By: Cristian Silva
It is well known by now that the Belize Guatemala territorial dispute has been a hot topic among the citizens of both nations, especially since Guatemala held their referendum less than a year ago. Belizeans will be voting in our referendum as early as April 10th this year. The agreed referendum held in both countries is to decide whether the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the venue to find a lasting and binding solution to the unfounded century-long Guatemalan territorial dispute. It is a known fact that this territorial claim affects more than just the delimit boundaries of both nations. It is an issue that affects the social, political and economic foundations of both countries. Especially in the economic realm where dollars, goods and services crosses into the borders of Belize and Guatemala with high frequency. Guatemala being an economic behemoth has large capital so much so that they have acquired several strategic investments in many areas of Belize.
Some of these Investments involves the purchase of existing local businesses as well as the creation of new enterprises throughout Belize. Belize’s economic output is slowly being eyed, swapped up and controlled by Guatemalan capital and many of their businessmen are majority of shareholders in many of our businesses that provide basic necessities to the nation.
It doesn’t take much to note that many medium and large-scale businesses are owned or operated by Guatemalan businessmen and their respective family members or Belizean representatives. Many of these locally registered investments are documented under the guise of having a Belizean owner, but that’s usually as far as the ink on that ownership goes. All investments in a country are usually a good thing, and it helps grow where growth has been slow or non-existent.
However, at this point in time, it would leave you to wonder? Is this a siege from within? Has the Guatemalan elite managed, penetrate and start to seize control of the Belizean Economy? There are far more questions than answers, but it leaves you to wonder what has happened to our true Belizean businesses. This is happening because the Belizean economy hasn’t been having the best of times, and many home-grown Belizeans businesses have experienced hardships without any assistance from our Government, instead they are being strangled with taxes and regulations more than ever. It is noteworthy that this UDP Government has been giving duty exemption and other concessions to foreign groups and have abandoned local home-grown businesses to the wind or be sold off.
Usually, that’s something that should be reversed or at least balanced across the board for all businesses. But instead the core Belizean economic might is withering while others, like Guatemalan businessmen, come and snatch up business properties for pennies on the dollar. This combined with the Belize-Guatemalan territorial claim would seem like Belize is being cornered into a position where Belizeans would have little say over our national economy. With that said the ever-increasing control of our national economy by Guatemalan capital, and Businesses should be observed with great caution. These investments could be a Trojan horse or maybe genuine investment opportunities. As a Trojan horse, Guatemalans could be winning the war before it even starts, and that strategy could have us ever more dependent on capital originating from Guatemala City, however, genuine investment is a source of job creation for Belizeans. This puts Belize at a very precarious situation where such investments could either work in favour or against us in the end.
I believe that an emphasis should at least be placed on the economic foundations and not just the political structure to sit on top of that foundation. It should be a case where the economic base of any county determines the political structure not the other way around like Belize where the political structure sits at the top. Generally, every Belizean should be very vigilant about where the control of the economy is seated and who controls it. In Belize, we have seen the lack of government interest or assistance to local home-grown businesses. If this kind of assistance was granted to local home-grown business, the economy would ensure growth, job creation and economic sovereignty. That would cement the economic sovereignty of Belize, and we wouldn’t have to be wondering if there’s a siege from within.