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The oil or the water … Amandala Editorial

“That term I took some geology and learned something which gives me reason to believe there might be petroleum deposits in this country. There should be something here. After all, one company while back said they found a few pints of oil, not enough, but when they left they mounted guard over their drilling site. Maybe they waiting for something.

“Anyway, as far as I can remember, it’s like this. Because of our reef, the second largest in the world, there’s a difference in the salinity (or salt content) of the water inside the reef, on the one hand, and outside the reef, on the other hand. I can’t remember all the technical details, but these conditions are ideal for the organisms which cause petroleum deposits to function, that is, inside the reef. Check it out. I’m no geologist, but UBAD going to hire one soon. We got to know.”

- pg. 45, NORTH AMERIKKKAN BLUES, Evan X Hyde, Benex Press, 1971, Belize City

Some news broke this week on in a story by one Dave Forest, dated May 12, 2015 and headlined THIS TINY COUNTRY COULD HAVE HUGE OIL AND GAS POTENTIAL. In 2015, few Belizeans were surprised to learn that Dave Forest was talking about Belize. Neither were Belizeans surprised, but many of us were disappointed, to read that the Government of Belize was giving encouragement to companies in the energy and petroleum business to believe that offshore drilling would be allowed soon in Belize.

Back in 1971 when the publisher of this newspaper was president of the United Black Association for Development (UBAD) and writing his North Amerikkkan Blues, only the political and business elite in Belize knew of the vast “oil and gas potential” of Belize. The masses of the Belizean people were in the dark. They had been deliberately kept there.

Belize’s oil and gas potential explained a lot of things. It explained why Belizeans had been allowed to migrate to the United States after Hurricane Hattie in October of 1961; it explained the radical 1964 change in Belize’s traditional summer holiday season; it explained Bethuel Webster’s Seventeen Proposals of 1968; and finally, it explained why Philip Goldson had to be removed as Leader of the Opposition, a process first begun in 1969. We’re just saying.

No one needed to look for any explanation for how dangerous UBAD (1969-1974) was to the well-laid plans of the oil and gas industry in the United States. The African people of the Belize territory had been brought here chained in British ships as slaves in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries for the specific purpose of cutting logwood and mahogany. The descendants of these African slaves had begun to think they had rights in the Belize territory, but the forests had been depleted. As the second half of the twentieth century began, international investment finance had a new plan for the Belize territory, and that plan did not include African Belizeans.

It was impossible to convince African Belizeans in 1971 of how rich Belize was. In fact, as black youth murder each other at unprecedented, civil war rates in the old capital today, it is still very difficult to explain to black Belizeans that there is some kind of pot of gold at the end of a Belizean rainbow. Given the opportunity, a huge group of black Belizeans have abandoned Belize, so the Belize of 2015 is a new ball game.

In this new ball game, one economic development question is that of deciding between oil and water, “water” being our description or euphemism for tourism and the overall environmental protection of this territory as our ancestors have known it. Wall Street and its oil companies have bought the political elite of Belize, but there is a growing consensus across all the strata of Belizean society that the oil industry is dangerous to the way of life we love and cherish in The Jewel.

At this newspaper, we are no longer young and idealistic as we were in 1971. We are no longer involved in revolutionary initiatives to defend and promote our beliefs, as we were in 1971. But, we still hold the core body of beliefs that we held in 1971. In 1971, we understood how racism and imperialism had functioned in Belize, and we were dedicated to fighting that racism and that imperialism as best we could. In a sense, nothing has changed.

But, in another sense, everything has changed. Mr. Price is gone, and Mr. Barrow is here. In their separate ways, as Mr. Price was powerful in 1971, Mr. Barrow is powerful in 2015. In his heart of hearts, however, Mr. Price was a Maya who had a protective vision of Belize’s land and sea. Mr. Barrow is a material man who embraces the world in its modern manifestations. One does not become as powerful as Mr. Price became and as Mr. Barrow has become, without being the reflection in some special way of their people’s psyche and soul.

During his time, Mr. Price took the nation of Belize where he and the people of Belize wanted Belize to go. Yes, there was a large opposition to the People’s United Party (PUP), but Belize was and is a democracy. The minority, no matter how large, can only have its say, because the sacred majority must have its way. Sometimes, nevertheless, those who hold the majority’s trust make mistakes. In February of 1970, the PUP leaders of Belize made a mistake: they sought to incarcerate the leaders of UBAD on flimsy, unacceptable grounds. This injustice sparked a series of events which culminated on May 29, 1972. Today, at this newspaper we believe that Mr. Barrow is making a mistake with his bombastic pronouncement of “Drill, we will!” Mr. Barrow holds a House majority, that we concede, and he controls the power, that we understand.

Still, from our non-constitutional standpoint, we would advise Mr. Barrow to leave the rest of Belize’s oil and gas wherever it is. Mr. Barrow should concentrate on protecting the “water” of Belize, which is Belize’s tourism and environmental priority. Mr. Barrow should focus on educating and training the children of Belize, by any means necessary. We speak with respect. Mr. Barrow is the politician, and Belize is a democracy.

It should be noted that in his prime, Mr. Price’s choice for the economy was the sugar cane industry – a choice for work, hard work. Wake up and work. Mr. Price was always skeptical of tourism. We understood why, and we agreed with Mr. Price in this respect. Today, here we are calling for the water world of tourism to be given preference and protection over oil. This is because, as things have worked out, it is the tourism of Belize which can partner with our environmental religion more than petroleum ever could. We never wanted tourism, but now we want to make an alliance with it.

There is no substitute for work, Belizeans. We did not desire tourism, because tourism encourages softness and corruption. The television advertisement for Belize’s national oil industry emphasizes the work component of the industry. Good. At this newspaper, however, we fear for our reef and our sea and our waterways when oil begins to flex its muscle here. We Belizeans are, by and large, a poor people, and we need help now. That is why the Prime Minister is calling for the oil drill. But the record of oil in Third World countries like Belize is not good. It is, in fact, horrible. The environment is violated, polluted, and despoiled. The political elite becomes incredibly wealthy, but the masses of the people continue to suffer. Oil is not the way, Belizean people.

Power to the people.