The Chetumal phenomenon in context - 06/05/16 10:23 AM
“Human beings only become addicted when they cannot find anything better to live for and when they desperately need to fill the emptiness that threatens to destroy them,” Bruce Alexander explained in a lecture in London in 2011. “The need to fill an inner void is not limited to people who become drug addicts, but afflicts the vast majority of people of the late modern era, to a greater or lesser degree.”
A sense of dislocation has been spreading through our societies like a bone cancer throughout the twentieth century. We all feel it: we have become richer, but less connected to one another. Countless studies prove this is more than a hunch, but here’s just one: the average number of close friends a person has has been steadily falling. We are increasingly alone, so we are increasingly addicted. “We’re talking about learning to deal with the modern age,” Bruce believes. The modern world has many incredible benefits, but it also brings with it a source of deep stress that is unique: dislocation. “Being atomized and fragmented and all on (your) own – that’s no part of human evolution and it’s no part of the evolution of any society,” he told me.
And then there is another kicker. At the same time that our bonds with one another have been withering, we are told – incessantly, all day, every day, by a vast advertising-shopping machine – to invest our hopes and dreams in a very different direction: buying and consuming objects. Gabor tells me: “The whole economy is based around appealing to and heightening every false need and desire, for the purpose of selling products. So people are always trying to find satisfaction and fulfillment in products.” This is a key reason why, he says, “we live in a highly addicted society.” We have separated from one another and turned instead to things for happiness – but things can only ever offer us the thinnest of satisfactions.
- pgs. 180, 181, CHASING THE SCREAM, by Johann Hari, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015
Most Belizeans believe that it is our money which built Chetumal into the modern city that it is. Clinton Canul Luna, a Belizean who left Corozal to live in Acapulco, Mexico as a child after Hurricane Janet in 1955 and remained there for almost four decades, has a different view. He believes that the oil wealth of the modern Mexican state contributed a great deal to the transformation of what used to be a village/town called Payo Obispo just across the Rio Hondo, into the great city of Chetumal. No matter, Belizeans spend a lot of money in Chetumal.
Belizeans have been in total love with Chetumal for many, many years, and we have paid a substantial economic price for this love affair. All through the decades, many more Belizean dollars have flown across the Rio Hondo than Mexican pesos have drifted over here from Chetumal.
It is impossible to pinpoint exactly when Belizean housewives decided that they were “stretching” their dollar by taking a bus across the border to go shop in Chetumal. Belizeans began taking Chetumal excursion bus trips all the way from the Stann Creek and Toledo Districts, but the big money always came from Belize City, our nation’s financial and population center. In the Corozal and Orange Walk Districts, it was as if the people partly lived in Chetumal, the northern border was so near.
There is no doubt that the Chetumal experience is an enjoyable one, but, to repeat, it is a costly one. As Belize wallows in a major economic downturn, the talk is now of the usual cruel International Monetary Fund (IMF) prescription – retrenchment of jobs and higher taxes. We Belizeans got ourselves into this mess with our eyes wide open, and our unconditional commitment to the Chetumal phenomenon is a symptom of the silly mindset which has been our characteristic. Why couldn’t we have Chetumal right here?
Belize is a country which has more holidays than our people can handle. A holiday is of little pleasure if you don’t have money to spend. Belize’s repeated three-day weekend holidays are an exercise in boredom and futility for the vast majority of our citizens. In Belize City, long weekends are like periods of mourning. Everyone who has money heads to Chetumal, San Pedro, Caye Caulker, Placencia and so on. The old capital, where the largest segment of the population lives, is left like a graveyard.
This problem arguably began after independence in 1981, when our law and order began to collapse. Within a few years after independence, we began to lose our nightlife in Belize City. Then, we lost our holidays. Chetumal became a totally dominant option. The economists will tell you that the key thing for economic health is that you must keep your own money in circulation. The more of your money you send into another jurisdiction, the more problems you will experience at home. No one has ever taught Belizeans that. In fact, lately we have been trying to turn Melchor into another Chetumal. At home in Belize City, the poverty grows and grows. It’s become a case of dog-eat-dog in the old capital, and the crazy shooting drug gangsters have taken over the streets. The rest of us stay locked up in our homes, or head to Chetumal.
Inside the Cabinet of Government Ministers who rule the nation of Belize, sit six of the seven area representatives for Belize City’s Southside, and by next week it will be the case that both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister represent violent Southside constituencies – Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow from Queen’s Square, and Hon. Patrick Faber from Collet. The two most powerful politicians in the nation of Belize will now represent two of the most poverty-stricken and violent areas. Mr. Barrow has represented Queen’s Square since 1984, and Mr. Faber has represented Collet since 2003. What have they been doing to return normalcy to the lives of the Southside population? Is it not they who have the power?
Electoral politics is the biggest game in Belize. In a free market society such as ours, it should be the case that the creators of jobs are more influential than they are, but ours is a politics-driven society. It is not an easy thing to win election to office, and to keep doing it over a period of time, so we must give our successful politicians their respect. They deserve it. The problem is that only visionary politicians create permanent employment: lightweight politicians create short term jobs, as we saw last year with the Petro Caribe episode. The problem on the Southside is, at its core, an economic problem. And the only solution our elected politicians have consistently had is to increase taxes so as to have more money for “clientilist” handouts to political favorites and loyalists.
Meanwhile, the drug gangsters have taken over certain neighborhoods on the Southside, precisely because they have created the only economic activity in these neighborhoods: the drug gangs feed and clothe people. Theirs is not a classically sustainable activity. In fact, theirs is a violent, bloody, homicidal way of life. It should be the case that the elected political leaders of those areas where drug gangs are the norm, that such political leaders are dedicated full time to attacking the socio-educational-economic problems which have contributed to the crisis. Not so. The elected politicians have essentially given up on the Southside. Chetumal is the answer. It’s like drugs, just a temporary fix.
Chetumal is an absolutely soothing experience for Belizeans who have some money in their pockets. The Chetumal phenomenon is never discussed in educational, analytical circles, because such discussions may lead to a study of the reasons why we Belizeans have to go there to ease our minds. And any deep study of the Southside problems will force intelligent people to begin indicting the ruling politicians in Belize. Such indictments would be dangerous for intelligent peoples to pursue, hence the chronic silence here amongst the intelligentsia.
The reason there is no such silence at Kremandala is because, while the elected politicians of the two different colors have sought to destroy us repeatedly over the last 47 years, we have always managed to survive. This is because of the power of the Belizean people.
We have a devastating economic problem in this city and this country. We see our people suffering. Those who can, flee to Chetumal for a high. This is no solution. Beloved, the shepherds of this flock have betrayed us. The road to survival would begin with our commitment to stop betraying ourselves. Belizeans, it may sound corny and trite, but now we must turn to each other. This is real.
Power to the people.