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Sep 22, 2020

Independence Day Addresses Focus on COVID-19, but Politics as Usual…

National celebrations were muted this year due to the COVID pandemic. The events were mostly held virtually due to restrictions in place, save for Independence Day on September twenty-first. The official ceremony was held in Belmopan, with protocols observed.  Many anticipated an announcement of the date of the general elections; that did not happen in the last address to be delivered by Dean Barrow as Prime Minister nor was there the usual promise of goodies. Leader of the Opposition, John Briceño made reference to the dismal state of affairs. Both, however, saluted Belizeans for their enduring sprit in fighting the coronavirus.  Here is News Five’s Isani Cayetano with a report.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

For the first time in our post-independence history, the celebration of Belize’s political freedom has been subdued.  COVID-19, since arriving on our shores earlier this year, has severely impacted our way of life, including the traditional manner in which we observe September twenty-first.  At a time when the country is still battling the ravages of the pandemic, the pomp and circumstance associated with Independence Day was noticeably absent.  Perhaps the absence of such flair allowed for sharper focus to be placed on messages delivered by our political leaders whose respective addresses revolved around the disease and its effect on our people.  Prime Minister Barrow in speaking to a virtual audience from Belmopan, spoke on some of the challenges that have arisen from COVID-19.


Dean Barrow

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“I remember the debate that raged about the reopening of the PGIA.  Many of us feared that the return of the tourists would mean importing the virus, multiple cases of foreign infection.  As it turned out though, our problem proved not to be external.  Like that old horror movie trope, the scary thing was not what was threatening to invade from without our tightly shuttered home.  It was rather the danger from within: the jumpers and contrabandistas, obstinately and repeatedly going across our supposedly sealed borders to places where the proliferation and danger were astounding.”


Aside from the perils of exposure to the new coronavirus, Opposition Leader John Briceño, who has conventionally used the platform to criticize government, spoke of other dangers, particularly those that affect our country’s many resources.


John Briceño

John Briceño, Leader of the Opposition

“There is no doubt that the coronavirus has hit us hard, not just us.  We have seen and felt the entire world experience seismic changes.  But it was not just the virus that has brought our nation to the proverbial cliff’s edge, we were already there.  For nearly thirteen years, Belizeans have witnessed unprecedented corruption, cronyism, nepotism and mismanagement of the economy and our precious resources.  A small group of well-connected U.D.P. have plundered the treasury, stolen the people’s lands and prostituted Belizean nationality.  The record of this U.D.P. administration is one of betrayal, scandal and mismanagement.”


In spite of his administration being denounced by the leader of the People’s United Party, PM Barrow was optimistic in his outlook that the number of COVID-19 cases will continue to decline in the days and weeks ahead.


Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“Notwithstanding all this, I am certain that we will defeat this COVID-19.  Even as I speak there is qualified good news.  That is because the testing record over the last month or so, shows a trending week-over-week percentage deceleration of positive cases.  The phenomenon of indiscipline, the lax or willful behavior that contributed to the new outbreaks, is, I think, receding.  The rapid tests that will allow for ease of mass detection and contact tracing, are steadily becoming more reliable; and the vaccines that will provide immunity now appear within reach.”


In a moment of unanimity, both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition hailed the resolve of the Belizean people, acknowledging their resilience in times of great hardship.


John Briceño

“Another thing we must do is face the coronavirus pandemic determined not to allow fear or the uncertainty of this time to overcome us.  Most importantly, we cannot allow it to change who we are as a people.  We are formidable Belizean men and women who will endure the pandemic of 2020 just as our ancestors endured the pandemic of 1918.  We will endure this and all the hardships of our time as they endured the hardships of their time and just like our great grandparents we will bounce back because of our indomitable spirit which will not be broken.”


Listing various initiatives undertaken in the fight against the pandemic, PM Barrow, in his swan song as three-time prime minister, also re-treaded government’s efforts at tackling COVID-19.


Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“We preemptively discontinued cruise ship arrivals even before closing the P.G.I.A.  We directed a national lockdown in the initial stage and we have subsequently isolated, as necessary, cluster-affected communities.  We have tested aggressively, and have legislated comprehensively the required behavioral safety infrastructure and surveillance.  At every juncture, government has consulted broadly.  We formed the National Oversight Committee right at the start, and have always sought the best available local and international scientific advice to guide our decision making.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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