Commentary: After 28 years of independence Belize is still struggling with nation building

By Wellington C Ramos

On this twenty-eight anniversary of our nationís independence our government and people should take some time out to analyze and examine how much we have accomplished and did not accomplish as a nation in the past years and where do we go from here in developing our country.

One of the biggest problems we have is this Guatemalan claim that continues to question the legitimacy of our independence. Some Belizeans believe that we should just forget about the claim and move on, while others believe that we should confront this claim head-on with diplomacy and have the International Court of Justice rule on this issue to bring it to a closure. I am in full support of our governmentís decision to take this matter to our people in a referendum and then to the International Court of Justice. All attempts to settle this dispute in the past have failed and the Guatemalans are still insisting on getting a part of Belize for themselves.

The first thing the government of Belize must try to figure out is: what is it that the Guatemalans want? Do they want the whole country of Belize, a part of Belize, oil, natural gas, gold, or access to the Atlantic Ocean through Belize with a regional cooperation agreement in place?

The Guatemalans are not stupid because they possess highly trained international lawyers and diplomats to know that Belize will not give them the whole country or part of the country. So, what is left is a regional agreement to grant them access to our port facilities and roads to transport their goods through Belize. This they know will benefit both Guatemala and Belize due to Belizeís strategic location in the Atlantic Ocean and its proximity to other Caribbean and Central American countries on the east coast.

If Belize was to grant such a request to Guatemala, will it be free of cost or will the Belize government levy a fee on the Guatemalan government for granting that access? Nothing is free in life because there will be a cost to the government of Belize to maintain the port facilities and the roads annually.

In addition to the Guatemalan claim, Belize is experiencing some serious domestic problems such as crime, unemployment, inadequate health care, gangs, drug abuse, increase in the HIV infection rate and other social ills. For Belize to solve these problems, they will need revenues to be generated in large quantities to fund programs and deal with these issues.

Luckily for the government of Belize, oil was discovered recently and they are looking to the revenues gained from the oil to generate the income to spend on their domestic programs. However, since Belize is lower than Guatemala and both countries possess oil, Guatemala might want to work out an agreement with Belize that if their oil flows into Belize they will be allowed to extract it from Belize without any cost but be willing to pay for any environmental problems that may arise from the extraction of the oil.

The solution to these problems will not be easy but yet the Belize government cannot afford to run away from confronting them because the earlier they resolve these questions the quicker they will be able to develop Belize. The current administration seems to be embarking on a bold initiative to restructure Belize with constitutional reforms to have their programs implemented. On the other side you have the opposition party filing briefs to go to court and challenge all these constitutional reforms to stall progress. Why is the government of Belize doing this in the post independence era?

The answer is because there was a lack of planning and nation building taking place prior to the independence of Belize. Our rush to independence with a claim lingering over our heads and no defense guarantee in place, has us in this insecure position we now find ourselves in.

Belize can only get its true place in history if we start with a nationalism program. Belizeans must be taught that Belize belongs to all Belizeans and that Belizeans will come first at all times and that any and everything in Belize that is to be given to a citizen all Belizean will get a part of it. This will create a feeling of oneness among our citizens and will bring Belizeans together despite their ethnicity, religion or social status.

Today, most Belizeans do not see Belize this way because only a few families have been benefitting from what Belize has. Also, foreigners coming into Belize have more than what the native Belizeans have or ever dream to have. This has led to many Belizeans becoming complacent and living just for today without any concern about their tomorrow or their countryís future. Our leaders should also create a long term vision for Belize and if they do not have a vision then Belize will not go anywhere.

Belize will need the input of all the Belizeans who have lived abroad and have gained experience in several diverse fields from major industrialized nations, especially the United States of America. Most people from all the countries in the world are still trying to go to America. This is because opportunity is what motivates people in any country to become part of the nation building process.