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Sep 22, 2017

The 2 Belizes of Independence Day 2017

Now to Independence Day…independent now for thirty-six years, is Belize any better off?  According to the Prime Minister, the country appears to be shaking off the malaise of recent years economically. But tempers are badly frayed in the social sector, with crime resurging and opponents in various sectors regularly at each other’s throats, egged on by means of social media. As the anniversary came and went with official ceremonies on Thursday, there were differing views about where our young nation stands in the view of this year’s selected September Celebrations theme, “Confronting Challenges, Celebrating Triumphs, Renewing our Resolve.” Aaron Humes looks at how national leaders answered the tough questions in their addresses on Independence Hill.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

It was a tale of two Belizes presented on Thursday in the national capital; or, per Charles Dickens, it was the best of times for the Government; it was the worst of times for the Opposition. In a meta-reference that raised eyebrows, Leader of the Opposition, John Briceño as promised, threw the now-Prime Minister’s words from a decade ago back in his own face.

 

John Briceño

John Briceño, Leader of the Opposition

“In 2006, on this very occasion, the then-Leader of the Opposition, Honorable Dean Barrow, said and I quote, “There is no way our ceremony can be merely an orgy of self-congratulation.” One year later in 2007, he asked: “Belize fi all a wi? Not completely, not totally. Not as long as there are still huge pockets of unemployed poor, of alienated youths, of marginalized single mothers. Not as long as on the south side of Belize City and in too many district towns young men continue to drop like flies and murder most foul stalks the land.”

 

Continuing on the theme of familiarity and contempt, Briceño, with vocal support from Raymond Rivers until he was thrown out by police, addressed the oppressing nature of corruption on Belize’s development, or lack thereof, as well as the rise of social violence.

 

John Briceño

“The nature of violence in Belize has become so pronounced, that our own very Prime Minister, in a recent sitting of the House of Representatives, confessed that we live in a violent nation. Currently, our economy struggles with anemic, if any real growth; our banking and financial sectors are consistently under threat of de-risking; and potential investors consistently complain about the high cost of doing business in Belize. It is the opinion of many Belizeans that our Government institutions are either corrupt or woefully incompetent, and there seems to be no good in today’s governance.”

 

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Dean Barrow readily conceded that the nation’s social fabric is badly frayed. As for the economy, which the International Monetary Fund said is expected to grow only by about two percent over the medium term; there was better news to report. Though were no gifts again to bear, Barrow boasted of a modest recovery, led by the agricultural and service industries, especially tourism.

 

Dean Barrow

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“Last year at this time I lamented what appeared to be the fractious state of political and social relations in our Belizean democracy: the two major political parties were going at it hammer and tongs; the religious community was split; and the labour movement polarized. I had hoped to have been able to report differently this Independence Day. But in once more surveying our Belizean scene, that phrase about the more things change – plus ca change – that is what comes to mind, because I am driven to concede that factionalism, though differentiated now as to subject area concentration, is still unabated. The divide between the traditional churches and at least one iteration of the evangelicals, seems to have become a chasm. A particular Union wrangle, with ethnic overtones, no less, in what we had long since come to regard as our post-racial society, was unedifying. And with the approach of municipal elections, partisan rhetoric, as you just witnessed, has become even more unhinged. And I must say that it sounds no less desperate in Spanish than in English. National output is once again burgeoning towards the four billion dollar mark, providing employment for some one hundred and ten thousand Belizeans. (Applause) Foreign Direct Investment, which has averaged over four hundred million Belize dollars since 2008, is set to increase even more.  And there are twenty-five major private sector projects, in different areas, poised for implementation. Thus it is that the Statistical Institute of Belize was able to certify one-point-one percent GDP growth for the first six months of this year. And this headline exit from recession was fleshed out by some really quite remarkable figures in particular sub sectors: an eighteen percent jump in sugar production; thirty percent for citrus concentrate; twenty percent in livestock; and a seven-point-eight percent increase in tourism overnight arrivals.”

 

Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

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