from a friend....
CITIZEN TRAVEL ADVISORY TO THE CAPITAL BELMOPAN
by Ray Auxillou
It's been two months since I had visited Belmopan. There were a dozen or more new helpful signs around the capital to direct visitors like from rural districts. They still need a few hundred more signs though and perhaps a Directory Board under glass in four or five places like in shopping malls in the USA. We need three dozen directional signs in my home town of Santa Elena like wise. We had trouble finding the following departments. We were unable to find the Belmopan National Library Collection. This visit, we took the pickup truck instead of going by bus and instead of walking around the capital looking for government offices, which we found exhausting before, we were able to drive this time. We probably burned a quarter tank of gasoline in 6 hours of trying to do business with government offices. the search for the Belmopan National Library Collection took about 2 1/2 hours and we never did find it, again. The closest we could figure was that it MIGHT be on the first floor of a huge bulding on a hill that looks like a hotel, next to the water tower. On the second floor was some sort of climate offices. I did ask them if they could re-arrange the climate for me, as it has been cloudy and rainy for the past few weeks. But they said no! I have no idea what they do, or why little Belize might need such an office staff? I suspect it is one of those foreign GRANT funded make work deals. The first floor of the building they told me was to do with the archives department and might contain the Belmopan National Library Collection. It was barred and locked up though and nobody was around. I was told the office was on the opposite side of town in some winding back streets. That sounded very confusing and more trouble than it was worth to go searching. We had spent too much time already going from office to office and building to building in the area for the second month asking for the location. Nobody had heard of it. We were looking for missing technical reference books donated by myself to the library system, for use in current work projects contemplated.
We did find the new U.S. Embassy. This took about 45 minutes of driving around and asking people, accompanied with backing and turning the pickup around, in peoples driveways. There are a lot of narrow streets in Belmopan that seem built for mule trains and bicyles. These can dead end on you suddenly. Ditches on both sides and insufficient room to turn around. The new U.S. Embassy was on the NW corner of Belmopan and is accessed by dirt and muddy tracks. The city hasn't gotten out that far yet. This Embassy is functioning inside some sort of fortress and one is reminded that the USA is carrying on three military wars, or so, in the world. Barriers, high fences and separation of outer security from inner security buildings and all kinds of things, reminds you of the past bombings of the US Embassies in other parts of the world. We received fast and efficient service once inside the main fortress. Had to wait an hour while they had closed for lunch. My wife and I joked it was like trying to do business in San Ignacio. None of that imported vaunted USA 24 - 7 work ethic here. The outer security perimeter is sort of like an airport terminal with X-ray machine and all. Same airport security screening procedure except we were allowed to keep our shoes on. There are no signs in Belmopan to find the Embassy, or any of Embassies for that matter. We found it by continuously driving around and asking people on the street for directions and thus ended up in many blind alleys.
If you are driving, the traffic is becoming horrendous in Belmopan and the little capital was not designed for modern Belize traffic and has outgrown both the streets and country village style stop signs. My guess is they are going to have to build a new capital if they are planning ahead on the population explosion in Belize over the next 20 years. Everywhere you go, there are hundreds of children and estimates are that 240,000 people in Belize are under 15 years old.
The Immigration we knew well. It took about two hours to get business completed here. There were 15 people in line before my wife, but four or five of the bureaucratic staff were ignoring them as they were mostly Hondurans. She saw a lot Honduran passports. The staff seemed to be more concerned with shopping with some sales person selling music CD's and had crowded around the seller. I would make a guess from my own life's bureaucratic experience, that the Immigration Department did not have a Supervisor that day? The cat's away, the mice will play bureaucratic syndrome.
The Agriculture Department was difficult to find. We were finally misdirected a few times and found the back door of the building and told by somebody that it was up on the second floor. Belmopan needs signs badly if you haven't guessed. Once we got there, three secretaries tried to fluff us off with stories of people were too busy in a meeting to see us. I ended up losing my temper, threatening a lousy article in next week's newspaper and on the way out, the secretary hurriedly found Manual Trujillo, Director of Research in Central Farm, who came down the stairs and invited my wife and I backinto the director's office. Seems he was watching the store and Eugene Waight the new Agriculture Department head, had gone away on business someplace and he was office watch dog. Since it wasn''t his office, he didn't know where anything was. There was no meeting. The meeting was a fiction to turn public people like us away from the office. We were given leave to search the shelves of reports against one wall. Our now three year record finding mission was to find the alleged mysterious 15 years of reports by the Taiwanese Agriculture Mission on vegetable growing. We were trying to see if the Chinese reports covered any of the vegetables, we were interested in and needed to collate the monthly experiments to see which months would be of interest to commercial growers, for our book coming out in January, on some of the Belize vegetables we were interested in, as to commercial targeting best times of the year for the local import substitution, market gardening business. We also had in mind of going through the 15 years of alleged data and collating and organizing it into some sort of book for Tropical Vegetable growing by climate and season and varieties. The world practically has no books specifically targeted to TROPICAL agriculture. 15 years would be a wealth of useful data. It would be a coup to write a book exclusively on real Tropical vegetable agriculture and rather in demand. I suspect a publisher could sell 60,000 copies to the advanced world library market alone through Baker and Taylor book jobbers. We couldn't find any Chinese reports and I suspect the Chinese reports hit the waste basket after a brief reading. All we can tell you as private researchers, don't bother wasting your time with the Agriculture Department, it is dysfunctional on record keeping and archiving. The three secretaries didn't seem like they had anything to do? It does seem to do well, practical field work though, on a month to month basis. The past director was Hugh O'Brian during the time period of the vegetable archiving we were interested in and the new man Eugene Waight is new in the office.
A visit to DFC to check on auction sales was successful and very efficient service with loads of co-operation from Eduardo Torres. He patiently checked up a half dozen of the properties we were interested in. All had already been sold. We were probably in and out in 15 mintues. Very efficient and impressive. The staff of DFC has not been cut as advertised in newspaper articles. Everybody more or less are still working.
All in all, our visit to Belmopan was fruitful. It took six hours to complete three tasks and we failed to get results in two tasks.