Belizeans are in hungover mood as they recover from a month of holidays, carnivals, celebrations, parades and motivational speeches by politicians that culminated Friday with the 31st anniversary of independence from Great Britain. The celebrations start the last week of August and run to the 10th of September to observe a military skirmish between the British and the Spanish dubbed as the Battle Of St. George’s Caye two centuries ago. The festivities continue and culminate on September 21st to observe the day in 1981 when the lights went out at the British Governor’s mansion in Belize City, the Union Jack was lowered for the last time, and the Belize Flag went up to signal the birth of a new nation.
At official ceremonies held on Independence Hill in the City of Belmopan Leader Of The Opposition Peoples United Party Hon. Francis Fonseca, remembered and paid tribute to Belize’s first Prime Minister and Father Of The Nation Rt. Hon. George Price who passed away one year ago on 19th September. He then delivered a traditional Glass-Half -Empty Speech. Mr. Fonseca, Belize’s aspiring Prime Minister, laid out a list of vexing problems confronting Belize – record unemployment, skyrocketing crime, shaken investor confidence, Belize’s sovereign debt default and a government devoted to furthering the divisions within the country’s population for political gain. Thundered Mr. Fonseca “After fifty-three months in office, it is time for the U.D.P. administration to be held accountable for the state of Belize’s economy and to say clearly to the Belizean people what their plan is to attract investment, create jobs, grow the economy, and lower the cost of living.”
The current Prime Minister Mr. Dean Barrow after the usual flowery rhetoric delivered a Glass-Half-Full speech that was devoid of any Independence Day gifts for Belizeans – no lowering of fuel prices, no reduction of utility company bills (the government now owns them all), no major new investment, no salary increases for public officers or promises of new jobs.
The P.M. repeated a list of months old news – namely the takeover of the country’s sugar cane processing industry by a U.S. company and the purchase of a bankrupt island resort by Arab interests to build a 5 star Four Seasons hotel in a country more known for eco-tourism than for mass tourism projects.
The major announcement that was picked up by the local media was the renaming of two highways. The Western Highway is now the George Price Highway, and the Northern Highway is now the Phillip Goldson Highway. The former in honor of the country’s first Prime Minister. The latter in honor of one of Mr. Barrow’s long-deceased political allies – a politician who vehemently opposed Belizean independence and paradoxically was one of Mr. Price’s arch enemies in political life.
The feel-good news for Belizeans came in a preview of coming attractions from the Prime Minister. While devoid of details and speaking in generalities, they point to the strenuous efforts the government is making to attract foreign investment. “Talks proceed apace with Turkish investors that plan to invest in both container and cruise ports in Belize. Wall Street Money wants to come in and plant thousands of acres of grain for export and for local feed. A cattle sweep has been completed in Blue Creek paving the way for livestock trade with Mexico. New and more lucrative marketing arrangements have been concluded by our banana farmers.” The P.M. then turned his attention to crime.
“But it is not as though that no cloud darkens our sun or that we are without problems. And the stubbornness and most protracted of these is the continued instability caused by the crime and violence in our urban areas especially in Belize City. When we come to lament the seeming intractability of this seeming citizen insecurity issue some may be forgiven for feeling discouraged. We have tried well neigh everything. Yet far from permanently improving the situation overall seems to get slightly better, then worse again.”
Mr. Barrow announced that one of his new initiatives to combat escalating crime in Belize is to bring in a police expert from India to “advise” the Belize Police. Without giving details, Mr. Barrow also announced that “One of the largest social violence reduction organizations in the world is coming to Belize to assist with funding and capacity building.” And the Prime Minister announced that “The police are now forming a number of additional specialized and intelligence services in order to ramp up the continued interdiction efforts.”
Independence Day Celebrations concluded throughout most of Belize with parades of school children and uniformed services such as the Scouts and Guides, Prison Officers, and Police and Military band music. The parades were smaller than last year except for those in the north of the country where Independence Day is celebrated the old-fashioned way – with a carnival, latin, reggae and soca music, colorful floats and all day festivities. The largest carnival was in Orange Walk Town that is now rivaling the Belize City Carnival Road March held the Saturday before the 10th of September,