The holidays and the oil

In the years past, at this newspaper we used to rail about the change of the long school holidays in Belize - from April, May and June to June, July and August. We considered the change to be an injustice perpetrated upon the children of Belize, because the change, which was intended to make it so that the school year in Belize coincided with the school year in the United States, essentially changed the holiday here from the dry season of invigorating south-easterlies to the rainy season of squalls and mosquitoes. The change, initiated in the summer of 1964, meant that Belizean children from the urban areas no longer spent the long holidays at cayes, in coastal villages and in the countryside. Those who could afford it began to fly to American cities for the summer. The children of Belize lost some of the love for Belize which used to be engendered during those school holidays before 1964.

For many years now, we have not complained about the change, because we understand how important it was for Belize’s new rulers in Washington to begin the process of Americanization. You should note that 1964 was also the year of self-government in British Honduras, and the year when the American government first began to give a little foreign aid to Belize. The Americans had ignored Belize previous to 1964, on the grounds that the place was a British colony.

The change of the school holidays, then, while it was effected in the almost casual manner of an afterthought: just a news announcement on the Radio Belize 12:30 p.m. news one day – no debate, no discussion, was an early part of a process which began with the Puerto Rico conference in 1962 and would lead to the Seventeen Proposals in 1968, the Heads of Agreement in 1981, the Maritime Areas Act in 1991, and the Ramphal/Reichler Proposals in 2002. That process, it appears to us, is focused on the oil fields of Belize, the neighboring oil fields in Peten, and the hydrocarbons in the Bay of Amatique.

Before Hurricane Hattie in 1961, we natives, while penurious, felt somewhat important in British Honduras. The British had just sent their MCC cricket team to entertain us the previous year. Our spirit of anti-colonialism and Belizean nationalism was so high that the British had chosen to negotiate constitutional changes with us prior to the March 1961 general elections.

In the half a century since Hattie, we natives chose to become a tiny minority in the United States, a move which reduced us from a majority in Belize to a minority here. In 2011, we do not have that sense of self we enjoyed in 1961, and our overall behavior in Belize now suggests a level of disorientation.

All those years we spent complaining about the change of holidays, and being disappointed about the lack of interest therein on the part of the people of Belize, we were expecting too much from our people. The game being played in Belize since 1961 is a game which just gets bigger and bigger. There is great oil wealth in Belize, but it is going to be difficult to have that wealth shared for the benefit of the people. If you think that some local politicians have become wealthy in the last two or three decades, off things like passports and drugs and land deals, watch what happens when they find two or three more major oil fields in Belize.

The problem is precisely that: all we may be doing is watching, because the oil companies have decades and decades and decades of experience in getting the deals they want from a few local oligarchs – try Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea just for size. Corrupt native leaders send the money they are bribed with to the same Western banks which are owned by the oil companies. The oil leaves the fields of the Third World, but the money remains in the banks of the First. Belizeans, we need to go to school.

Power to the people. Power in the struggle.

Last edited by Marty; 07/27/11 08:57 AM.