The recent episodes involving U.S. visitors John McAfee and Lisa Merz provided graphic examples for Belizeans of tourism’s damaging effects when it spins out of control. McAfee’s wealth was compromising the morality of our young ladies, and Merz’s importance to the San Pedro Ambergris Caye economy resulted in a Cabinet Minister’s interfering in the legal process in order to get special treatment for her.
Those of us Belizeans who reside in this house, our house, do so because we don’t want to or because we can’t, go to the United States. We know that the United States is the world’s superpower, the largest economy on planet earth, and we know that, by comparison, we are a very small and perhaps marginal nation. As a result of having achieved political independence in 1981, nevertheless, we Belizeans have the right to decide whom we want to invite and accept in our house.
During his years in power, Mr. Price was careful with this tourism thing. In the Caribbean, former British possessions like Jamaica and Barbados were going crazy over tourism. In Cuba, however, the region should have learned a lesson. Tourism can undermine a small country’s nationalism, compromise its integrity, and mock the dignity of its citizens. In Cuba, out-of-control American tourism had ended up sparkling a violent revolution, which triumphed in 1959 and, in retaliation, declared itself communist.
The problem with tourism is simple. Successful nation-states are built on a work ethic and a basic morality. It is expected that adult citizens put in an honest day’s work, and it is expected that adult citizens give maximum respect to the family concept. Tourism encourages none of these things when it spins out of control. Citizens of host communities and societies find that they can make relatively easy money providing illegal and immoral services for visitors, and the more wealthy of these visitors are not here to encourage family values.
In 1970, an officer of the United Black Association for Development (UBAD) famously declared on the rostrum at Courthouse Wharf that “tourism is whorism.” The quote appeared in a TIME magazine article and was mistakenly attributed to UBAD president Evan X Hyde, who is the publisher of this newspaper. This newspaper traditionally supported Mr. Price’s cautious attitude towards tourism, but the industry, perhaps inevitably, became an important aspect of Belize’s economic life. The newspaper, when confronted in the last few years with the specter of offshore drilling for oil, considered such offshore oil drilling to be incompatible with the established tourism industry here, and, because of this and other reasons, we firmly opposed offshore drilling for oil in our house.
Shortly after the UDP returned to office in 2008, Prime Minister Barrow announced a $30 million loan which would be used to upgrade tourism facilities. This newspaper felt that Belize already had its share of tourism facilities and infrastructure, and we editorialized to the effect that such a loan should be invested in something like deep sea fishing, instead of tourism.
We had personally witnessed the dramatic changes in Placencia when tourism hit the peninsula hard in the late 1980s, and core families which for generations had been fishing families, began to slide into the category of tour guides. This had happened in San Pedro Ambergris Caye two decades earlier. Some people have to continue fishing, you know, because the tourists have to eat, and what they enjoy eating most of all in Belize are marine products. But, beloved, fishing is hard, hard work. Entertaining visitors is much easier, and you make more money, and the money is in U.S. currency. Which sane person would not prefer more money for easier work?
In the midst of this, there have been some visitors to our house in the last four decades who have made significant contributions to Belize. This newspaper has pointed out that some of the expertise some visitors have brought here has been a blessing. We don’t have a lot of contact with these talented visitors, but there are a lot of people like Sharon Matola and Dr. Melanie McField who came here from abroad and are now valuable and indispensable fixtures in Belize.
Out there in the rich, developed world there is a debate which has been going on for four, five decades. This is the debate which is considered as having begun with Rachel Carson in the early 1960s, and now features urgent international conferences to discuss global warming, climate change, and the like.
Five plus centuries ago, Europeans spread out into Asia, Africa, and America, and they dedicated themselves to developing the natural resources of these three continents and amassing wealth for themselves, by any means necessary. The European way of life, even as it became sophisticated and technologically-oriented, was alien to indigenous Asians, Africans, and Americans, and it was downright hostile to their way of life. The Europeans and the neo-Europeans went from success to success, until finally they developed the atomic bomb seven decades ago. First they tested these bombs in remote, uninhabited areas of planet earth, and then they tested them on human populations, and they came to realize that they now had the power to destroy mankind. We had entered the nuclear age.
Some intelligent Europeans and neo-Europeans no longer wish to live the way mainstream Europeans and neo-Europeans are living in the developed world. They want to live in places like Belize, and they believe that there is much that is good about The Jewel, much that should be cherished and preserved. These are good visitors to our shores. They want to be with us, they want to teach us, and they want to learn from us.
Other visitors, however, want to indulge their appetites for drink, drugs, sex, and so on. When we Belizeans cater to this, we often become hooked on the very same drink, drugs, and sex. The thing is, our visitors are rich enough to indulge themselves and to continue doing so indefinitely. Meanwhile, we Belizeans become prisoners of expensive habits we can’t really afford, and in our own house. This is a danger of tourism when it spins out of control.
Power to the people.