By Wellington C. Ramos
In the year 2014 I took a tour of the southern villages with my brother Anthony Noralez to see what type of developments were taking place in the area. When I was a little boy growing up in Dangriga town, I use to travel with my neighbour Dick Usher and his children especially my childhood friend, Osbert Usher, to all the villages in the southern part of Stann Creek District to sell goods. We would leave Dangriga on a Friday evening after school and make stops in the villages of Silk Grass, Sittee River, Kendall where Mr Coke use to live, South Stann Creek, Georgetown, Alabama, Maya Beach, Mango Creek, Big Creek and Savannah.
We would sleep in Alabama village on the Friday night, do our selling and then proceed to the Mango Creek area for Saturday afternoon. When we were finished selling our goods on Saturday, we would return back to Dangriga on Sunday evening to get ready for school Monday morning.
During those days the main industry in that area was banana. Anybody could take a truck and fill it with bananas that were rejected and go and sell them. Land was plentiful in these villages and the immigrants coming into the southern part of Stann Creek District were just a few looking for work. American tourists were mainly the people whom we use to call “hippies” running away from the draft in the United States to go and fight the Vietnam War.
Silk Grass and Georgetown were two villages that were recommended for the Garifuna people to go and live after hurricane Hatty devastated Dangriga town on 31st October 1961. Some Garifuna families went to Silk Grass but complained of sand fly and other flies so they returned home. Others said that they preferred living by the beach despite the hurricane threat. They were not interested in the huge amount of lands that were available to them in those villages. Why? Because most Garifuna families grew up with farmlands and a lot with a house where all their family members lived.
As time went by the immigrants from Guatemala and El Salvador were running away from the civil wars in their countries into Belize and they saw the south as an ideal home for them. The migration was so rapid that today there are about 55 villages in Toledo District and about 33 villages in Stann Creek District.
Not only is there an increase in the amount of villages but also an increase in the Maya and Mestizo populations as well. Today, they far outnumber the Garifuna, East Indian and Creole population in that area. These people saw an opportunity that was available to them in another country, that was not available in theirs and they seized on the occasion.
The past Belize governments needed money and were getting it from the United Nations to resettle them, grant them amnesty and later on citizenship status with all rights like we the natural born Belizean citizens. Now as citizens they are entitled to equal protection under the laws like each and every one of us.
When they began registering to vote as citizens, our two major political parties, namely, the United Democratic Party (UDP) and the People’s United Party (PUP) seized on the opportunity to get their votes to get elected. They invite and welcome their relatives from their respective countries to come to Belize because life is much better there than in their native homeland and they are coming in droves.
While they are coming, we the black Belizeans are facing serious economic problems, are not happy in the country, depend on most of our relatives in the United States and are begging them to file for us to come and join them in America. For we the Belizeans who live in the United States, we find it cheaper to bring our relatives than to be constantly sending them money.
With new villages being created in the south some of the villages are becoming closer to each other and they are now landlocked to the point where they cannot expand any further. Hopkins and Sittee River, Seine Bight and Placencia, Georgetown and Cow Pen, Mango Creek and Big Creek are all in that situation today.
There are many people in Belize who own lots and lands but have no money to build a home for themselves and their families. The government of Belize needs to come up with a comprehensive housing program where they can assist our citizens to purchase an affordable home. This would do a lot of good for our people and country. Some benefits will be things such as; jobs for the people, keeping families together, improving the infrastructure in our villages and towns and promoting self-pride among our people.
There are many developers in Belize and the United States who will be more than happy to come into our country and invest in this needed market. Mr Charles Leslie’s recent article is a warning to all Belizean people because the problem he is outlining is happening in many Belizean communities today. I hope that his appeal does not fall on deaf ears because it desperately warrants some action on the part of our government.
Placencia is becoming a community for the rich and the poor Belizean citizens will either be bought out or driven out. Seine Beight and Hopkins are going to witness the same because these people live by the beach a place where most Americans and Europeans want to live. In 1961 the Garifuna people in Dangriga, Hopkins and Seine Bight were all saying that they were not going to go to Silk Grass or Georgetown to live because the government was planning to take away their beachfront properties from them to take it for themselves or sell them to foreigners.
The government denied it then but today it is up in our faces that this is exactly what is happening. People who are poor are vulnerable and some of them will get tired of cleaning a lot to be in accordance with the laws and have no money to build a home for themselves and their families. I would strongly suggest that they grow some food on their properties to feed themselves and sell the remaining food to garner the funds to build their homes.
If the immigrants can come from Guatemala and El Salvador to prevail, we must can find a way to succeed as well in our country. Those people who have migrated into Belize are not going to go back to their countries so we must now learn how to live with each other in harmony and peace. I know how it feels to be living in another person’s country because I have done it here in America.
No matter how long you live in another person’s country even if you become a naturalized US citizen, they still look at you as a stranger. This is why I will always identify myself as a proud Belizean and I ask all Belizeans to do the same. Many people are hearing good things about Belize and their plans are to come and get a piece of it. You better get your piece before there is nothing left.Caribbean News Now