Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Prince Harry Visits Belize on the Eve of the General Election
Prince Harry visited Belize, a small country of just over 330,000 people just days before the general elections to be held on March 7, 2012. His arrival was a part of the ongoing Diamond Jubilee Tour, where he will visit four countries in the region representing his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II. On the evening of Friday March 2, he was seen dancing with the locals at a “block party” in the newly named “Queen Elizabeth II Boulevard” in the capital, Belmopan. Perhaps the current government of Prime Minister Dean Barrow may have used this visit to score political mileage at a crucial period in the country.
Belize has largely been a country of immigrants with only about 10% of the population being indigenous Mayans. In the 17th Century English and Scottish Buccaneers settled there and made it a shelter from which they could attack Spanish shipping. Known as the Baymen, they also started logging in the area. Later the Baymen and the Spanish came to an agreement by which the latter pledged to let the Baymen continue logging in return for not attacking their shipping. The settlers brought slaves who over the years blended into the society. In 1862, the area was formally declared a British Crown colony and remained so until gaining independence in 1981. In the latter years, further immigration of Mestizo people from the other countries in the region transformed the Belizean society. Today, Mestizo people account for nearly half of the population and immigration is continuing. Prime Minister Dean Barrow, a Creole (known as Kriols in Belize) has begun translating some of his speeches to Spanish. English remains the official language while Spanish is now widely spoken. Other languages also are abound in Belize.
In early February, 2012, just few days before the fourth anniversary of his coming to power, Dean Barrow advised the Governor General Sir Colville Young to dissolve the Parliament. He could have stayed on for another year but chose to take the gambit of an early election. In the last general elections held on February 7, 2008, Dean Barrow’s centre-right United Democratic Party (UDP) swept the polls after being out of power for a decade. The UDP won 25 seats against out of 31 seats, the rest being won by the centre-left People’s United Party (PUP).
Prime Minister Barrow declared that his administration had been a “stellar one” and as proof cited tax reliefs, the “pro-poor initiatives” such as the food basket subsidy program, the conditional cash transfer program, scholarships and monetary grants for high school students, expansion of remedial and vocational education; new housing construction and home repairs and improvement; infrastructural improvement; the gang truce and subsequent reduction in murder rate; and “enshrined nationalism,” both in the Constitution and in Belize’s political culture by returning majority control of public utilities to the State, allowing for lower rates and improved service. The regaining of the public utilities has been described by the Prime Minister as “perhaps the greatest jewel in the crown of the UDP achievements.
The snap election can be seen as a tactic to ensure that the UDP retains power for another five years maximum. With the current situation of economic difficulties, another year in power may have eroded the popularity of the government. In a few more days, it will be possible to see if his people are still with the Prime Minister.
1. Barrow Rolls the Dice, March 7., Amandala, Belize. Feb 2, 2012. (Viewed March 5, 2012).
2. Prince Harry Boogies in Belize, AP News, March 3, 2012. (Viewed March 5, 2012)
Image: Haakon S. Krohn, Parliament of Belize, Belmopan., Wikimedia Commons.