Editorial

Editorial

A lot of us were astounded when the Barrow government announced it was considering an offer from the Ashcroft Group to build a deep water port for Belize using the existing Belize Port structure by extending it to deeper water.

A deep water port out in the open, subject to  unpredictable storms from the north and the south is not a good idea. Moreover, the expected land improvement value (most of it belongs to Ashcroft) is not to be compared with the land value that will come from developing three nearby offshore islands for tourism and real estate under the Feinstein Group’s  proposal for a port which offers deep water (27 feet minimum)  in a naturally protected harbour, and close to the Main Channel.

Belize’s worst  economic confrontations have come from conflicts with the Ashcroft conglomerate. Some two decades ago, when Manuel Esquivel was Prime Minister, Mr. Ashcroft wrote him a long letter, making certain demands and pointing out that he was in a position to seriously destabilize the economy of Belize if he didn’t get what he wanted.

Later, Mr. Ashroft withdrew US 10 million  of foreign exchange dollars without  the permission of the Central Bank, seriously rocking  Belize’s fragle economic boat which was struggling to keep itself afloat in troubled financial waters.

In more than three decades we have seen nothing from the Ashcroft conglomerate to generate confidence that he is willing to work with Belize for the benefit of Belize, and for 30 of those years (his boast) his businesses have enjoyed  duty-free status.

We seriously believe that the Barrow government should re-think its decision about the Belize City  Deep Water Port and show some appreciation for native ingenuity and enterprise. We believe also that the government of Belize should  become a partner in this seminal development project by investing some time and money in it.

We go further to suggest that the Feinstein Group should go public on this project and invite other Belizeans to participate by selling stocks  in the corporation. That way Belizeans who want to will have a chance to become part of  a significant   success story.

While we are on the subject of re-thinking, we respectfully suggest that the Barrow Government re-examine its attitude and policy towards the autochthonous Mayan people of Toledo District.

We at the Reporter were among those who cringed as we watched the government of  Belize   being  humbled  in the Supreme  Court over the question of Mayan Land Rights.

These Mayan people of the Land of Lubantuum  have native rights to lands of their forebears which they have occupied for hundreds of years, even before Belize came into being. Maybe it was the high-handed way in which the so-called Mayan Leaders presented their case that rubbed the Prime Minister the wrong way. They chose confrontation rather than negotiation, but that does not take away anything from the land rights of the native Mayans.

The Government of Belize could have been more accommodating to the plight of these humble and hard-working people who only have the land and their bare hands to eke out a living for themselves.

Many years ago the Catholic Diocese of Belize established a high school in Toledo, St. Peter Claver, which has become a catalyst for developing human initiative and talent among the native Ketchi. But Toledo needs more than a high school.  The new highway which ends at Jalacté is a great development tool since it finally opens up the  interior to the sea. But it fills native Ketchi Mayans with unease because they worry about an influx of immigrants who will have no respect for their land, their old traditions and  their way of life.

That highway should come with guarantees and assurances that native Maya men and women will not be despoiled or disrespected. The border station now open at Jalacte needs to be firmed up and strengthened, and the Government of Belize must show that it has the best interests and goodwill of the Mayas at heart.

Toledo  has no industries, apart from the one dominated by the BTIA down there. But the BTIA is interested only in promoting itself, not the native people. The money which international  agencies have provided for Toledo has been divvied up among the so-called aristocracy of the BTIA, with only crumbs falling to the Maya villages.

Some 20 years ago the villages expressed  an interest in a tourism plan which called for a network of Maya Villages connected by a mountain  trails. Each village would have a Hospitality Center where the village people would take care of tourist visitors with  food and  lodging and tours and sightseeing in the jungle and on its rivers. The project would be a communal project, managed  by participating village families which would do the work and share the income.

It was a good plan, one which gained high praise from a German conservation group, because it preserved the rural environment and gave the native Mayas  something to do.

But the BTIA was dead set against the plan, perhaps because it felt, mistakenly, that there was nothing in it for them. The BTIA would not support the project, and  the government of Belize would not support it because the BTIA didn’t.  The plan is practical. It can work! And it would not require millions of seed money to get it started.

A plan like that could be a great boon to the Maya people of Toledo, making use of their time and talent and supporting a new genre of adventure tourism for Belize.

With a little effort the Government of Belize can win back the Toledo District and bring it gently into the business of the 21st century, perhaps by expanding the work of the Social  Development Department there and involving the Social Investment Fund.

The  Maya men of Toledo can also play a vital role in protecting their district from intruders who come across the border. Maya men from Toledo have established a good reputation for themselves in the BDF. They can be organized, if recruited, into a Gurka-type  observation force for the protection of the homeland.

Belmopan needs to create a development plan for Toledo, the forgotten district which will dovetail into the overall development plan for Belize, and we are hoping that Prime Minister Barrow will see Toledo in a new light- as one of the jewels of Belize.

In his address to the Belize Chamber of Commerce the Prime Minister mused about how history will judge his three-term tenure as Prime Minister.

We can say with confidence that Mr. Barrow will get high marks for strength of character, for courage in the face of adversity, for love of country, for a high level of leadership and for putting the Belize economy on a firm and progressive footing.

But the work is not complete.

The Ketchi Maya of Toledo need to have their development agenda defined and endorsed by the Government of Belize, and Belize City needs to have a deep water port that can spark development for the next hundred years.

 

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