As a writer, I've been watching current events in my Belize and as we stumble through the news cycle from murder to scandal and back again, have composed numerous articles in my head to describe what I'm seeing. As quickly as I compose them, I dispose of them, running them through a mental shredder because 'that's not quite what I wanted to say.' However, as I'm sure someone profound said at some point, the only way to get to the destination is to start the journey.
Make no mistake about this: I love my country. I love Belize with all the desperation of two lovers who fight all the time, but in the end acknowledge that they can't live without each other and thus after a day of argument, go to bed secure in the peace of that knowledge. What I don't like, the thing that causes major conflict between head and heart, is what's happening to my beautiful country, and why.
Now, before you rush to apply your personal labels, let me make clear that I am neither PUP nor UDP. I have no patience with blind loyalty, and this is the primary requirement of party membership, therefore neither side will tolerate the likes of me, a fact of which I am inordinately proud. So if you are a blind party loyalist who can bear no message that isn't tinted with your favorite color, what I have to say isn't for your ears, or um, eyes.
That, however, is where I begin with my observations of the flaws that mar Belize's natural beauty. Whatever happened to freedom of speech? It seems these days as though the thought police are on patrol, armored in ignorance, equipped with a full arsenal of abusive language and growing rabidly (pun intended) in numbers. Say the wrong thing too loudly and find yourself 'bashed' by one media house or another; become someone's weekly cartoon. Maybe we never have had freedom of speech. I mean, my grandfather always tells me stories about Leigh Richardson being threatened and leaving the country and about the Billboard Press being burned down. Is this ancient history, or was it the beginning of current events?
These days, a lot of the 'wrong thing' that you may rashly criticize fits under the heading of corruption. Today a politician comes from the people, and he'll remind you of that every chance he gets, even though he's long since forgotten it himself. Grassroots-poor, he wins in a division and within months, if he has landed a cushy Cabinet portfolio, he suddenly has multiple houses, expensive women, a car he might once have had the job to wash. Dare to openly observe this sudden wealth to the nearest loyalist of his chosen party and brace yourself for a tongue-lashing. Sadly, the accusations will include calling you an opposition supporter, telling you that the opposition did worse, claiming that "it's our turn; we have to give our people a break." Lately, the shrill tones of "where were you when the opposition was doing their dirty deeds" overpower the voices of protest against the profligacy we can no longer afford -not that we ever could afford it, mind you. Right versus wrong no longer have any relevance in the national debate, and this is a sad, sad thing for our democracy.
Our leaders, when in opposition, make the most beautiful promises. They tell us what they know we want to hear, promise that they'll do what we want them to do, and we, their dance partner in this eternal tango, go along and give them the chance to keep their promises, even though we know they won't. Twelve years ago, we heard the promises and saw instead wholesale delivery of our country into private hands. Yes, the Lord became our Shepherd and he did not want for anything, and we were outraged, remember? Two years ago, we were promised deliverance from the Lord and his bloated, corrupted, decaying lackeys and we greedily swallowed the hook with which that promise was baited. As part of the package, we were promised transparency but instead got corruption wrapped in the pretty, crackling cellophane of vengeance and tied with a thick ribbon of nepotism.
Where were we when the last crowd did the dirty deed of fiscal rape? Right there biding our time. We know not from revolution; our teeth and claws are sharp, pretty things that we've never learned to use, but we do know how to vote out the nasty boys, so we did what we knew to do. But the opposition-who-became-government asks that question every single time we point out the obvious. It is their only defence, this offensive question. My answer to them? I was preparing to give you a chance to be the better man, and I see now that you've blown it.
Don't tell me we're less corrupt than we were, that comment alone confirms that we are corrupt. Don't tell me the other guy did worse, voting you in was not granting you a license to do whatever you want as long as you keep it 10% below him. For one thing, your measuring stick is way off, and we now think you're just as bad. See, corruption is corruption, regardless of scale. According to the law a thief is a thief no matter what he steals, and thus it is with you. While people continue to starve and live in shanties, don't content yourself with blaming the other guy when you aren't doing that which it is in your power to do. Oh yes, and by color-coding everyone and filing them according to assigned color, you take us further down the path of national destruction. We, yes, WE elected you to govern ALL of us. If we have broken the law, deal with us accordingly. If we have not, and we are in fact law-abiding citizens, productive members of society who just happen to have a difference of political opinion, suck it up, quit whining and let us be stupid and wrong in our thinking and you just get on with governing the entire country responsibly, which is the job you were hired to do.
What can we do anyway? Who listens to us? Are we to vote in yet another failed-government-in-waiting come 2013? A thousand times 'no!' to that one, emphatically no, because John & Co. have done nothing to earn my respect, much less my vote. They've been too busy saving their own ample derrieres and fighting over the spoils instead of cleaning up their well-exposed act. But I'll tell you flat out that this gang, this fountain of excuses for not properly leading, can't be allowed to continue either. The way I see it, if we don't begin to demand better, then we deserve to stay on the downhill slope, hurtling headlong toward the cliff's edge.
I'll leave you with this question: do you remember when Belcan Bridge was blanketed with the smoke of burning tires? Do you remember the government of the day's howls of indignance because a certain Opposition Leader had called for civil disobedience?
Maybe it's time we took up his suggestion.