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The Official Independence Day ceremonies were held today, Tuesday, in the City of Belmopan on the steps of the National Assembly, in Independence Plaza, concurrently with similar ceremonies across the nation held in honor of our 29th anniversary.

Following the formal welcome by chair of the National Celebrations Committee and Minister of Tourism and Culture Manuel Heredia, Jr., it was time for the formal and guarded, verbal sparring that almost traditionally accompanies this event.

In their addresses to the gathering, Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow and Leader of the Opposition Hon. John Briceño painted two starkly differing pictures of Belize at 29.

Briceño stated that Belize began, not in 1981, but as an “idea,” an idea that started small in the old mahogany and logwood camps, blossomed through our colonial days as an outpost of Great Britain, and gained fruition in the granting of Independence. Belizeans, he said, were right to celebrate on this day, and to reflect on “what we have made of (their) legacy.”

Yet, the Leader of the Opposition added, Independence Day is also the right time to take a look at the state of the nation, and he pointed out that the ongoing economic recession was a direct contributing factor to continued job loss, businesses closing, and the attendant social malaise and crime epidemic.

“Rampant crime and violence, hate and fear stalk our beloved land, causing us to live as prisoners in our own homes. Never before in the history of our country have we been forced to mourn so grievously, and so often. Every day, there is news of more tragedy. Ninety-seven Belizeans have been murdered already this year, with the grim certainty of yet more to come. We are killed in our homes, killed in the streets, mothers, fathers, families, weeping over the bodies of loved ones.…”

Briceño continued, referencing the governing party’s campaign slogan in the 2008 general elections: “We were asked to imagine the possibilities, and this is the reality.…”

Noting that the cost of living continues to rise unabated and that Belizeans across the country are living in fear, trepidation and despair, he concluded that “We are better than this… let us be brave like those before us were brave…” and affirmed that he believed in Belize and the Belizean people.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow opened by pointing out that the official ceremonies for the September celebrations were hosted at St. George’s Caye, then the Tenth in Belize City, and finally, today’s 21st ceremonies in Belmopan.

The Prime Minister then turned to Belize’s place in the international economic arena. Pointing out that while there was still fear of a “double-dip” recession in the United States and worldwide, Belize had been “remarkably resilient,” growing 2.4% in the first quarter of the year, with noted improvements in aquaculture, tourism and expansion of non-traditional exports such as beans, cornmeal and cattle.

The Prime Minister theorized that Belize’s advances in local industry were not so much a result of luck as “pluck” – the creativity of the productive sector and the Government’s insistence on opening up avenues for growth and development.

The Prime Minister described Belizean patriotism as “one for the modern era” – able to reach back into history and also to move forward into the future.

Admitting that unemployment was still too high and that the Government was eager to create more jobs, the Prime Minister announced plans for infrastructure, drainage and street works in all the districts, and funding for the ongoing Urban Rejuvenation Project and the Southside Poverty Alleviation Project scheduled to begin later this year, and pointed out that jobs will be available to all as a result.

For the private sector, the International Development Bank is scheduled to visit Belize in December to hear concerns about financing, and $3 million in immediate assistance, most of it channeled through the Development Finance Corporation for loans to small businesses at 8% interest, has been prepared, said Hon. Barrow.

Directly addressing the Leader of the Opposition after his outline of the Government’s plans to fight crime and improve social services, the Prime Minister laid down this challenge: “…there is no time for business as usual, or worse, politics as usual… my invitation to the Leader of the Opposition: stop cursing the darkness, and help us light a candle!”

A food subsidy pilot project in Belize City under the supervision of the Salvation Army is scheduled to begin in two weeks, offering sale of basic goods at half the price at their offices on Cemetery Road and Mahogany Street.

The long-awaited announcement on the sale of Belize Telemedia Limited was made in the context of the “revivification” of Belizean sovereignty, as established by the nationalization of BTL last August.

“The prospectus is ready, and the sale of shares to the Belizean public will commence on October 15, 2010,” said the Prime Minister, adding that Belize will no longer tolerate “anyone to come here and disrespect us, abuse our hospitality and violate the rules of comity and good corporate citizenship.”

Except to say that shares will be made available to the Belizean public, the Prime Minister did not reveal the name, or names of corporate entities interested in buying shares in BTL.

Following performances by the New Generation Dance Group, Patriotic Song Competition winner Silas Sabal and the “I Am Belize” trio of Tanya Carter, Shawn Saldano and Berne Velasquez, Belmopan’s Citizens’ Parade kicked off from the Ring Road at about 1:00 p.m.