Thursday, November 26, 2015

By G. Michael Reid

Like Syrian citizens in the war torn city of Raqqa, Belizeans seem hunkered down, waiting for the next bomb to drop. We know the barrage will come for early elections are not usually called without reason. The first bomb was already dropped last week over the northern districts, less than forty eight hours after the elections results became known.  

Hardly had the ink on our right index finger dried when the bigwigs of ASR called a press conference to announce that payment for sugarcane would be reduced as much as 21 percent from the previous year’s prices. ASR is a subsidiary of the British company Tate and Lyle who owned and operated our sugar industry during our time as colonial subjects. Could there be some connection between what is happening here and the British meddling in our internal politics? A week before elections, a British magazine published predictions of a UDP victory while at the same time, a high ranking military officer announced that his troops were here to save us from Guatemala. The timing was impeccable and I believe deliberate and it no doubt had an effect on the outcome of our elections. Someone should have sent a letter of protest to the British Parliament.   
As far as sugarcane is concerned, it seems that cane farmers fell hook, line and sinker for another okey doke. The 2015 crop started a full two months late after a failed attempt by farmers to force ASR’s hand into paying more for Bagasse. Assisted by government, ASR not only refused to budge but was able to splinter the 55-year-old Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA). The once strong and united group is now split into three and the old “divide and conquer” strategy has proven as effective as ever.
Shortly after the season got underway, the farmers were shown a nice juicy carrots dangling on a stick and they immediately set chase. Media houses were abuzz with the news that the “season would be sweet” and that sugar prices would be the higher than ever. That of course, was before the elections.
According to all reports, government knew well in advance about the crisis looming over the sugar industry but convinced ASR to hold back on the announcement until after elections. It would be easy to not feel sorry for these cane farmers and surmise that their ill fate is of their own doing for after all, the constituencies of our northern districts were instrumental in returning this UDP government to power. The problem with that type of reasoning however, is that not all of the farmers are gullible and the reasonable ones were simply swept aside by the Petro Caribe tide. It must also be understood that all of us now stand to suffer as a consequence because the current proposal is to more than double the price of sugar on the local market. Any nation under siege must expect collateral damage.
Another bomb that has since dropped, seemingly from the sky, is the news from the shrimp industry. It seems that a bacterial infection has affected over fifty percent of Belize’s shrimp farms forcing a number of them to shut down operations. At last count, there were fifteen shrimp farms operating in Belize, contributing significantly to our Gross Domestic Product. (GDP) The shutdown of farms in the shrimp industry has resulted in the loss of over six hundred jobs and tens of millions in revenue. We are just now hearing about this problem but according to president of the Shrimp Growers Association Alvin Henderson, government was again aware of this problem months ago. Obviously, they were also keeping this one under wraps until after the elections. Make no mistake; the bombs have only just begun to fall.
 Added to the concerns about sugar and shrimp are the increasing problems in the Banana and Citrus industries and also a steep decline in petroleum prices and production. All things considered, the road ahead looks rocky indeed and Belizeans need to prepare for our own version of “shock and awe”. There is always Petro Caribe you say? Well, lest we forget, this is a loan that is now due and depending on what happens in Venezuela on December 6th, the golden era of Petro Caribe could very well be a thing of the past. That best that is yet to come, might very well not be in our best interest!
Another bomb that can be heard whistling in the air but is yet to fully detonate is the situation with American fugitive David Nanes Schnitzer aka David Banes. Banes/Nanes has been fingered as a central figure in the infamous Stanford Ponzi Scheme that is alleged to have defrauded as many as 28,000 persons from both Mexico and the US out of monies to the tune of billions of dollars. Mastermind Robert Stanford, for whom the scheme is named, is currently serving a 110 year prison sentence in a Florida penitentiary and was recently, denied an appeal. Our man Nanes was identified as a major accomplice and was being sought by both US and Mexican authorities. When he was finally tracked down by US marshals in San Pedro, Nanes was found in possession of a Belizean passport, driver’s license, social security card and even a voter’s id. Interestingly enough, despite wide knowledge that he was being sought by International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), Nanes was slapped with a minor offense and released on a relatively tiny bail. Things that make you go hmmmmm! 
In an article in the New York Times, writer Peter Henning opined that “given the extent to which such financial fraudsters wreck people’s lives, in recent years judges have been more willing to impose punishment that effectively amount to life sentences”. Henning wrote that such actions amount to “economic homicide,” and that the huge sentences are a way of expressing society’s anger at such conduct. Apparently, our judges have no such convictions and are more inclined to a slap on the wrist. After all, such conduct is institutional and routine for Belize?
To absolutely no one’s surprise, promptly upon receiving bail, Nanes made himself scarce and is believed to have skipped town. Given the current world crisis regarding terrorist’s organizations, the ease with which Nanes was able to acquired Belizean documents is no doubt of much concern to the US and other nations that are being targeted. In Belize, everything and seems to have a price.
As is his modus operandi whenever this nation is facing any type of difficulty, the Prime Minister himself becomes scarce and finds refuge and solace in other lands. Like Nanes, no one knows where the PM has gone this time as there was not the usual press office announcement. Maybe these two are hanging out together. 
Fortunately, despite being in a period of transition, the PUP has made its voice heard on these issues. If we are to maintain any semblance of our boast as a “tranquil haven of democracy”, Belize needs and deserves a strong opposition. In the next couple of months, we choose a new leader for our party and we must choose wisely. We cannot allow ourselves to be guided by propaganda or be influenced by operatives from the other side.  
As a supporter of the party, I know who I would like to see lead this party going forward but at the end of the day, I will support whichever candidate emerges. The principles and policies of the People’s United Party is what I deem paramount and that is what should guide our decision in choosing the next leader. Make no mistake, whatever happens the PUP will remain a force to be reckoned with and will continue serving the people of Belize. Adelante!