Young My Lord Chief Justice, Kenneth Benjamin and Mrs Benjamin, and other Justices of
President of the Evangelical Association of Churches Other members of the Clergy Excellencies
This year’s September Celebrations came at a time of great division in our country.
of war between the Ruling and Opposition parties has become more contentious. The Labour movement
has also been beset by a degree of factionalism. And even within our Church
back the spirit of Ecumenism and highlighted some seemingly irreconcilable points of view.
scribed elsewhere as the culture wars: starkly contrasting positions on how to treat with the
recasting of the categories of sexual and gender identity, and the claims that human rights include
LGBT rights. Not surprisingly, the Chief Justice’s Section 53 ruling detonated a
societal pitched battle in which traditional values and religious mores are in a fierce
offensive against liberalism, secularism and the arguments for evolved Constitutional
expected clang and clamor of a young, developing Democracy.
And the economic backdrop to it all is, at this time, a complicating factor since we
are experiencing a recession caused by the vagaries of the
commodities cycle: agricultural sector disease, the drying up of our petroleum resources, and the crash in
global prices. It is, of course, a recession made worse by Hurricane Earl. But it is also
a recession from which, I must say at once, we will absolutely
recover. In this overall context which I have just sketched, the theme
of this year’s celebrations is timely both as reminder and exhortation. Sovereign and Strong:
Together as One. Starting first with sovereignty, its preservation remains our fore most preoccupation.
And in seeking to safeguard it, we know to deal with internal as well as
external risks. That is why we have never allowed social or political differences to weaken
ultimate allegiance to our Belizean state. And that is why support for party,
organization, group or clan, is always subordinate to loyalty to
our Belizean nation. And so we beat back any possibility of erosion or crackup from within.
But it is also true that our sovereignty is variously tested from
without. And in this sense not the least of our trials is the constant element of
peril which attends the unfounded Guatemalan claim. There is in fact a built-in precariousness to territorial
integrity when our country is bordered by a much larger neighbor with revanchist
aspirations; a neighbor whose size and power, even if not expressly dep
loyed militarily against us, by their very fact are continuing, intrinsic threats to our reality.
In the circumstances, our diplomatic and physical survival and progress, the
phenomenal job of work done by our Foreign Service Officers, our
BDF and our Coastguard, are matters of solace and pride. Our security forces in particular are
small in number but outsize in determination and ability; and Government will
continue to resource them in that same fashion which has already
seen us provide helicopters and super modern cutters.
So we have, since Independence, remained successfully sovereign, sovereign in both
of the two fundamental regards. And especially from the external point of view we
have prevailed against powerful odds in a manner and to a degree which is tribute to
that Baymen’s blood coursing through our Belizean veins.
And we are also strong. Strong and resilient and anchored by certain enduring
fundamentals with which the bounty of this land, the native brightness of our people
and the richness of our culture have blessed us.Take the question of the economy.
Even though there hasbeen a slackening of the
GDP numbers, there is still an abundance of good things happening. In particular
public works, that driver of jobs and growth, continues to remake our country. The
Belize Infrastructure Limited is still proceeding with the construction of sports and
community facilities in the District Towns. And in the Old Capital the
Belize City Center is beginning to commune with the heavens, the frame of its roof already
dominating the skyline. The Chetumal Street Bridge and the new Lake
I Boulevard function as a critical transportation by-pass, much appreciated by commuters. And
the adjoining Resource Center Building starting to take shape, signals the
implementation commencement of the Master Plan for the 45 acres owned by
Government, designated now as a Special Development Area. It is a mixed use
project that will house the National Bus Terminal and a GOB office complex, but as
well private sector recreational, entertainment and retail spaces.
The larger, countrywide infrastructure canvas also displays
a medley of good things.Those of you coming to Belmopan this morning from Belize City or from the San
Ignacio, would have been impressed by the new Guanacaste Roundabout at the
junction of the Hummingbird and the George Price Highway; and you should see it at
night when it is splendidly lit up, gorgeously displaying its first
world quality andserving as emblem and beacon for our non-stop transformation.
Then, approval has already been secured for the paving and aligning
of the CoastalRoad together with new bridges. This comes out of a 40 million dollar UK grant, the
balance of which will go for improvements in the North to the PhilipGoldson
Highway between Orange Walk and Corozal.In the West the IDB is funding the
rehabilitation of the entire George Price Highway from the Belmopan junction
to Benque Viejo. And OPEC/OFID will do a new Baking Pot Bridge and access
roads as well as the Caracol Road. Also, the new Macal River Bypass and Bridge will be completed by March of
In Toledo we will finish the last portion to Jalacte of the Southern Highway. And in
Stann Creek the complete re-do of the Hummingbird which is underway will,
together with the Coastal, enhance the viability of the planned Commerce Bight Port.
In the Belize District the work has already started on the portion of highway between
the PSWG Airport and the City’s outskirts; and funding has now been secured for the
new link road to span the Belize River starting from behind Gentrac and coming out
at Mile 8 on the George Price Highway. OPEC/OFID, who will provide the money,
has also agreed, as a result of Hurricane Earl, an additional
few million dollars, on top of the tranches that had already been slated for later in the
year, to help with new home construction and landfill for Southside Belize. And talking
about the Hurricane gives me a chance to say how well NEMO handled the coordination of the social
recovery effort. Their operational model has been commended by the international
team from ECLAC, which was in Belize to do the damage assessment that will
underpin the loan quantum to be funded by the IDB and CDB to assist our national
rebuilding program. In that same vein the Caribbean Development Bank has already
given an initial grant to undertake the replacement of the Calla Creek Bridge and
the low-lying Bridge connecting Santa Elena with San Ignacio.
On the productive sector side of things, the shrimp rebound from the virus that decimated
our stocks is in full flow and we will begin to export again at the start of
2017. Citrus prices are robust and ticking up, and the only challenge now is financing
for increased production. The banana industry was indeed badly hit by the hurricane,
but those hardy farmers in the South are doing all they can to accelerate the recovery.
The expectation is that we will therefore regain total pre-hurricane capacity by next March.
Grain for export was also terribly affected but there is enough for local feed and food with a little left over to sell abroad.
On the other side of the ledger, some compensation is being
experienced by the startof Santander sugar production with deliveries to Spain having already occurred. The
next harvest will be bigger and better with greater export earnings.Belize’s poultry
will also commence going to CARICOM by November and this too, with its
will help return us to full economic wellbeing.
Tourism remains, of course, the brightest star in our constellateion with success
following success and overnight arrival records constantly being shattered. NCL is
on track for its Harvest Caye November start, and the exploratory probe into the
feasibility of the new Belize City Port Loyola Cruise Terminal
has yielded initialresults that are encouraging.
Our dollar continues strong and securely underpinned, though our corres pondent
banking woes are still a problem. Three out of the four local comm
ercial banks now
enjoy full correspondent relationships with US or UK banks. But t
he fourth is still searching and until it succeeds its inability to route external flows for
its customers does create a foreign exchange choke point. But our Central Bank is working to solve
that problem.My confidence today, then, is for a full return, by the start of the next fiscal year, to
GDP growth and financial system normalcy. But that confidence is marred by one
thing: fear of that other hurricane called the SuperBond. So I will say just this. If it is
the last thing I do before I leave office, I will solve once and for
all that problem.And it will not take anything like the four plus years I have left on my Constitutional
mandate.I hope, Ladies and Gentlemen, that I have succeeded in showing that our sovereignty
and strength are intact, resilient, perdurable.But that ‘together as one’, that latter part of the formulation
urged by this year’stheme, is more problematic. It requires us to summon up all our energy, all ourgoodwill,
all our patriotism to make it happen. Let us therefore be
inspired by all things available, such as our Hurricane Earl experience, the scores of stories coming
out of that fateful night and early morning. For these were stories of courage and
extraordinary solidarity. These were stories that told of the heroism not just of the
Police and the BDF, but of ordinary folk braving the raging wind
and surging sea to rescue from collapsing houses occupants utterly and helplessly at the mercy of the
elements. They were stories of the drawing forth of every vestige of national
empathy, in some instances captured in real time such as when
Love FM’s Doctor Villanueva froze in on-air shock and fear, face turned ashen for the woman trapped
by rising water whose desperate call to the station was cut off in the middle of her
SOS. It is that spirit of ultimate oneness which must now help with the binding up of our
wounds, the pressing ahead of the reform agenda, the partnership with our Public
Officers and Labour and Business and the Churches.
And never let us forget what it is that we are fighting for. Let us always be conscious
of the essence of our Belize: its breathtaking physical beauty; its seas of blue and
green and iridescent Aqua; its Caye sands of purest white; its majestic mountains
with their lushly forested slopes; its rural retreats with their golden air and special
light; its arboreal richness with the profusion of tropical fruit whose special bouquet
and flavour is acknowledged to be the best in the Caribbean; its
Mayan temples,visits to which can produce an out of body experience, a palpable sense of being cast
back in time to the ceremony and rituals and work and achievement
of that ancient civilization of which we are proud inheritors.
So, this is no time to cut and run, no time for discouragement. No time for what
Nobel Laureate Saul Bellow called ‘the cant and rant of pipsqueaks’. Let us rather
channel National Hero George Price. For we are still, and ever
must be, nation builders all. We must fix whatever has gone wrong and continue the forward march.
We must bring healing on the basis of compassion and understanding
and the infinitely sheltering capacity of Divine love. We must unceasingly strive to
shine and polish this Central American Jewel set, to magnificent advantage, in
the Caribbean basin. We must build and expand this country of progress and reform
and social justice where, as was said on that first Independence Day, every man, woman and
child has a stake, a real stake, in the life and work of the new Belize.
Happy Independence and may God bless our native land.