REPORT #61 March 2003
BELIZE GROWING UP and a philosophical view!

Produced by the Belize Development Trust

This is not the first time I've heard the idea that Belizeans have a self-deprecating self-image. Its hard to measure or get a real sense of how pervasive or how much of a reality it really is and what sort of impact it has on the economic and political development of Belize - it's not the sort of thing that's easy to talk about candidly; although, I think we've touched upon it on this list when we've talked about the legacy of slavery and colonialism and the colonial mentality that remains to this day. I appreciate your sharing your personal experience and observations.

The baggage of history weighs heavily upon every society, and Belize is not excluded. African-Americans have dealt with similar problems and it has taken many years of hard work and dedicated leadership to help the African-American community let go of the heavy burden associated with carrying the shame and embarrassment of slavery and to replace that burden with pride for black heritage.

In Belize, the silent shame that each generation of the dominant culture has inherited is not only that they are the descendants of slaves, but that they are the descendants of slaves who loved their masters and thought that their masters loved them, and who were happy to continue in service as the important civil servants for their white masters even after slavery ended right up to independence which wasn't that long ago. And, there has never been a serious struggle or social movement against this which would have helped the Belizean people free themselves of this baggage. Our independence wasn't a long hard struggle for freedom; it was barely even a quarrel. After many years of serving as administrators under the colonial system, the local political leaders began having greater personal ambitions and a few of them may have been moved by the embarrassment of not being a citizen of an independent nation in a world where colonialism was mostly already dead. The population was hardly demanding independence and a large segment still felt Belize wasn't ready.

Local political leaders who have taken over full control of the administration of the country have adopted the attitude of the loving master, but of course they know they're not the original masters and if you remind them too much of who the original masters were, you may feel the resentment they have as a result of the silent shame they carry. Not surprisingly, though, given our history, the politician's adoption of the role of the loving master is a highly successful model. The PUP's campaign theme was a Love Fest and they promised many nice things in exchange for a loyal show of support. Based on the success of this campaign, Belizean voters apparently don't want so much to be left alone by their government, they want to be loved, they want to be taken care of. The rugged individualist or entrepreneur is not so much a hero in Belize as is the caring and loving area representative.

But I think that attitudes are slowly changing. Belizeans are growing more and more prideful of who they are, what they have, and what they are capable of doing. I don't think Belizeans are ever going to be as individualistic (some might say arrogant) in their attitude as Americans are; but I think you'll see a steady increase in the number of Belizeans who aren't afraid to assert themselves and take risks in the market place and humble themselves to their customers because they understand how the system works and are secure in themselves and what they want to accomplish.

Belizeans may not fully embrace or appreciate capitalism, but they don't reject it either. There is a keen sense of awareness in Belize that capitalism is the economic system that has proven to be the most successful and that is most likely to produce a prosperous economic future. There is a keen awareness that a society depends upon its entrepreneurs to produce the wealth that is needed for the society to thrive. However, let's not forget that capitalism is not a perfect system and if it is left completely unregulated, it can be extremely disruptive with its boom and bust cycles. The government gets little credit for helping to smooth out the bumpy ride that capitalism can bring upon a society; but I think the role of government in this regard should not be overlooked.

There probably is a bit of putting the cart before the horse going on in Belize at the moment. Maybe Belize's economic and financial performance could be more like Hong Kong's if there were more confident entrepreneurs and a greater degree of free enterprise at work in Belize, and less government; but would that necessarily make things better? Would the tradeoffs made, for example, giving up chunks of natural environment to make room for warehouses; residential areas, freeway networks etc. be worth it always? If Belize started economically outperforming its neighbors by leaps and bounds, would the influx of immigrants and the disruption to the society and culture, not the mention the demands placed on infrastructure and the environment be worthwhile always? Would the marginalization of traditional peoples and replacement of their traditional lifestyle with modern ways always be a benefit to society?


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