REPORT #612 February 21, 2003

Produced by the Belize Development Trust

Talking to the candidates of various parties in this National Election to fill the 29 seats in the House of Representatives, it is simply astounding how many of them lack the experience or knowledge, of what makes a community wealthy?

Community Development has been my forte for nearly 50 years and watching people get wealthy and communities succeed, underlines the basic building blocks of the process. Around the world, there are countless organizations, NGO's like the Belize Development Trust and many other people trying to teach people to comprehend and then act on those fundamentals to let themselves and their communities get rich and alleviate poverty. Hampering this process are central corrupt governments and the foibles of human nature.

The two traditional major political parties in Belize basically understand the development process and have tried to implement such endeavors, but where they have fallen short is that they tried to do these fundamentals through a patronage, Padron, or Jefe plantation governing system. This is largely self defeating and works against itself, but some successes on an individual level come through, but rarely for whole communities. Most of the Independent election candidates are trying to learn and probably the only one of the many political candidates in the country, for the House of Representatives who has a good grasp on the process of development is Francis Gegg, a businessman running in the City Fort George Division.

I was appalled at a long conversation with one candidate Dr. Jones, a well educated, articulate and academically intelligent Belize City leader. From our long conversation it was hard to pin him down on thoughts of poverty alleviation and community success and how to go about it. I got the impression that he thought government should do it by throwing money at the residents of his community? That may be a good vote getting campaign slogan, but hardly practical for solutions. The two major parties are also using that same idea to get votes. It seems getting elected is one thing and has nothing at all to do with fighting poverty, or making a community, or the nation wealthy?

The basic building blocks of community development and wealth are teaching people to organize themselves, finding mutual goals they can agree and vote on, and then setting rules to work together towards these goals. Basically, wealth and the alleviation of poverty is a group process of self-organization in a community, or a nation. The government can only put in the infra-structure to enable people to help themselves. But bootstrap development out of poverty must come from within the people themselves who form a pocket of poverty. If they cannot find the means to organize themselves and cooperate, they are forever doomed to competition and individual fractious enmity, which in turn breeds class divisions and poverty.

My own island village of Caye Caulker is a remarkable success story of this group community effort. So is San Pedro and while the two communities are similar in cause and effect and the lessons of organizing themselves to solve common group problems; in the case of San Pedro, the input of a lot of foreign investors and new stimulating ideas has aided that community. In comparison my own island village of Caye Caulker refused to allow foreign investment for the most part and went their own way. There are no poor village residents on Caye Caulker anymore and have not been for 25 years or more. The population has tripled through mainlanders immigrating to the island community and there is a floating population of migrant workers that come and go during different seasons.

The comparison between the two rich island communities who learned some 36 years ago to organize and cooperate with their lobster fishing cooperatives and solve their own problems through mutual endeavors instead of individual competition and that of Belize City, is like walking into two different worlds. In Belize City, it is dog eat dog and everybody against each other in competition for the scraps from the table. Whole segments of that city are poor due to the lack of comprehension of how to help themselves, by organizing to get themselves out of poverty. The government cannot do this, they must do it themselves. Throwing money at Belize City cannot do this either. The process only works when people organize and learn the rules of helping themselves. Prime examples on Caye Caulker are competitive warring lobster fishermen. They learned to cooperate when they formed a group lobster cooperative. In later years the warring business competitors in the water taxi business finally said this is not working, when people started sinking boats and stealing propellers and formed the Water Taxi Association and each driver/owner obeyed their own voted rules of schedules and queuing for their fair turn at the tourist passenger trade. There are other smaller group organizations in the community which reflect the same spirit though. There is an old saying. You can give a man a fish to eat and it will fill his belly today, but if you teach him to fish, he will eat every day thereafter.

Governments don't develop countries, people do! Governments supply the infra-structure and they enable people to help themselves through giving, fair and rapid public service. The infighting in sections of Belize City is a glaring example of how development and poverty alleviation is not done. A typical result. Yet in the same country of Belize, you have success stories like Caye Caulker and San Pedro that are shining examples worldwide, of cooperation, group organization and finding common goals that all business people can agree to do together. The old saying UNITED WE STAND, and DIVIDED WE FALL is as true today as it was said many years ago.

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