As we prepare to celebrate the 23rdanniversary of Belize’s Independence, it is a good time for some people to get the sense, or, to put it another way, be reminded of some fundamental Belizean facts. In the modern era, this territory was settled at the mouth of Haulover Creek of the Belize Old River, and things are still run from there.
Belize City, which arguably stretches north as far as Ladyville and west as far as Hattieville, has one third of the population of Belize and one third of the members of the House of Representatives. Belmopan was made the new capital because that’s where we go to play politics and shelter from hurricanes, but the real force in this nation is the delta force – where the river meets the Caribbean Sea.
In Belize City we have the banks, the law firms, the accounting houses, the airlines, the hotels, the restaurants, the big merchant houses, the colleges, the hospitals, the newspapers, the television stations, the garrison, the brewery, and, never forget it – the port. We have three bridges and demand a fourth. We grew north; we grew west. Now we’re growing south along the port and $24 million east into the Caribbean Sea from Fort George to the Barracks.
We have spent the last fifty years giving respect to the districts, and now there are caudillos who are forgetting where everything started. The People’s United Party began in Belize City; the National Independence Party began in Belize City; the United Democratic Party began in Belize City. Belize City is where you come when you think you’re hot stuff in this settlement. Here is where you prove it. Live a thousand years, and London is still on the Thames.
Why things are the way they are, no one can really say for sure. The most important break (“quebrado”) in the Belize Barrier Reef is between Goff’s Caye and English Caye, about twelve miles southeast of Belize City. There is where you come off the deep blue and find shelter inside. That’s how the modern era started here, with people running inside the reef to take refuge. To them, the place looked like all swamp and bush in those days. But the Maya people were in the countryside.
After a while, the refugees from the sea brought Africans here, and after another while, the Africans became powerful. So the descendants of the refugees brought in refugees from the Caste War in the Yucatan, to mix things up a bit, while the Mayans, the original settlers of the land, began to reveal their presence. So as the place was growing, the place was changing, and all the people were making love with each other. So where there should have been strife, there was mingling, and tingling, and new life.
And finally, there came a new nation – Belize. It was so diverse, so unique, with Lebanese, Palestinians, Taiwanese, Chinese, Jews, Eastern Europeans, British, Americans, Canadians, Guatemalans, Mexicans, Salvadorans, Honduraneans, Cubans, Jamaicans, Nigerians, Ghanaians. All kept finding a way to live and work and love together, and the nation grew and remained at peace.
The respect the nation owes to Belize City is this, that Belize City created, cherished and guarded a culture of discussion and communication. Yes, for a very long time this was a Creole city, and it remains the blackest part of the settlement except for Dangriga. But Belize City is cosmopolitan today. This is the nation’s metropolis. Don’t disrespect. Don’t cast aspersions. Don’t live in the past.
At the beginning of the day and at the end of the day, this is where the greatest concentration of the Belizean people live. This is the hotbed of intellectual life and social activity. Yes, during the colonial period, Belize City disrespected the districts and exploited their labour. The nationalist era changed that. Today, San Pedro Ambergris Caye and Orange Walk Town are rich. Caye Caulker, Placencia, and Cayo are becoming wealthy. Toledo will be the richest part of Belize 25 years from now. Corozal has rebounded, has stepped up magnificently in education, and, of course, benefits from being the gateway to Chetumal. Mango Creek, Riversdale, and the Pomona Valley, perhaps the most beautiful part of the territory, work and produce and thrive, and the people of Dangriga are probably the most talented citizens of Belize. So, you see, you have our respect. You have earned it.
Remember, however: do not forget to give us ours. Get the sense.