by the United States"' (Amandala, May 18, 1997). Though the banana industry in Belize incorporates relatively few smallholders in comparison with citrus, a consolidation of holdings has also begun in that industry, with some plantation owners buying out smaller producers to increase economies of scale. At the same time, jobs are being eliminated, and the workers who remain will be pushed to become more productive (Amandala, May 18, 1997). Thus both agro-export industries that were expanded during the 1980s-with the aim of diversifying the Belizean economy to make it less vulnerable to market shocks and in response to the advice of international lending agencies and the provision of protected trade arrangements-are threatened by free trade. They must become more effcient or risk collapse.

Efforts to increase the efficiency of agro-export production in Belize would unravel the alliance between small and large export producers that has underwritten the implementation of an export-led development strategy in Belize; it would precipitate a "representational crisis" (Jessop, 1978: 38) in which dominant political discourses are no longer effective. The government has had success in the past in establishing economic growth through the expansion of exports as an overriding national interest, in part because it incorporated smallholders into the expansion process; in accordance with intertwined development and democracy discourses, the government did offer a stake in development to some (though not most) "small men." The elimination of many small agro-export producers would remove the stake of the "small man" in the export-led development strategy and make democracy as the rule of the majority less compatible with the definition of development as export expansion. If small citrus growers are transformed into wage laborers and workers no longer see citrus production as a ladder out of the working class into higher standards of living, class relations in southern Belize are likely to become increasingly polarized and conflictual, especially if the government and investors attempt to depress wages further as a way of increasing efficiency. The U.S. ambassador may have been correct when he suggested that Belizean industry would become more efficient in response to expanding free trade (Amandala, April 26, 1991), but this offers little encouragement to many Belizeans.

If the alliance that has held sway for several decades disintegrates under the pressure of free trade, struggle will ensue among social groups competing to articulate new discourses that can mobilize social alliances in support of or resistance to a new politics of efficiency. Large-scale export producers, who may hope to survive by increasing the efficiency of their operations, will find allies in international development and credit institutions. Belizean politicians under pressure from these same external quarters may also become allies, though the legitimization of government support for the project of efficiency will likely require politicians to disconnect democracy from development or to shift democracy discourse away from its current concern with the "small man." However, to win support from those who constitute the majority of Belizean society, dominant groups must offer them some stake in their plans for the future and then make good-at least partially-on that offer (Scott, 1985). What stake would most Belizeans find in development defined as the efficient expansion of exports? Would the promise of national development be sufficient, given the different effects efficiency would have on different segments of the Belizean nation?

If they are not offered a clear stake in a reorganized development process, the expanding ranks of working-class or unemployed Belizeans are likely to resist moves toward efficiency. They may reiterate the discourses that legitimated development policies in the 1980s by insisting on incorporation of the "small man," or they may attempt to redefine the notions of democracy and development. Development is already a polyvalent term, defined by many Belizeans more broadly than economic growth, and a local nongovernmental organization has already launched nationwide discussions aimed at redefining democracy in terms of greater participation by civil society in policymaking.

The uncertainties that Belizeans confront are widely shared throughout the Caribbean, where the majority of countries produce a rather narrow range of commodities at relatively small scales and depend heavily on more developed countries both as suppliers of imports and as markets for their exports. Industries that flourished under CBI provisions, principally garment assembly and fruit and vegetable production including citrus, are now threatened by free-trade expansion; some have already lost ground. Citrus producers in Jamaica and Trinidad face the same pressures as their Belizean counterparts, while garment manufacture, the industry that expanded most under the influence of CBI, has already lost investment to Mexico since the implementation of NAFTA (Watson, 1994b: 83).21 The erosion of trade privileges in the EU by the recent WTO ruling on bananas also has implications for Caribbean nations other than Belize. Many Caribbean banana industries consist of smallholder producers who own between 0.5 and 40 hectares (Harker, 1995). Whereas the Caribbean industries are less efficient producers than the highvolume corporate plantations of the Latin American mainland, they account for over 50 percent of the Windward Islands' export earnings (Harker, 1995). Caribbean banana farmers have worked to win international support for continuing their EU trade privileges, echoing Belizean citrus farmers' defense of their own trade privileges: " 'We have avoided the strife and turmoil that has plagued Latin America precisely because we don't have a plantation economy and our distribution of income is better,' " the chairman of the St. Lucia Banana Growers Association recently asserted (Rohter, 1997). His assertion suggests that the mutual causality between democracy and capitalist development posed by CBI discourse resonated widely in the Caribbean region. However, throughout the region, this logic and the social configurations that it helped to shape are confronted by the competing logic of efficiency and its aim to reconfigure Caribbean societies. International support leans decidedly toward the latter.

Efforts to transform Caribbean societies to confront the transition from protected to free-trade regimes will have differential impacts on Caribbean populations by class and economic sector and in many cases likely by gender and race as well. These differential impacts will give rise to what Bryan calls "challenges to governance" that Caribbean states will have to confront and "manage"(Bryan,1995b).22 Whereas the ability of disparate social groups to mobilize material resources will play a significant role in shaping the outcome of such challenges and attempts to manage them, these struggles will also be fought on the terrain of discourse, where competing groups will deploy alternative definitions and evaluations of notios such as democracy and efficiency to mobilize social alliances that can shape the meaning of development.

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