... and looks forward

At midnight, with spectacular fireworks and that special atmosphere that manifests itself around this time of the year, Belize formally ended its third decade of sovereign status as a unique hybrid of the Caribbean and Central America.

As the Belize flag “climbed up the pole” at the Memorial Park, and the strains of the national anthem could be heard floating over a large crowd of citizens and well-wishers from abroad enjoying a cool September night, the older among them perhaps thought back to September 21, 1981, with the country under a state of emergency, under then-Premier, George Cadle Price, uncertain as to what the future held for the young nation.

Thirty years later, as Belizeans gathered in the major towns and cities and most especially in the capital, Belmopan, the leaders of this nation and people offered their thoughts on how far Belize had come, and how much farther it has still to go, and what it will take to get there.

Leader of the Opposition, John Briceño, articulated the vision of the late Rt. Hon. Price, who saw Belize as a Caribbean and Central American nation with all the attributes of nationhood, united under the flag, a single government and constitution.

At the first Independence Day ceremony, Rt. Hon. Price characterized Belize’s ethos thus, as quoted by Briceno: “…our mind imbues the democratic process, our hand works the mixed economy, our heart beats with social justice…”

The PUP leader told the gathering at Independence Plaza that it was up to all Belizeans to fulfill that vision, which he said to date was only in “partial fulfillment,” for the social, political and economic development of Belize and its people.

He called on Belizeans, as we look to the future, to never give in to hopelessness, but instead to “embrace the hope that resides in all of us. Always remember that in every Belizean resides a resilient person – we never quit, we never give up, we always believe that there will be a better tomorrow…”

Furthering the notion of optimism, Prime Minister Dean Barrow praised the nation he leads as “a country for the ages,” and opined that in contrast to other countries going through difficult economic and socio-political times, Belize, as evidenced by first-quarter GDP growth of “over six percent” and a zero-inflation rate in 2010, was “punching above its weight.” He also saluted Belize’s political culture of discourse which can at times get heated, but is usually civil and reasonable.

He acknowledged, however, that there are still many key issues to be resolved, including the inequitable distribution and provision of land and housing, the crime situation and the challenge of providing jobs and improved quality of life for all.

Much of the Prime Minister’s speech featured announcements of, and updates on, projects, planned and ongoing, in the areas of infrastructure, crime reduction and prevention, as well as efforts at poverty alleviation — designed, he said, to “create a more just society…where the poor will always be protected.”

Allowing himself to boast of the acquisition of Belize Electricity Limited (BEL) and re-acquisition of Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) as steps toward preserving Belizean sovereignty, Barrow issued categorical promises of no rate increases in these key utilities, and possible rate reductions in the coming months, under his administration.

The P.M. also announced coming reductions in rates for internet access and international calls with BTL; long-awaited upgrades in equipment for the police, including a fingerprint system, DNA lab and others; the start of the Municipal Development Project, tourism-related projects and the Southside Poverty Alleviation Project.

Some $62.2 million in underperforming mortgages will be wiped away, according to Barrow, when he goes to the House of Representatives shortly to ask to have them written off in an effort to relieve the burdens of the many who have those loans hanging over them, he said.

The day was marked with remembrances of Rt. Hon. Price, beginning with a formal moment of silence and references to him and his legacy in the speeches of Hons. Barrow and Briceño, as well as that of Manuel Heredia, Jr., Minister of Tourism and chair of the September Celebrations Commission, and the welcome address by Belmopan Mayor Simeon Lopez.

And in a final tribute to the late National Hero, Rt. Hon. Price, who will be buried next Monday, September 26, following memorial services on Independence Plaza in front of the National Assembly, the Prime Minister opened his address with the announcement that Mr. Price’s funeral date would be a national holiday.

Master composer and arranger, Belizean Frankie Reneau, led a 90-member choir and orchestra in the rendition of his “Hymn to Belize,” an original created in honour of our 30th national anniversary, in the program’s primary piece of entertainment. A visiting U.S. college band, from Rice University in Houston, Texas, also played music before the official ceremonies began.

The Belmopan Citizens’ Parade kicked off shortly thereafter. Elsewhere in the country there were other formal ceremonies, parade and post-parade celebrations held as part of the official calendar.

The 2011 September Celebrations were held under the theme, “Honouring our History – Celebrating our Cultures – Uniting for Peace.”