Open Letter to the Prime Minister of Belize and Leader of the Opposition


 

OPEN LETTER TO THE PRIME MINISTER OF BELIZE

AND LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION

 

June 16, 2017

 

The Rt. Honorable, Dean Barrow, Prime Minister

The Honorable, Johnny Briceno, Leader of the Opposition

Belmopan, Belize

 

Dear Sirs,

 

Belizean Citizens Abroad (BCA) is an organization committed to bringing together Belizeans living abroad in a non-partisan manner. Our goal is to empower and strengthen the democracy of Belize by working with ALL Belizeans at home as well as the Government of Belize on solutions and issues of concern to the community of Belizeans living overseas. As such, we are currently advocating for the equal rights of born Belizeans with dual citizenship.

We are asking for bi-partisan support for an amendment bill to remove the discriminatory provisions in our Constitution limiting the citizenship rights of born Belizeans who gain dual nationality and to reintroduce the same amendments as section 4 and 5 of the BELIZE CONSTITUTION (SEVENTH AMENDMENT) ACT, 2009 that purported to amend Sec 58(1) and 63(1) of the Belize Constitution. These discriminatory provisions in our Constitution limit the POLITICAL rights of born Belizeans and hamper our ability to solve many of the problems that Belize face in an ever-changing globalized world.

The Constitution of Belize contradicts the idealism of equal rights and equal protection under the law by establishing underclasses of citizenship.  Furthermore, the Constitution is in contravention of the very idea of human rights.  According to the United Nations Human Rights International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Article 25 – every citizen shall have a right to take part in the conduct of public affairs and to vote and be elected in periodic elections.

It is a travesty that foreign-born individuals who become Belizean dual citizens have more rights than born Belizeans who gain an additional citizenship.  This literally means that born Belizeans are second-class citizens in our own country.  Currently, there are thousands of born Guatemalans who have acquired Belizean citizenship enjoying more rights than born Belizeans who have acquired dual nationality.  This is so even though our Constitution bars Belizean citizenship to members of any country that claims Belize.  How can it be that despite a clear constitutional prohibition, a born Guatemalan with dual Belizean citizenship status can become Prime Minister, set policies, hold national decision-making positions determining Belize’s future, but a born Belizean with “dual citizenship” cannot?

BCA is ready and willing to work with both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to table a historic, bi-partisan legislation to remove sections of the Constitution that limit rights for born Belizeans. We further ask that individuals originating from any country that claims any part of Belize be prohibited from attaining Belizean citizenship with only few, if any, exceptions. BCA strongly believes that the ministerial discretion granting citizenship to members of countries that claim Belize should be restricted with much clearer and narrower guidelines.

Finally, we urge Belizeans at home and in the diaspora to contact their respective Area Representatives and encourage them to support a national bi-partisan effort to amend the Constitution of Belize protecting the equal rights of ALL born Belizeans.

Respectfully,

Belizean Citizens Abroad
Email: belizeansabroad@gmail.com

 

President: Mario Lara

Vice President: Joseph Guerrero

Treasurer: Al Smith

Communication Director: Debbie Curling

Secretary: Aria Lightfoot

A Belizean Diaspora Perspective By: Debbie Curling


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Debbie Curling 

Belizeans at home and abroad must begin to realize that despite the fact that time, space and location separates us, we have a shared identity and culture that makes us stronger together than separately. REMEMBERING is what heals: remembering our cultural traditions, our enthusiasm for sports, our passion for politics, our very good food, our Belizean music in all its varieties, our childhood proclivity for hopping fences to steal mangoes and craboo, riding our bikes to fetch buckets of water at the pipe stand, and many more. Oh yes! And playing bruk makachistah, bruk me bak!

Funnily enough bruk makachistah is full of symbolism and meaning as it applies to our Belizean cultural heritage, personalities, attitudes, and our strength in the face of adversity. With hands akimbo and chest pumping, the entire game, if you will, is premised on defiance and a dare; a challenge that if you think you can bruk my bak, try it! The words and imagery signify our spirited, Belizean assertiveness, unafraid to face down a bully because we’ll duke it out fistycuffs, your mother will come to my mother’s house, we’ll both get our rear ends belted, and eventually after our egos have settled down, we’ll move on to becoming friends again. Times have changed I know, but this is the Belize WE know, WE love, and WE share…immigrants will come and go, but WE know OUR identity and WE know OUR culture!

Belizeans share so many great experiences along with a strong and proud identity so why this division, this love/hate relationship, between us: based Belizeans vs. diaspora Belizeans? the Diaspora feel invisible, resented and unwanted to those at home and those at home feel abandoned, angry and resentful for being left behind “to suffah.” If we are to overcome this great divide that separates us, we must critically interrogate both perspectives to get a deeper understanding of the root causes. Understanding the psychology of abandonment is very important to the discourse if we are to heal our wounds and start fresh.

So what exactly is abandonment? According to J. Ray Rice, M.S.W., who has written several self-help books on the issue, “Abandonment is emotions, feelings, and acts that leave us with feelings, or experience of alienation, loss, betrayal, desertion, separation and segregation […]. These experiences or issues left unresolved affect our ability to reason, bond, trust, love, communicate, problem-solve […] respect the rights of all and live with our neighbors in peace.” http://blog.itsallaboutabandonment.com

Many Belizeans, particularly children, have experienced abandonment due to a parent(s) or spouse(s) making the tough decision to leave their loved ones behind in order to provide a better life for them at home, not realizing the traumatic impact such an event will have on those they love. Those left behind may experience the inability to feel safe due to threatening circumstances, feel emotional neglect, or might not have been provided adequate shelter which creates fear and a strong sense of insecurity. Unfortunately, victims of abandonment often live a lifetime of fear that abandonment will recur. Dr. Claudia Black, M.S.W., states, “Shame arises from the painful message implied in abandonment: ‘You are not important. You are not of value.’ This is the pain from which people need to heal.”

Based Belizeans feel a strong sense of betrayal toward its diaspora who they believe left them behind in search of “greener pastures,” and who might be prospering, while they at home continue to suffer. I would argue that these feelings of abandonment is the site of our contest. This deeply rooted grudge that manifests itself in a desire to somehow even the score even if it means shooting oneself in the foot. Belizeans at home often express a sense of entitlement to all things Belizean, attempt to shut us out of the political discourse by silencing our voices, our Constitution condones (or perhaps sets the standard for) this behavior by taking away our birthright, they criticize diaspora activists for being out of touch with the political reality on the ground whose politics is detached from the complexities of their lived reality, and the tension builds with accusations that the diaspora are cowards who ran away, or would run back to the States from the frontline of the struggle when things go wrong; the guilt-shaming list is long and harsh, but here is our perspective…

While the diaspora appreciate the validity of some of these arguments, the Belizean discourse reveals that, in a limited way, we are dealing with a reality that is more complex than the argument presented. As I write this I am conscious of how my criticism will be received, I am conscious of that oppressive chasm that exists between us, and the notion that “home” is not necessarily a comfortable, welcoming place for the diaspora. We hear the echo of your voices telling us, “why you no go bak da States,” or the mumbling voices that ridicule us when we speak English, “e fahget how fuh talk creole.” It is within this context that based Belizeans fail to bridge the gap and why the diaspora, paralyzed by these criticisms, may refuse to cross over to shake the hand of our brothers and sisters. For us it is clear, based Belizeans do not allow for the crossing and re-crossing of our borders and see it as an invasion rather than a re-connection.

It is partially true that to be from the diaspora implies a certain level of consumption and opportunity to achieve wealth and a good education, but it also implies responsibility and obligation to family and dependents at home. To be fair, Belizeans in the diaspora face three challenges when they go abroad: surviving in a new and hostile environment away from the support of family, struggling to taking care of themselves while taking care of their families at home. Basically, supporting two households! Their mission to send remittances, boxes of clothes and other necessities to their families in order to provide economic relief props up the Belizean economy, but some pay a very high price to achieve this goal. Attracted to the possibility of work and the opportunity to acquire a good education, diaspora Belizeans sacrifice a great deal when taking this leap of faith. For most, it’s a hard life and not all it is cracked up to be; therefore, YOUR perception at home is not necessarily OUR reality abroad.

Further, not everyone who takes the giant leap to seek better opportunities abroad end up living a grand lifestyle. Some of our people (particularly in the “States”) come here with limited education, some illegally, they end up working two or three jobs to send money home to feed their families, they live in some of the most violent and depressed neighborhoods, their kids are exposed to tough gangs in schools, and they spend most of their time scrambling to survive so they can keep their families at home afloat. There is only a very small percentage of Belizeans who by a stroke of luck, or by their own perseverance, can claim success and wealth that allow them to go to and fro.

To be honest, our struggle to survive in a hostile, foreign land would be made a lot easier if Belizeans at home would welcome us with gratitude and appreciation for our sacrifice, instead of resentful displays and hurtful words. We get that most Belizeans at home cannot afford to travel anywhere and are perhaps stuck in the boredom of their lives, so when they see us, they are reminded of that. But what they must realize is that WE are happy to be home, away from the rat race, and envy the simplicity of THEIR lives. It is exactly our inability to reconnect with each other that cause the distancing and misunderstandings.

The term “diaspora” clearly has elitist connotations. It conjures up an idea that builds on a fantasy that coming to America means affluence and easy riches. These perceptions are often reinforced by some members of the diaspora (not all) who do return home flaunting their newfound status with “states clothes,” an American accent, and that Yankee dollar; this is true. But for many who are faced with hardships, along with the shame that they might not be living up to your expectations, your criticisms and your resentments are undeserved and hurtful.

Yes, there are advantages but there are also limitations to living in the diaspora. When we arrive the diaspora is engaged in an ongoing process of negotiating our identity for our selves and our children. Understanding our displacement, the cultural challenges we face, surviving the politics of a new country, having to maneuver and negotiate our space in unfamiliar territory, or trying to blend into a new society that we sometimes do not fully understand, or cannot fully penetrate, can sometimes beat us down. So, yes, protracted exclusion is our daily reality (at home and abroad).

We regret that your echoing voices misnaming us, truncating our Belizean identity while simultaneously inscribing us with your language of exclusion and marginality, may never stop. But we hope the term BelAm will be subject to new analysis, new understandings, if we are to unlock a discourse that continues to inscribe the diaspora as outsiders. Why are these definitions being deployed against us? Your language of separation is mostly applied to Belizeans in America; the eye opener for us is that Belizeans living in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Africa have no such negative inscriptions. The term BelAm suggests a state of opposition or resistance when juxtaposed against Belizeans at home.

With that said, Belizeans in the diaspora will continue its ongoing search to find language to articulate ourselves. We have no desire to negotiate the terms of our identities in ways other than “representing” OUR Belizeanness because anything else would contribute to our destruction. It is in this context of refusing to surrender OUR love for Belize, OUR Belizean identity and OUR culture…this forced construction, that we demand our seat at the table so OUR voices can be heard. Based Belizeans are not more entitled to all things Belizean than us. Concessions will have to be made and there is no need for an unnecessary war of words. Paula Giddings once wrote, “A nation is therefore a large-scale solidarity, constituted by the feeling of the sacrifices that one has made in the past and of those that one is prepared to make in the future.”

The Belizean diaspora is not going anywhere because we love our country too. We have been criticized for our inability to effectively organize ourselves so we can make a difference at home and that is a fair argument. The Belizean diaspora often bemoan our lack of unity, our failure to organize and mobilize in an effective way, how we often undermine ourselves by factionalism from different groups, how scattered and divided we are across regions, and how we have a tendency to compete for political space rather than cooperating with each other. We are distrustful of some of our fellow Belizeans who quickly change course when they see a better opportunity elsewhere, but some of us refuse to give up and where there is a will, there is a way.

Our determination and strong sense of responsibility to The Jewel is boosted enormously by new communication technologies that allow us to communicate, organize and spread the message through social media and the Internet. Facebook offers us the opportunity to communicate, argue amongst ourselves as Belizeans often do, it offers the cross-fertilization of ideas and the possibility of immediate exchange between us in all our scattered locations. The texts we create in our discourses have the ability to circulate in communities far and wide and have brought us closer together in more meaningful ways than we could ever imagine.

If Belizeans at home and abroad can draw on a shared cultural repertoire of ideas perhaps we can find some common ground. At the end of the day REMEMBERING…that we share the same love of country, the same cultural identity, the same political concerns for Belize’s political transformation, the same hope for Belize, then perhaps once we recognize that WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER, we can start extending the hand of friendship, maintain some degree of civility towards each other that results in dignity and hope for ALL. We are on the same page folks! We are on the same page!

Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it. – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Debbie Curling was a member of the Belizean Diaspora and has recently returned home to Belize. 

The Chains of Colonialism : The Neal and Mora Secret Tapes by: Aria Lightfoot


Eldred Neal and Marvin Mora are leaders within two of the most powerful  unions in Belize representing a diverse membership from all over the country of Belize.  Both men were secretly taped using racist terms and cultural stereotypes against the Garinagu people of Belize.

If you were raised in Belize, you are familiar with the sundry list of racial adjectives and stereotypes thrown at our diverse melting pot of cultures.  Many people think that such words are innocent, playful or even harmless and maybe even cultural jabbing. Some people will argue that Belize is a racial utopia and in the next breath utter cultural and racially insensitive stereotypes. When you speak to Belizeans who grew up dark skinned, darker,  short haired, wide nose,  Creole,  Maya, Garifuna, Mennonite, East Indian,  Mestizo, Arab,  White – the pain is evident in their stories and what we think  is cultural jabbing  is a form of racial bulling that undermines ones dignity, self esteem and individuality.

The racist and divisive expressions stem from a dark colonial history. Many cultures in Belize are victims of an orchestrated psychological form of racism producing self-hate, divide and servility.   We don’t question the status quo, we don’t challenge injustices, we don’t fight for each other.  We are a “docile people”  – mental slaves.  We have too many people who subscribe to a romantic notion of European ancestry even though their features, hair, skin color betray them;  many revere  European laws and order even though Europeans have committed the worst atrocities against our ancestors.

Belize is historically flawed because of  fairy tale books that pass off as history books and  the failure to introduce Maya and African history into the curriculum.  Neal and Mora are ignorant to their own subjugation.  They promulgate hate and devise a culture war against a race of people they share ancestry with.  Neal, in his rant, did point out a truthful yet sordid past about Belize; Belize practiced segregation.  In additional to segregation, there were extreme forms of  bullying.  The Garinagu were banned from living in Belize City and were only allowed to visit on allocated days.  The Garinagu that visited the city as  fishermen and vendors faced the scourge of rude children’s stones, teasing and disrespect.  Is this something that Neal should be celebrating?   Even within Creole culture, there were mulatto children who hid away their dark skinned parents or parents who treated their darker children or family members with disdain. There are even stories of abandonment due to complexion of children.

Colonialism was a systematic and power tool of control. Races were eradicated; histories and identities of ancestors were erased; subjects were confused with divisive tools, whipped into compliance, subjected to an acceptable form of  inequality, limited access and exclusion.

Belize City has the most powerful leaders; every Prime Minister in Belize’s short independent history  has originated from the City.  Belize City can be described as a predominantly black city, with some of the most educated people, the epicenter of Belize’s legal and financial centers,  and yet the city boasts the poorest divisions, worst living conditions, highest crime rates, and the most evidence of wealth inequality than any other part of the country of Belize.  Why?

Too many Belizeans in powerful positions prefer to transplant wealth and land to foreigners before they extend a hand to uplift the people they share a birthright, culture and citizenship with. Belizeans have accepted divisive labels such as  political affiliation, sex, sexual orientation, ethnicity and citizenship unable to recognize the destructive forces of colonialism.

Think about the power of colonialism that even today, people are unable to break the chains.  We have highly educated and intelligent people still advocating stereotypes, distrusting and fearing people of their own citizenship.  We have people we have entrusted  to lead us, to fight for us – dividing us. Please let your voices be heard. Let your leaders know that we will break this mental chain, we will resist the culture wars, we will break the chains of colonialism and we demand that all citizens be treated equally without exception.

“Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds” (Bob Marley)

 

 

 

Dear Teenage Girls….by: Kiah Pastor


 

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Kiah Pastor

Dear Teenage Girls of Belize,

There are a couple tragedies currently in the media that has hit close to home therefore I’d like to speak on one. There was a situation that occurred where a 13 year old female sent nude photos to a man and he then threatened to expose them if she did not have sex with him. Well she ended up having sex with him twice.

We live in a Society where men glorify women and their bodies but there is a very fine line between being human and appreciating a woman’s natural physique and then just being out right disrespectful. In Belize, most cases it’s being disrespectful. But as a child having your body go through changes, you’re left some what confused. Why should I as a teenager not show off my newly developed breasts if they’re so many older and more developed women on social media also showing off their bodies and getting glorified by not only men but other females as well. Do you see my point? Nudity has become a part of pop culture. Nudity has become art. Nudity has been accepted in every case EXCEPT when it has been shared against your will. The amount of guys I’ve seen preaching about “having self respect” and telling girls to stop sending nudes to young boys are the same guys I recall have asked me to send them a nude when I was between the ages of 12-16.

Almost every male will vow they’ll never associate themselves with younger girls but they’re so many of them who love it! It’s the idea of being with a female who doesn’t have a set of boundaries mostly because they don’t know what the boundaries should be. The idea of not being with a female you need to break all sorts of walls to get through to because she hasn’t been scarred by other men in order to build those walls up in the first place. And lastly it’s the idea of having a body that hasn’t been touched. The inferior feeling of taking it all away. Men love dominance.

Now let me redirect my energy. It’s not solely the men of our society’s fault but also the women. We should work hard as women to be advocates of true self confidence and self love. We should be more willing to reach out to the younger girls around us and be a big sister figure to them and be there to advise them so they don’t need to figure it all out on their own. This is very hard because there’s a lot of adult women themselves who don’t have self respect nor show true value of themselves as women but that’s okay! You don’t need to be in that space forever! You don’t need to be vulnerable to these men. You don’t need to use sex to feel powerful and you don’t need to showcase your body to get attention. You do what you’re confident with not what you feel is pleasing to others. Where do you think promiscuous women are stemmed from? Sexual acts that occur in early stages of life. Let’s make an effort to be the best examples to younger girls and to show them how they should react when put in compromising positions! You’re not alone!

From a young woman building herself back up,
Kiah Lisani Pastor 💓

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BNTU- More Passion Less Reason by: Aria Lightfoot


“To promote and advance the highest levels of professional service in the teaching profession, and to represent and advance the just cause of teachers and their collective views of Government and Educational authorities at all levels within Belize and abroad, in order to promote and achieve the best possible standards of education and quality of life for all of our people.” BNTU’s mission statement 

my way or highway

Teaching remains one of the most respected and noble professions in Belize and let’s face it, teachers possess a great deal of influence over our children and spend a great deal of time educating and molding our children and the future of Belize. If the average teacher has twenty children, spending an average of eight hours a day, it means that a teacher is working with about 160 hours of children time per day or 3200 hours per month of children time. If teachers make an average of $1500.00 a month, teachers are being paid about 46 cents an hour per child. When you break down a teacher’s salary, you get a clearer picture of how truly underpaid these professionals are.

While children are an investment for the future of Belize, public schools are not self sustaining because they do not generate real income especially in parts of Belize where families struggle to make ends meet; they struggle to pay school fees and struggle to buy the necessary uniforms, books and equipment. The state uses redistributive taxes from income tax and taxes from products and services to provide income for teachers,  administrators,  build and maintain schools,  pay electricity, water and other bills. Studies show that the more affluent a neighborhood, the better the kids from those schools will perform because parents are then able to subsidize deficiencies that the state is unable to provide.

Belize does not have zoning laws that forces children to be educated in their school districts nor property tax laws that forces neighborhoods to pay for their schools. As it relates to education, Belize has maintained a church-state relationship that has been essentially abused by the churches. The church-state schools pack their schools with their congregations’ children and a few other kids who are able to improve their school standings. Church schools are able to attract the brightest and best teachers and students with alluring scholarships for students and better working conditions for teachers. This current system prevents other schools from developing by leaving behind children with less resources and access. The state has always allowed the churches to create these exclusionary policies, so church schools (mostly Catholic) outperform other schools. Isn’t this a corruptive system of education? At the church’s and congregation’s expense these exclusionary policies would be okay, but every tax payer contributes to this system but not every tax payer is afforded equal access to these schools. This brings me to examine the Belize National Teachers Union.

The Belize National Teachers Union also known as BNTU is a powerful union of teachers with a vision statement that highlights their purpose: To promote and maintain a professional organization of workers in education in Belize. This organization will aspire towards the highest and best in educational standards, services and conditions of work for the development of Belize.

The BNTU mission statement states: To promote and advance the highest levels of professional service in the teaching profession, and to represent and advance the just cause of teachers and their collective views of Government and Educational authorities at all levels within Belize and abroad, in order to promote and achieve the best possible standards of education and quality of life for all of our people.

The BNTU is currently in a labor dispute of sorts with the government of Belize. The teachers are demanding a 3% raise from the government except that when they actually sat at the negotiation table with the government they argued that corruption in Belize contributes to an environment that forces the government to have to break promises to give raises. So instead of demanding anything within their vision or mission statement, the BNTU decided they will take on a broad issue of corruption arguing that the International Labor Organization, a UN agency dealing with international labor standards world wide,  of which Belize is a member state, gives BNTU this authority to take on corruption because it affects their social and economic well being. The BNTU presented the government of Belize with eight demands that they want the government to address forthwith or face a strike.

  1. Urgent Action by GOB to sign the UN Convention Against Corruption.
  2. Take Corrected Measures to improve and ensure compliance with the requirements of our Unjust Enrichment and Integrity in Government Laws
  1. Take Urgent corrective measures including Legislative Action to have and make our Public Accounts Committee work and be effective.
  2. Take immediate and necessary Action to appoint a Special Senate Select Committee to make a full and proper Investigation/Inquiry into the recent Auditor General’s Audit Report into the Immigration and Nationality Departments for the 2011-2013 Period; including recommended, Corrective and Punitive action.
  1. Take immediate and appropriate measures to enact the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Bill and to formulate a Just and Fair Minimum Living Wage Legislation and Policy.
  2. Take serious and immediate action to restore (Education Rules) and to discuss and implement the unfinished section of our BNTU Special Proposal 22, to ensure the just Right and employment status/tenure and Service Benefits of the Non-teaching Staff of our Secondary and Tertiary Levels Educational Institutions.
  3. Take immediate and long over-due Legislative Measures to reform and update our Social Security Laws and Benefits to expand and broaden the protection and coverage of the workers (Contributors) including the section on to and from work. 1

Transparency International defines corruption as the abuse of entrusted power. That abuse can be via manipulation of policy, rules, procedures and allocation of resources to enhance personal wealth, status and power.

These demands from BNTU are definitely what Belize needs, but it is not aligned with BNTU’s vision and mission statement. In fact, the demands are so broad and unlikely to be created and implemented in such a small window that one must reason that the BNTU motives are not transparent and their strike is to destabilize the government of Belize.   Some people argue that the present government had eight years to create these changes and failed to, but why is that argument even being made during the BNTU/GOB discussion? Is this election time? Election was held in November of 2015 and all these arguments were made and the people of Belize reelected the government of Belize. I agree that Belizeans must hold our government accountable as a people and nation of Belize, but BNTU’s unilateral action reeks of abuse.

Corruption is not one thing AND it is not only a government problem, it is a systematic practice that involves everyone. To argue that you want the government to solve corruption is like arguing you want world peace or else. The parameters were created to fail.

Belize is a small developing nation where politics and family are deeply intertwined. Belize is facing increasing international scrutiny because of different acts of corruption and there are urgent issues that the nation and people of Belize must tackle. Those in power must understand they have a responsibility for the positions they hold and they owe their memberships and supporters accountability. Belize laws have not yet evolved to address the ever-present issues that manifest almost daily. Historically, Belize has existed in some form for about 400 years in what use to be a mostly homogeneous society in an extremely small colony (prior to mass emigration to the US and immigration from neighboring countries and most recently US and UK)  . The laws of the colony were there to maintain order and maintain the status quo. Belize has only been independent for 35 years and while George Price may have had an idealistic vision for the future of Belize, he could not foreseen globalization, parasitic investors, tax havens, brutal drug trades, illegal transshipment points with billions of dollars at stake, international criminals and fugitives, terrorism, sex tourism, Internet, porous borders, international interest in developing and moving to Belize. The colonial laws of Belize that were designed to maintain status quo, are not equipped for the tsunami of events that have unfolded since Independence.

As the nations cries for changes these are some to the things that BNTU should consider:

  1. Instead of taking a ‘my way or the highway’ approach, why not partner with the government, businesses and social partners to work on a development plan for Belize? The government has in good faith agreed to your demands but you do not speak for the electorate and therefore holding the government ransom for what is not your mandate is a form of abuse and manipulation of rules.
  2. The current PM, Hon. Dean Barrow,  is the only sitting PM that has consistently agreed to work on improving the system while in power. Belize has seen its share of oppositions make promises to change the system only to ignore the changes while in power however only Mr. Barrow has disciplined misbehaving ministers, allowed audit reports to reveal corruption  and have removed  or diminished some of the most infamous personalities of corruption within his ranks. The current PM may be a shrewd negotiator, as some describe him, but he realizes that the people power is real and has been working to address these issues.
  3. Change can only happen with a sitting government who must create the policy (hopefully in full partnership with stakeholders), present it to the House, and vet it through the Senate. We must work within our system to change our system. Placards and marches bring the necessary attention and pressure, but changes happen with a sitting government. Destabilizing a duly elected government on a unilateral mandate is not for the betterment of teachers.
  4. Work on improving the education system because there is much corruption in the state/church relationship that requires urgent attention. The recent unilateral letter of support by Catholic Public Schools signed by Maria Zabaneh only to be dispelled a day later by Sister Barbara Flores is evidence of how unilateral crusades undermine credibility and leadership
  5. Ask the government to create a property tax system to benefit schools. Do you know that some communities are paying $5.00 a year in property taxes? We must create a comprehensive tax system that does not overburden one sector of society and allows equitable distribution and access.

We will never achieve change with egos. We will achieve change by understanding how the system functions and what creates the opportunities for abuse. Partnering and holding everyone accountable for their positions are the only true way to achieve change. The reality is that all Belizeans will need to get use to the idea of accountability including the BNTU and we should not let our passions overrule our ability to reason.

A storm is brewing …. by: Aria Lightfoot


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Belize is facing an approaching tropical storm, possibly a small hurricane, and one cannot ignore the cosmic correlation of recent events involving Mason. Mason was introduced to the Belizean public as an expert or specialist offering services to aid the National Emergency Management Organization. Two weeks after the murder of Llewelyn Lucas, there have been a plethora of fallouts, accusations, restructuring, investigations with even more pending. In some poetic sense, Belize system is definitely under National Emergency Management Re-Organization of government – courtesy of William Mason.

Mason’s identity is still unknown. He has a Belize birth certificate with the name William Mason and Guyanese passport with the name Ramesh Oulette. My Guyanese friend informs me that Oulette is not a traditional Guyanese last name. A little bit of research on the name Oulette indicates that the name is French Canadian in origin. It is possible his mother could have been French Canadian but Mason’s true identity is essential in getting to the bottom of this mystery.

william mason

Danny Mason’s true identity is extremely important because he may be linked to other crimes in Belize and worldwide. The aliases circulating are Danny Mason, Thomas Tharakan, Jagdeep Chahal (picture does not look like him), Raj Oulette, Ted Oulette, Danny Ferguson, Danny Oulette, Ramesh Oulette and Ramesh Singh. As I browsed RipOff Report online comments, I found it interesting that several people in Belize, as early as 2014, were reporting his presence in Belize. There are reports of Mason in South Africa, Thailand and South America scamming people, using similar tactics he did in Belize, befriending unsuspecting victims and stealing their money. A friend confided that Mason, known to her as Danny Oulette, attempted to extort her aunt. Her aunt had to get the police involved and remove “Danny” from her land. She claims this was a few years ago and they thought he had left Belize and headed back to Canada.

This case has exposed a dangerous weakness in Belize’s identification system (maybe Guyana and Canada too) and a flagrant loophole indicating a lack of necessary checks and balances. Mason operated unfettered because he flashed money, made sizeable donations, was able to obtain fraudulent identity documents, gun licenses, property, status and access. All this with the admitted knowledge of the then Minister of Police and key police officers. The aftershock of this has yet to quantified. Mason’s operations have called every Belizean identity into question. He exposed Belize as a place that facilitates international criminals for the right price and with the knowledge of relevant authorities. The case highlights the ease to wash illicit funds through donations and investments; a revelation that could have dire consequences for Belize. Belize could face international repercussions such as de-risking and heightened security for all Belizean citizens worldwide. Whether or not the P.M. realizes this, there will be keen international monitoring of this case especially since Mason littered the world with victims. Mason could be wanted for serious crimes worldwide, even other murders. How Belize proceeds handling this will be vital.

The Prime Minister has done the necessary initial steps to cure some of the problems but there are so much more to be done. The PM must create the necessary legal checks and balances to ensure this level of abuse never again occurs. Mason may be the most sensational case, but criminals have entered and abused Belize’s lax system too many times. The PM has elevated credible people in the right places, but I urge him to also formulate a bipartisan team to assist those new leaders to correct the deficiencies in the system.

The P.M. must recognize that he represents the last vestiges of politicians whose personal service and reputation is the key to their political life. The new breed of politicians enters public life for personal and financial enrichment. They lack service and empathy for their country and people, they lack purpose and they lack a moral compass. The laws in Belize that originated from the days when handshakes sealed deals, does not align with this new era of politicians and criminals.

Currently, the Belizean people turn to Hon. Dean Barrow to solve problems, to hold his cabinet accountable and to fight on behalf of the nation of Belize. That is a difficult task to ask any one person to do. The current system does not create perpetuity and it is not conducive to promote proper development and not responsive to identify, analyze and eradicate corruption. I have heard many people echo that their support of UDP begins and ends with the current Prime Minister. What will happen to Belize when he retires? Belize system seemed to be designed for strong and principled leadership. A leadership game of Russian Roulette.Write-off

The electorate has grown in sophistication and knowledge due to the unprecedented access to information. People are understanding that leadership defines their identity, success, and generation’s future and they are growing weary of abuse. To forge a prosperous future for our children and children’s children, the laws and constitution must reflect a system of limits and accountability.

And Belize this is not over yet. It has been reported that a prominent CEO of the Government of Belize and former Director of immigration was denied access to the United States and her visa cancelled. Countries battling terrorism are likely very concerned about their own vulnerability when criminals can mask their identities in countries like Belize, Canada and Guyana. A red flag has been raised warning of a storm brewing.

Pay or Die: The Crisis facing the Medical Industry in Belize By: Aria Lightfoot


pay or dieLike a recurring nightmare, almost every week in the media, victims of  serious medical problems are asking for donations from the Belizean population to assist with medical care. Many need long term life saving surgeries, cancer treatments, kidney treatments, or some major medical intervention. Treatments can cost upward in hundreds of thousands of dollars to a million dollars for effective lifesaving measures to take effect. It plays out as a desperate last ditch attempt from victims to save their lives; and in reality, the public could never realistically sponsor these cases unless of course there is some major overhaul in how we administer medical care to the public.

I recall my mother’s own plight with the Belize medical system. She initially received medical treatment in Houston and Canada because of help of her sisters but when she returned to Belize, I recall Dr. Pott telling my aunt that he would not “waste his time” to treat her (as he had promised the Canadian doctor he would) because she was going to die anyway. My aunt was devastated and in tears desperate for some medical intervention. It was the Belmopan community, her family, friends, church members and nurse Johnson, who helped my mother transition into the next world.

A few years later, my aunt lost her healthy baby boy at the Belize City Hospital, because she did not use the private hospital system.  Her baby had a healthy heart beat at the doctors office however, he did not practice at the public hospital and when she went into labor,  neglectful nurses were not around when her baby began to crown and the doctor who was expected to be there,  was absent. It was a series of unfortunate events.  The baby was perfectly formed except he was blue.  When I was pregnant, my aunt gave me money so that I did not have my son at the public hospital. She did not want a similar fate and treatment for me…my medical care was excellent.

About three years ago, my cousin Albert who was my age, suffered kidney failure. He was retired early from the Government of Belize with limited money; but he needed $4000.00 a month for kidney treatment. More money was needed for his treatment than what he actually made when he was working fulltime. He needed three dialysis treatment a week but managed maybe one and not weekly. When finances ran its course, he died of kidney failure.

Currently I have another cousin undergoing expensive kidney dialyses; she is no longer working and her finances are depleted;  her health continues to decline as she desperately attempts to save her life. I donated some money to her, however it felt like a symbolic act because it will not realistically cover even one needed treatment; she also needs three a week.

Recently Patrick Jones, journalist and long time media personality, is facing a fate of inadequate finances for life saving medical treatment and so he must turn to the public for intervention…I highlight these cases to demonstrate that we need a major overhaul of our medical system and we need to overhaul how we administer life saving medical treatment for all citizens regardless of their immediate ability to pay.

The private hospitals in Belize have found its cash cow and they are pariahs on society. Medical victims are in crisis and desperately in need of major medical intervention and doing everything to stay alive. They borrow, beg and sell all their assets and when they can no longer maintain financially, they die. The private hospitals with life saving technology will not treat anyone who cannot show cash first and foremost. Even more offensive is that tax payers money have played a major role in educating doctors and sponsoring private hospitals

What has the Ministry of Health in Belize done to curb this crisis? The entire  medical system is shameful. I would argue that the practice of treating a patient to the point of bankruptcy and then no more offends the idea of medical care. Should medical care be a profit driven industry ? 

Doctors in Belize seem to have forgotten their Hippocratic oath:

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:

I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.

I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures [that] are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.

I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.

I will not be ashamed to say “I know not,” nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s recovery.

I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humbleness and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.

I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems, if I am to care adequately for the sick.

I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.

I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.

If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live and remembered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.

Months leading up to elections in Belize, the unions showed their strength by demanding pay increases and even Uniform allowances and most were successful in their demands; however none have taken up the task of universal health care or demand that doctors who practice publicly and privately offer the same level of care regardless of ability to pay or place of treatment.

Best Entry wins $200.00BZD – Citizenship: Why I will vote on Nov 4th 2015


vote

Election Date has been set for November 4th, 2015.  Michelle Obama once said that you should not be cynical about politics – Voting is an important part of democracy and extremely important to forge a nation forward. Additionally, we the people elect our leaders who are accountable to us ….When you don’t participate, you allow someone else to make a choice on your behalf.

In commemoration of voting in the upcoming elections-

Please write a short 500-1000 word essay

or submit a video presentation-5 -10 minutes long

Citizenship – Why I will vote on Nov 4th 2015.

Win $200.00 BZD

Deadline for Essay is 10/23/2015.

Submit entries to: twocanview@gmail.com

Open to all Belizean Citizens in Belize -18 years and older

 

Winning Essay/video will become the property of twocanview.com

 

 

 

Should the Belizean Diaspora participate in elections and elected office?


diaspora.final_.full_

 

The Belizean Diaspora contributes an estimated 200 million USD to families and organizations in Belize. Amendment 7 is a legislation which clarifies the rights of Belizeans who hold dual citizenship. This is a very important legislation for the future of Belize’s survival. Nuri Akbar delves deeper into this legislation and its implications for Belize. Please read, share and discuss. 
The resurrection of the 7th amendment and Belize survivability in the 21st

28 May 2013 — by Nuri Akbar

 

On June 19th 2009, the Prime Minister of Belize,  the Hon. Dean Barrow, while addressing the proposed 7th amendment to the Belize  constitution in the National Assembly uttered the following words:

“Because our laws recognize dual citizenship how  then will you turn around, recognizing dual citizenship, providing for dual  citizenship but impose a limitation on a dual citizen. It makes no sense at all  and if a little bit of history and background are necessary, we didn’t always  recognize dual citizenship. The recognition of dual citizenship came about as a  consequence of the advance in legislation that was promoted by national hero  Phillip Goldson. But we turn around and we leave intact in the constitution for  all these years this impairment on the rights of the Belizean who have acquired  a second nationality. I say therefore, Mr. Speaker, that it is utterly and  completely contradictory. I also say it is inconsistent, and let me tell you why  it is inconsistent, if you are a Belizean who has acquired second nationality  you are disqualified from sitting in the National Assembly, but the Governor  General, whose office is from a protocol point of view the highest office in the  land, there is no such disqualification. The Governor General can be a Belizean  who has acquired a second nationality. He is not barred from being Governor  General and that is the highest office in the land. “

Recently a prominent Diaspora Belizean, Mrs.  Muriel Laing-Arthurs, asked me to comment on the 7th amendment to the  constitution proposed in 2009 that would have given full citizenship rights to  Belizean-born natives who happen to possess dual nationality. Since I am not a  card carrying member of any political party, my trajectory on this issue is not  skewed by the inordinate local partisan rhetoric that has taken on a life of its  own in Belize, but rather influenced by the realities we are facing as a people  and nation and the fact that we have thus far failed to strategically maximize  our human capital among our Belizean brothers and sisters in the Diaspora.

 

Therefore, on this particular issue I am in  agreement with the Prime Minister and endorse the concept and spirit of the 7th  amendment. However the contradictions and hypocrisy in our actual  behavior/thinking surrounding the re-embracement of the Belizean Diaspora must  fundamentally change if this initiative is to be successful.

Belize national  hero, the Honorable Phillip Goldson, lost his physical eyesight in the later  years of his life, but arguably he possessed one of the most clairvoyant visions  we have ever produced in an indigenous leader. From the inception he saw the  critical role Belizeans in the Diaspora can and should play in the overall  national development of Belize, and understood that national allegiance and  patriotism were not limited by one’s geographical location. Hence, his efforts  over the many decades to engage, reconnect, claim and maximize the Belizean  human capital of the Diaspora toward Belize national development have been one  of the most remarkable progressive legacies of Phillip Goldson.

The issue of migration has been with the earliest  human creatures as they began the trek out of Africa and eventually crossed the  Bering Strait millennia ago into the Americas. These migrations were often times  prompted by the need of share survival and in search of water, food and shelter.  Other times by war, oppression, natural disasters and protection against the  unrepentant natural elements.

As empires rose and fell over the millennia,  human beings were captured and used as slaves to build these empires. In modern  times much of Europe as we have known it was obliterated by two world wars that  killed millions and displaced entire populations. During the revolutions that  engulfed the Central American isthmus in the 70’s and 80’s, hundreds of  thousands of people were displaced, forced to flee, and many became  refugees.

In Belize’s case large migration can be traced  back to the building of the Panama Canal and World War II. After the 1931 and  1961 hurricanes that devastated the country and killed many people, Belizeans,  via a designed policy, were granted refugee status and were allowed to migrate  into the United States. Over the ensuing decades this migration pattern  continued officially and unofficially, eventually creating a brain drain that  has had an adverse impact on the nation’s long term development. Today thousands  of these same Belizeans and their offspring have acquired various life-affirming  skills and experience that have benefitted the host countries.

This perennial movement /exodus of masses of  people has been a part of human nature as a result of curiosity, mobility,  circumstance, oppression and conflict. To this end, the life and times we are  now living in 2013 have therefore imposed upon us the necessity to reclaim this  reservoir of natural resource.

A brilliant Diaspora Belizean sociologist who is  an expert on migration, Dr. Jerome Straughan, raised the issue of the  transforming definition of the modern nation state and its increasing mobility  of people and how governments will have to implement policies that take these  new dynamics into account. Accepting the reality that half of Belize’s  population reside abroad, creating the bridge/mechanism to harness this human  capital toward the development of the mother nation is not only logical, but is  in keeping with the transforming definition of modern nation states and  globalization. Given Belize’s geographic location, population size and history,  isolationism has no place in the 21st century. There is no question that the  nation’s future direction, national development and very survivability hinge on  its ability to reclaim its Belizean Diaspora and incorporate the human capital  into a long term strategy for maximum benefit.

The vulnerability of small, developing and  peripheral economies like Belize’s is the burden of external debt. When a small  country becomes totally consumed by debt, her natural resources then become  collateral and held hostage to the creditor nations and institutions. Local  governments are pressured into compromising the national patrimony, which  includes putting the country’s vital industries, raw materials, and even the  scandalous selling of passports, on the chopping block in a desperate bid to  raise revenue. This global trend will not change anytime soon, but given the  continued contraction of the metropolitan economies, Belize’s natural resources  will remain a premium for exploitation.

In Belize there have been many noble causes taken  up by various local and foreign finance advocacy groups and organizations  relating to the physical environment, wildlife, social and cultural issues, but  not a single organization dedicated to reconnecting and reclaiming the Belizean  human capital from abroad. Over the years, Belize’s leading newspaper, the  Amandala, has editorially supported the Hon. Phillip Goldson’a vision of  proactively engaging the Belizean Diaspora and encouraging the cross-pollination  of Belizeans at home and abroad, but this vision is yet to reverberate across  all sectors of the society.

The most valuable natural resource our nation  will ever produce is our people. Hence, any attempt at reclaiming this natural  resource should be paramount on any platform for national reconstruction and  development. It is now estimated that the number of Belizeans (first and second  generation) residing abroad in North America, Europe and elsewhere is equal to  half the three hundred thousand plus residents in the entire nation of  Belize.

The arguments presented in 2009 for abolishing  the discriminatory and apartheid era law dividing our people, and for providing  the legal instrument allowing Belizeans who hold dual nationality access to full  citizenship rights, participation and inclusion in elected public office, were  and are a visionary, progressive policy option.

There is no excuse for not initiating and  quantifying the various experiences in creating a skill bank of Belizean  citizens abroad toward national inclusion. This should be relatively easy since  globally the platforms already exist using tools such as Linkedln, Facebook,  etc., where thousands of Belizeans are actively interacting and networking with  each other. TheFortune 500 corporations and many countries  already use these various platforms for global recruitment of talents, skills  and experience. Since the rapid growth of the Internet, the competition for  human creativity, talent and experience has indeed gone global.

The continued dragging of the feet and denial of  thousands of Diaspora Belizean-born citizens from total participation in the  development of their homeland is now viewed as conspiratorial, and even racist,  by many. If a Belizean-born citizen is disqualified from full “citizenship  rights” and his or her allegiance is questioned on the basis that they hold dual  nationality, this is not only myopic but hypocritical, primitive thinking. The  intense passion and interest which many Diaspora Belizeans have demonstrated  regarding the ongoing Guatemalan claim and the proposed ICJ option is a clear  reflection of the love and fraternal relationship they hold toward Belize. If  the nation of Belize were to be militarily invaded/attacked, there is no  question a vast segment of the able-bodied Belizeans with military and actual  combat experience living abroad would volunteer to fight for their homeland.

 

What greater betrayal and damage has been done to  the nation state of Belize over the past quarter century than by those who swear  to defend and uphold the national patrimony and sovereignty of the state but  hold more allegiance to a political entity effectively subordinating the state?  Indeed, the actions, behavior and policies that have seen most of the nation’s  arable land sold to foreign interests, vital industries usurped, selling of  Belizean citizenship (passports), oil drilling concessions with ties to cronies  and family members, and outright pillaging of the national treasury for personal  gain – who is the real enemy of the Belizean state?

As I sat with one of Belize’s sages and  historians recently, Imam Ismael Shabazz, and asked for his insight on the 7th  amendment, Shabazz in his wisdom reminded me that the real substance of the 7th  amendment should not only include the right to hold public office, but indeed “voting rights” of Belizean citizens in the Diaspora. This idea is not new.  However, it has been resisted by the political elite, including many of the  so-called progressive thinkers among us. The arguments made were that Belizeans  living abroad would not be familiar with the issues on the ground and therefore  they were uninformed and out of touch. This argument was made in the early  1970’s and perhaps had some validity forty years ago. However, the world has  drastically changed over the past quarter century and the speed, access and  advancement of technology and cyberspace have essentially obliterated this  argument. Belizeans regularly interact with each other via social media,  participate in call-in radio/TV talk shows, and have access to the various media  outlets online.

Over 100 nations, large and small, allow their  Diaspora the right to vote in local elections. These include Mexico, El  Salvador, Venezuela, Britain, Germany, Spain, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland,  United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, and France.  Given the share size of the Belizean population living abroad and the  decades-old impact of remittances to families back home, the vast majority of  Diaspora Belizeans have maintained a solid relationship with their homeland.  According to the World Bank remittance report, the remittances to Central  America, which included Belize, in 2007 had reach a colossal US$ 12.1 billion.  The report also stated that in some of these countries the remittances are equal  to some 10% of the entire GDP. In the case of Belize, the report shows, for  example, that Belizeans in the Diaspora in 2004/05 had made remittances  estimated to be over US$ 160 million.

Whether the current administration (or future  ones) will move swiftly and strategically to reclaim its citizens living abroad  as an integral component of its national developmental platform, remains to be  seen. But whether the political elite act or not, the Belizean people, along  with progressive grassroots movements should take the lead. Belizeans abroad  have been actively engaged in supporting grassroots organizations like the  Belize Territorial Volunteers and BGYEA, among many other charitable efforts on  the ground. This kind of fraternal collaboration and operational unity must be  supported and encouraged between Belizeans at home and aboard for the sake of  our self-preservation and survival.

It is my opinion that much of the resistance to  the 7th amendment was essentially the result of the way in which it was crafted  and presented. The original (amendment) was presented to the Belizean public in  2009, and tragically, in keeping with the typical ad hoc/ top down fashion in  which policies are formulated in Belize, provided the ideal climate for  speculation and misinformation. No real engagement with the community, from the  inception of the idea stage to formulation and proper public education so the  people could understand the purpose and benefit of the proposed change, was  carried out.

Secondly, at no stage of this proposed 7th  amendment fiasco was the constituency most affected, the (Diaspora Belizeans)  themselves, invited to participate in the process. They were essentially left  out of the actual discussion. Not only would it have made perfect sense to have  included the Belizean Diaspora in the formulation of the policy proposal, but  most importantly in the public and educational dialogue with their brothers and  sisters in Belize.

As a consequence of the flawed approach,  propaganda and partisan rhetoric took over and subsequently the merits and  demerits of the actual amendment became completely lost in the process. The  vitriol that ensued was reflective of the deep-seated residual effect of  colonialism that still permeates our worldview. Talking points filtered via  partisan bickering became the norm, instead of dialogue and constructive debate.  So yet again, because of the choke hold of petty party politics on our  perceptual apparatus, a shameful law that discriminates against thousands of  Belizeans and relegates them to second class citizenship status in the place of  their birth, remains intact and activated to this day.

“We Keep Going Forward” Towards What Destination? by Jeremy A. Enriquez


A Journey through Garifuna History:
After 210 years in Belize, “We Keep Going Forward” Towards What Destination? by Jeremy A. Enriquez
Published in Amandala, (www.amandala.com.bz)
Sunday Nov. 18, 2012

Reprinted on twocanview.com with the Permission of Jeremy A. Enriquez

Jeremy A. Enriquez

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeremy A. Enriquez provides a very important and many times missing part of Belizean History.  Our plight as African descendants (Garinagu and Creoles)  has a very important interwoven historical significance.  Please read as Jeremy present the Garinagu important contribution to the development of Belize.  A.L.

 

Amidst the challenging socioeconomic realities of Garifuna communities and the constraints of Garifuna leadership to collectively define, promote and pursue development opportunities for their people, the annual revelry that defines Garifuna Settlement Day has served to reaffirm among Garinagu their cultural survival against all odds throughout the two centuries that they have lived in Belize. The mere survival of Garifuna culture after the attempts by the British superpower to exterminate it is still quite an exceptional feat to celebrate.

Following the unsuccessful defense of their homeland territory of St. Vincent against the British invaders in 1797, the Garinagu were rounded up loaded in ships and exiled almost two thousand miles away to the most barren sections of the island of Roatan, then another British territory. About two decades earlier, the British had considered returning this rebellious group of fierce warriors to Africa but that would have been too costly. Roatan was a strategic decision. It ensured that the Garinagu would be permanently separated and kept very far away from their homeland and from other British territories such as Jamaica, Barbados, Dominica or Trinidad and Tobago where slavery still existed. This forced deportation was to ensure that the Garinagu fomented no other rebellion. Those who were allowed to remain in St. Vincent were legally banned from all expressions of their ancestral culture until its extinction.

This year marks 210 years since the Garinagu first arrived in Belize. They came in 1802 as the first group of free people to settle in Belize: – decades before the Mestizos settled the north in the late 1840s and before the Mayas returned in the 1880s in flight from brutally oppressive labor conditions in Guatemala.

Technically, the Garinagu were not welcomed in Belize as the settlement was still a slave society. There was fear amongst the English settlers in Belize Town that the Garinagu, as free blacks who were well known for the fierce war that they fought at St. Vincent only five years earlier, might not be completely loyal to them and might even foment rebellion among the slaves. Consequently, a strict ban was imposed to prevent them from staying in the settlement for more than forty eight hours and a hefty fine was set for anyone who hired or employed any Garifuna within the settlement. In compliance with the law, Garinagu formed their own settlements south of the Sibun River border where they have remained ever since. Seeds of discrimination and mistrust were also planted by the masters among the slaves to ensure that the two groups of Afro-descendants – one enslaved and the other free – remained separated. Such seeds have largely remained firmly rooted in the collective psyche of the royal descendants such that to date there remains the lack of genuine interest in the roots of their common bond and the systemic exclusion of Garinagu from higher offices in the public, judiciary, diplomatic and other services.

Today, relative to all Afro-descendant people throughout all the Americas and the Caribbean, the Garinagu remains one of the very few who have kept their unique African-indigenous hybrid ancestral language, their ancestral spirituality, food, music and other aspects of their traditional culture all intact. For that reason on May 18th 2001, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, proclaimed the Garifuna language, music and dance a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. These alone are exceptional accomplishments to proudly celebrate.

Besides all that, however, within the bubble of Belize’s rather colonially-oriented and city-centric versions of its historical awareness and discourse, there seems very little knowledge and appreciation of the critical contribution of the Garinagu in shaping the nation’s economic, territorial, and cultural history.

Shortly after the first group of Garinagu arrived in Belize in 1802 and perhaps as early as 1799, as a rare group of free blacks in the region during the time of slavery, they became the primary agents for two of the most prevailing European interests: – (i) the commercial interest of Belizean woodcutters to expand Belize’s lucrative mahogany interests further south beyond the legally established Sibun River boundary, and (ii) the evangelizing interests of European, later American, priests to expand the Catholic faith to various ethnic groups all over Belize.

By the late 1790s, the major economic activity in the Belize settlement was the harvesting of mahogany for export. Mahogany had replaced logwood which had declined in demand since the 1770s when the use of synthetic dye became more popular. Prior to the arrival of the Garinagu, the Belizean logwood contractors were forced to grapple with two major economic challenges that threatened the very existence of the settlement. Firstly, virtually all the stands of mahogany within Belize’s legally established territory had been depleted. In order to satisfy the steep demand for mahogany in Europe, it was critical for the Belizean contractors to expand their operations south of the Sibun River – a territory which was outside the limits of Belize’s boundary as established in 1786 by the Convention of London.

Secondly, the plan for expansion of the woodcutting operations was constrained by a severe labor shortage in Belize. In the 1790s, several of the slaves (who comprised seventy five percent of the population of the Belize settlement) had escaped to nearby Spanish territory in Mexico or Peten. Given the frequent and heavy losses of slaves, and constant threats of slave rebellion, the woodcutters desperately needed a reliable source of labor. They would either have to import more slaves and risk further losses or hire labor from among the Garinagu. By that time the Garinagu had made themselves well known in the region for their intelligence, independence, resilience, discipline, strong physique, hard work and excellent maritime skills. Consequently, they became eagerly sought after as the prime source of labour for the mahogany industry.

Emboldened by their resistance against Spanish invaders in September 1798, and with the prospect of a new and reliable source of labor, the Belizean contractors decided to ignore the established Sibun River boundary of the Belize settlement and expand their operations further south. In 1802, they sought and were granted permission by the Superintendent of the settlement, R. Basset, to import 150 Garifuna labourers from Roatan to be employed as woodcutters. With some government assistance, many of them were shipped and many more managed to find their way to the southern coast of Stann Creek and Toledo Districts.

The early influx of Garinagu in 1802, and the subsequent major influx in 1823 to seek refuge from civil wars in Central America, provided a major boost in the pool of labor to expand the operations for the Belizean timber contractors. For decades, the eager, hardworking and skilled Garifuna woodcutters penetrated the dense forests south of the Sibun River all the way to the Sarstoon River. The ill-feelings they harboured against the British following their deportation a few years earlier had been set aside as they focused on own their economic survival. It was not unusual for Garifuna women and children to accompany the men to the lumber camps. The stable pool of labor from the Garinagu derived great economic benefits for the Belizean contractors and the settlement. Along with the booming mahogany trade, the communities that the Garinagu established helped to lay the foundation for the expansion of Belize’s territory from the Sibun to the Sarstoon River, until it was formally incorporated as part of Belize in the Anglo-Guatemalan Treaty of 1859.

Given the tremendous involvement of the Garinagu to ensure a lucrative supply of mahogany, it is unfortunate that Belize’s history hardly admits that one of the two black men symbolized in Belize’s Coat of Arms is the Garifuna man. The other is the enslaved African Creole man whose forced labor harvested all the remaining stands of mahogany north of the Sibun. The tremendous labor of both groups formed the backbone of the economic history of Belize – shoulder to shoulder, under the shade of the tree.

As for the Garifuna women, their primary productive work was in agriculture. It was they who produced much of the foodstuffs, chickens and pigs for sale in Belize.

Over decades, the tough rigors of their work in forestry, their strong maritime culture, their harsh history of battle against European powers and subsequent deportation, their Catholic background, as well as their productivity, natural intelligence, facility for language and resilience had all molded among the Garinagu the pioneering spirit and work ethic that made them and their descendants prime candidates for the Catholic church to establish its schools throughout the remotest areas of Belize.

They were the first group of Catholics to arrive in Belize. The first Catholic church was established in 1832 amongst those residing near Mullins River. The earliest date recorded in which a Catholic priest conducted missionary work in Punta Gorda was in 1841. In May 1845 Jesuit priests built a church and established its first mission in P.G. long before there was any mission other parts of the country.

Garifuna men were well known to provide many of the best school teachers in the colony. To be employed as teachers they had to possess a reasonably solid and above average education, qualities of leadership, good character, a pioneering spirit and the physical and mental stamina and adaptability to survive harsh, rugged life in these remote settings. They were also recognized by the Jesuits to possess a natural ability to teach and the mental aptitude to learn different languages. From the 1870s to the 1970s, Garifuna men were trained and deployed by the Jesuits as teachers/catechists to spread education and the faith to rural communities all over Belize. Primary education was the tool used to facilitate indoctrination into, and spreading of, the Catholic faith. It is not surprising then, that as a natural progression from the foundations laid by their ancestors, a number of Garifuna men became priests and a number of women became nuns. Bishop O. P. Martin, formerly a Garifuna teacher, became the first Belizean Roman Catholic Bishop. Although the Garinagu became steeped in Catholicism, however, the secrets and practices of their ancestral spirituality remains firmly rooted, even among their priests and nuns.

Interestingly, as the brightest and the best Garifuna leaders were deployed to serve other people and other communities throughout the length and breadth of Belize over several decades, this brain drain has arguably diluted the likely powerful development impact on their own Garifuna communities to result in the impoverished and vulnerable socioeconomic conditions that these communities face today.

Despite the solid economic and cultural contributions that Garinagu has made to Belize’s development, the legacy of embedded colonial value system has continued to keep them marginalized and often treated as second class citizens in their own country. This same colonial mindset and value system is also evident in the condescending behavior towards indigenous peoples who seek to maintain their own ancestral cultural values. Such state of affairs is yet to be uprooted in order to transform our society into a truly inclusive Belizean one. At the same time as Garinagu remain proudly inspired by the tremendous contribution of their ancestors, someday when the current generation becomes the future ancestors, the new generation will ask: How dedicated and effective were the elders in promoting and pursuing opportunities that ensure the wellbeing of current and future generations? Given the power of ancestors in Garifuna culture, what sort of ancestor will you be? Wawansera Mémeba Lau Lubafu Bungiu hama Áhari – We Keep Going Forward with the Power of God and the Ancestors.