Monday, December 10, 2012

To John Mcafee

Dear John

We’ve been worried about you, and are happy to hear that you’re safe in the hands of the Guatemalan authorities. We are worried about your health, physical and otherwise, but it sounds like you’re in good hands and presumably receiving the best treatment money can buy across the border.

It’s also good to hear that the jails are so much better there, and the “excellent” coffee must be an added bonus. At least it will keep you going until you’re back home and near a local Starbucks.

Now that you are safe and sound and have some time to relax and reflect, we wonder if you can answer a few questions I and my fellow Belizeans have. We appreciate that blogging is keeping you very busy, so we’ll keep them short.

First of all, what kept you on the run? OK, we get it that you were frightened. Having a neighbour gunned down in cold blood would disorient anyone, and spending the night buried in sand watching the police go in and out of his house, if that’s indeed true, couldn’t have been fun.

But given the fact that Mr Faull was a neighbour that you were not on good terms with, your being well known as a guns enthusiast and, let’s be honest here, the reputation you’ve made for yourself in our otherwise peaceful little country, it seems reasonable that the police would at least want to speak with you.

OK, you have had you own problems with the police and feared that you wouldn’t be treated fairly and impartially.

But really, once you made such an international uproar and very cleverly drew so much attention to your case, did you really think even the most malicious cop would be stupid enough to see any harm come to you while in custody? Come on. You’ve lived in Belize. We’re not that stupid.

Which leads me to the next point. You keep saying that you love Belize. It’s your home and you want to stay here. But everything you have said about Belize and Belizeans paints a pretty horrific picture. “Corrupt officials.” “Pirates.” “All gringos look alike to the average Creole” And so much more.

Boy, I’d hate to see how you describe a place and people you don’t like. I mean, who would want to live in the sort of hellhole you describe? And what contempt you must have for the people who live under such a yoke of oppression. Your attraction to young Belizean girls and affiliation with gang members is well documented, but what about the rest of us? Are we all corrupt, or stupid or cowardly?

Maybe you’ve just been hanging out with the wrong people. Most visitors here seem to really like Belize and Belizeans. Then again, maybe, just maybe, you have an ulterior motive…

You’re entitled to your views, which you have so rigorously and very cleverly shared with the rest of the world, but allow me to disagree. Perhaps I’m still aglow with patriotism after celebrating our 31st anniversary of independence, but bear with me.

John, I love Belize. I don’t have millions of dollars, waterfront mansions and a lot of physical comforts, but I’ll tell you what I do have. A country that has been blessed with such beauty that people travel the world over just to see it. Warm, friendly intelligent people I’m proud to call my fellow Belizeans. A participatory, Westminster style democracy we inherited from Great Britain that is the envy of the region. A well trained police force that upholds clearly defined laws with checks and balances built into the system to ensure that it works.

I’m not saying it’s perfect, and I’m not saying that corruption doesn’t exist. Just like in your own country, there are bad apples, opportunists and career scumbags. We face the challenges any developing country in this global economic climate does. We try to get by.

But to smear the name of the entire country and all of us the way you have is unconscious able. How can you say “I love Belize” and in the next breath, for your own means, very deliberately paint an ugly picture that you know is untrue?

You know that since independence we have depended on tourism to uplift ourselves, send our kids to school and put food on the table. And then you take the one thing that is so important to us, our image and international reputation, and trash it for your own selfish ends.
Why would anyone reading your lies and distortions want to come here? And for every potential visitor you helped turn back, that’s one less dollar some hardworking cook, tour guide, driver, cleaner or other person will make this Christmas.

And now, of course, it sounds as if you might be sent back here. John, what were you thinking? You’re educated enough to know that countries don’t grant political asylum to people who are free to return to their own country. You are a US citizen and free to return there. Why did you choose to seek asylum with our neighbour while continuing to badmouth Belize?

It fits the picture you are painting, doesn’t it? Bolsters the fantasy you are trying to sell to the world at the expense of the people who welcomed you here.

John, I think I speak for many Belizeans in asking that you show a bit more sensitivity when speaking about people who have always welcomed you. Remember, you came and stayed here on you own free will. To be honest, you haven’t been the best of guests, but in the interests of compassion and fair play we’re willing to hear your side of the story and let an educated public weigh up the facts before making any judgements about you and your involvement in this tragedy. I mean, a man’s been killed and left a grieving family that is looking for justice and closure- that’s what’s really at stake here.

So enjoy the coffee and you last days in Guatemala and please give a thought to the people of Belize and the family of Mr Faull when you return. You could help the police bring an end to this tragedy.

Yours truly,

Lucius Blackstone

John, I just received an update that now you want to return home to the US. Wow, what a turn-around. It makes sense though – the magazine, book, television and film rights to the story you so artfully constructed are going to be another money-spinner for you. You are a very, very clever man and obviously have a knack for making money. That’s OK. Most of us in Belize have a very different set of values to yours, and I believe that the poorest Belizean working hard to support the family he loves is infinitely richer than you will ever be. And for that, you truly have our sympathy.
Merry Christmas

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Farewell to a Belizean Child

Dear Jasmine,

Like so many Belizeans right now I am still so sad, confused and angry that one more young life has been taken from us, that one more precious smile is gone, that one more family has been devastated by the senseless violence that continues to rip our country apart.

Everything you did, from helping grow food on your family farm and brightening the San Ignacio markets with your smile when you sold it, to your participation with the Scouts, your church and your community, it all seemed to benefit Belize.
You showed so much promise that everyone who knew you would surely say, “Jasmine represents the future of Belize”.

And today, through my sorrow and anger, I realised that you still can represent the future of Belize, that even in death you can make a difference.

And that’s why I am writing this Jasmine, to put a promise into words that I’m going to start working to make sure you are a part of our future. Instead of just being snuffed out, your life can become a light to illuminate a path for all of us and guide us out of the darkness that is enveloping Belize right now.

If this sounds crazy I just ask you to hear me out. This is the promise I make to you, your family, your friends and your fellow Belizeans, and I am asking them to join me.

I am much older then you were when you were taken from us, Jasmine, and I have seen a great many things happen in Belize over the years.

I remember a Belize when money was scarce, but we were rich in so many other ways. Our streets and our children were safe. Old people were respected and treated with courtesy and kindness. You never passed anyone without a smile and a greeting, even just a simple nod and a friendly “yes, mon.”

There was no TV, but that was all right – we made our own entertainment, and every street and every village had their own stars, someone who could sing, play guitar or drums, tell stories or just make you laugh. I miss that laughter so much.

When I was younger I left Belize to work, and I tell you couldn’t wait to come home. That’s when I first realised that we had something all the money in the world couldn’t buy – we had ourselves. We had each other and this beautiful little country we worked so hard to make our own.

I remember we were proud of Belize. It felt good to say, “I’m from Belize,” because back then, when people thought of Belize, they thought of a beautiful peaceful little country. When the tourists first started to come I remember them telling us how lucky were, how friendly Belizeans were, how our little country was a sparkling Jewel. And we knew it was true. There was no better place in the world to live.

Now look at us Jasmine. Innocent people are being gunned down in the street, stray bullets are killing children in their bed, and young boys are murdering to get membership in gangs where there is no future but more death, jail, and misery. Always having to act tough, never a smile, full of crack-fuelled courage that’s just a cover for the constant fear.

And like a disease their fear and paranoia has spread through the community. Everyone seems to be locking themselves inside these days Jasmine, staring into a box, too afraid to go outside and be with real people, with their neighbours, listening to music and each other’s’ stories, feeling like a part of a community, a neighbourhood.
How did we become so afraid, not of some foreign invader, but of each other? I tell you Jasmine, sometimes I wake up in the morning and think this is a bad dream.

But now I believe this is a nightmare that we have the power to change. Your death made something click inside me. I’m sick of being ashamed of my country, of being afraid in my own town, and now I know that the only cure for this shame is to do something.

And this is why you can still be part of our future, Jasmine. For me your murder was the last straw, and you inspired me to start doing something to help change things. And if you did this to me, you can do it to a lot more of us.
That would be the most beautiful tribute we can pay you. “Yes man, things changed after Jasmine Lowe’s murder.”

So that is the promise I make to you today. I am going to start doing something and I am going to ask all Belizeans to join me. I am asking every pastor and church member, Scout leader, community leaders, organisations, clubs and everywhere where people meet to start getting together ideas for a very important day, the 15th of September, Jasmine Lowe Day.

I pray that after that day, people will talk about the two Belizes - Belize Before Jasmine, and Belize After Jasmine.

Before Jasmine we felt powerless. Crime was out of control, the gangs were running the streets, and people were too afraid to do anything about it. Just keep quiet and mind you own business. Don’t make yourself a target. Just get by, there’s nothing you can do about it.

Then came Belize After Jasmine

After Jasmine we had people power. If over a hundred people could brave the jungle at night, cross the river, walk through the water, forget their fears so that they could join together to hold candles to light up the dark night and bury you with love and respect, that proved we are still a people who care. By joining together to comfort the family by telling them that they are not alone, that showed that we are still a community, that we still have a heart.

You did that Jasmine. You brought people out of the comfort of their homes on a dark and wet night to show that they care, to express their love and humanity.
And if over a hundred people can suddenly heed the call and come together on a dark night, why can’t a hundred thousand people come together to stop the madness? Why can’t all of us join together to rise up and demand a better Belize?

I know that there are many more good people in Belize than bad. I know most Belizeans love their families, work hard and look out for each other. I still see it every day. I still love my country.

But good people hardly get noticed. It seems like you’ve got to commit a crime to get on the news these days, and even there the competition is fierce.
But what if the good majority demands to get noticed? What if, After Jasmine, we show some real People Power? If we show our numbers we will get noticed, we will make the news, and people will have to take notice.

Every church, NGO, Scout group and any organisation can join in. Even your old Karate club Jasmine. If every group in every village came together, we would be united in demanding that our politicians show the same will we are showing and do something.
And we won’t let them tell us there’s nothing to be done, Jasmine. No, that’s when we remember you and all the other victims and say, Guess What? There’s a lot that can be done. We can see Special Constables on the street. We can see the Police Cadets program expanded, we can organise the boy scouts, girl scouts, church groups, and everyone who wants into neighbourhood watch and other programs.

The thing is, we’re at crisis point in Belize, and that calls for extraordinary action. And the best way to get the world’s attention is by joining together. People Power has changed governments and systems around the world, and if we show we are united, something will get done here.

September 15 2012 will mark 100 days since the terrible day when we buried Jasmine. What a tribute if on that day people all across Belize wore a coloured ribbon and organised to gather in the Macal River Park and all across Belize to celebrate her life and show how many of us are willing to come out to demand that things change, that our children have a future, that our streets are safe again and that laughter returns to Belize.

September 15 gives us time to meet with each other, to send letters to the editor about what we are thinking and to our elected officials asking them what the government plans to do. Jasmine, imagine if we all rise up with one strong voice saying this madness has to stop! We will get noticed.

At least we have a chance, and we go to bed at night knowing that we did something. If we do nothing, the horror will only get worse.

Sure, some people are just going to shake their heads and say that it will never happen, that the situation is too far gone, that Belizeans organise, and that After Jasmine is an impossible dream.

Even your father is too young to remember Jasmine, but in our fight for independence, we had huge rallies and demonstrations. You think they just handed us our independence, no we had to fight for it, and we had to show that enough Belizeans wanted it, and wanted it badly, that the tide had turned on colonialism.

Now we must demand independence from fear and violence, rape and murder, and with enough of us, we can turn the tide on crime this time. And it’s only right we do it before the September celebrations, when we celebrate how we first came together as a nation. Now we need to demonstrate how to survive as a nation.

Do you think it’s impossible, Jasmine? Do you remember that two thousand years ago another innocent was murdered; someone else died a terrible death. That time it was a man and that man’s life and his death inspired something that changed the entire world. That something was hope. That something was a message that said, ‘We don’t have to live this way anymore. We are better than this’”.

You know what happened after that, Jasmine.

This week I am going to start. And if people read this and talk about it with their friends, teachers, pastors, MPs and any and everyone who will listen, maybe, just maybe your brief, bright spark will ignite a blaze, something that will burn though our complacency, our hopelessness, our despair and surrender to what can only be described as evil.

That could happen, Jasmine, and you will have contributed to our future, your life will have made a difference, and while we must live with the sorrow that can never have you back, at least we can take comfort that we kept your spirit alive and with you achieved something miraculous.

Lucius Blackstone,
A sad but still proud Belizean

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Christmas fairy tale

Mythical Felize had its ups and downs, but was a happy little country most of the time, and Felizeans really came alive over Christmas and New Year’s holidays, with music heard throughout the land and seemingly endless supplies of food and drink and good cheer offered freely at the many parties and celebrations. During this festive time people would often take a few moments to appreciate the blessings of their rich land, bountiful sea and most of all, each other.

“Yeah mon, we got it made in the shade,” Worthy said, washing down a particularly good panade with an icy local brew.
“Sub umbra Floreo,” Javier agreed, leaning back to pat his round belly, “Sub umbra floreo indeed my brudda...”
Tensy, Worthy’s cousin, had been in a bad mood the last few days, and she felt the urge to pass it around.
“Huh! I suppose some got it made in the shade, if they spend enough time there, but me, I’m glad to see 2010 go. Good bye and good riddance, I say.”
“What’s bothering you now, Hortense? ” Worthy asked, but not with too much enthusiasm. He didn’t really want to know, and his cousin’s moods could get ugly.
“What’s bothering me is how some fools go on about how rosy everything is all the time, but for some of us, this wasn’t a very good year.
Even with his big shades on, you could see Worthy’s eyebrows rise up, and Javie just chuckled as he reached for his glass.
But Tensy was on a roll now.
“I suppose you feel like that hurricane was a joke,” she said indignantly.
“That was no joke,” Javier said, “You think I enjoyed replacing that tin roof I only bought last year? “
“And with the roads out I couldn’t make nothing for almost a week, and it was slim after that,” Worthy added, and then he leaned forward and said, “But you know what Tensy? When I did get out it did me good to see how everyone pitched in and helped each other out. Boy, you neva seen people work so fast and so hard... and mostly for free, handing out meals, blankets, helping with hauling and building. Talk about hand wash hand, it did my heart glad!”
“Amen,” Javie toasted.
This gave Tensy pause, but not for long. She turned on Javier.
“Well, I didn’t see you too happy with those big foreign companies pushing in and crowding the best spots you used to take tourists to! You weren’t so sum umbra floreo then”, she folded her arms in triumph.
Javier had to think on that a moment. True, he hadn’t been the happiest of campers. And then he smiled and stretched out to pluck another panade off the plate.
“Well, you got to look on the bright side, Tensy gal, at least it woke people up, and the tour operators are stronger and more united than ever... look, there’s always gonna be greedy people out there, but at least we recognise them now, we know that we got to protect ourselves and it’s making us stronger... people are waking up.”
He took a bite and leaned back again.
“There you go” Worthy said, reaching for another excellent panade.
“Well, Mr There You Go, what do you have to say about the mess our city is in! You drive around there all the time! You read the news! How many people got killed this year? How much senseless mayhem, not to mention the drugs and corruption and filthy streets and everything else? That put a smile on your face?”
This quieted things down quite a bit. Things were bad in the city and seemingly getting worse. It had been a very bad year for crime, which many said was getting out of control. Tensy knew Worthy lost a friend in a shootout in the streets, and she almost regretted her remarks.
“Well, that’s bad, and you may think it’s getting worse, but you know what Tensy? I see some of the worst, and I still see a lot of the best. When I’m in the most nasty part of the city and see some small kindness, like someone helping an old person, or a person comforting a child, or just a stranger smile, then I feel hope, and as long as I can still feel that, all the badness in the world can’t overwhelm me, can’t make me stay sad or angry.
“‘Cause that hope, that’s something that’s real, like a little glowing coal in the blackness, and sooner or later with enough people fanning it, it’s gonna glow brighter and burst back into flames. You see how fast darkness and cold goes away before a good flame?
“Long as there’s a coal going, I’m gonna keep fanning...
“And I think that’s what this birthday we celebrate every year is all about...”
“Amen to that Brother,” Javie said.
Tensy’s face lit up as if a dark cloud was passing. She looked around and almost for the first time that day noticed people talking and laughing, children playing, lovers smiling shyly, old people taking their ease, just appreciating the day, and it was as if a black and white film became colour again.
Hope, a bit of grace, and doing the right thing. That’s what this time of year is all about, she reflected.
“That’s the thing, isn’t it,” she said out loud, “Sometimes we just need to work a little harder to keep that little flame alive,”
Something seemed to catch Javie’s eye. He heaved up with a big smile. “Barbeques’ ready,” he said and walked through the crowd beaming and nodding to everyone he passed.
Here’s to a Merry Christmas and working together towards a brighter flame in 2011.

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Monday, January 31, 2011

The day the Carnival left town

A fairy tale
Once upon a time there was a happy little land known as Felize, where the people enjoyed life and welcomed entertainment. So when news arrived one day that a Carnival was coming, there was great excitement throughout the realm.
“A Carnival! What fun! That will be something different!” they said.
And they were right, for this was no ordinary carnival. No, this was a floating Carnival, a massive, sea going Carnival alive with music, dancing, bright lights and romance as it sailed over the ocean.
Felizeans from all walks of life, traders and merchants, bankers and workers, even Felize’s leaders themselves all greeted the floating Carnival with open arms.
“Welcome to Felize!” They cheered.
Soon the Ringmaster came ashore and greeted everyone, inviting the whole country to participate and have fun.
“Would you like to join us?” The Ringmaster asked.
“Join the Carnival?”
“Certainly,” he smiled, “Let us speak with your leaders”.
After three days and three nights of feasting and talking the leaders addressed the people.
“Fellow Felizeans,” they said, “we are pleased to say that we are all going to join the Carnival!”
The crowd erupted in cheers of jubilation, dancing up and down and throwing their hats into the air.
“The Carnival is going to bring us many Party People who will pay us to take them on boat trips, cook meals, make things for them to take home and even braid their hair! There will be something for everybody! We’ll all have more gold than we ever dreamed of!”
The crowd went wild. And so Felize became part of the Carnival.
At first things seemed to go well, and the people were happy. The Felizeans were indeed earning sacks of gold and they used it to buy new boats and carriages to take the Party People around. They bought what they needed to make things for the Party People to buy.
It all seemed to be working so well that Felizeans began borrowing from the moneylenders to pay for ways to join in the Carnival.  After all, the Floating Fiesta was bringing in more and more people, and promising even more. The future was looking bright indeed for lucky little Felize.
Soon everyone had signed over their lands to the moneylenders as a promise to pay back the gold, but no one was worried – in a few years they would have their land back with gold to spare! It was all going wonderfully.
The leaders even went to the moneylenders and borrowed more gold to build an expensive little pretend village the Carnival owners wanted. But the village had a large fence around it to keep Felizeans out, and this made some people angry.
Then the Carnival people had another talk with Felize’s leaders. “We want you to charge less to bring our Party People from the Floating Fiesta to the Pretend Village. After all, more people mean more gold, so you can charge less and still make the same!”
The people grumbled a little bit, but they finally said, “Alright, we’ll charge less.”
Then the Carnival owners wanted to bring the Floating Fiestas to a very pretty, untouched part of Felize.
But the villagers of beautiful Sandy Point did not like the idea.
“We love our village just the way it is!” They said, “We don’t want big ships in our little bay and so many people coming ashore. It will wreck everything. And our own guests won’t like it either if it’s all crowded and full of special docks and fences. We don’t want those big ships down here wrecking our village!”
The Carnival Ringmaster took out a big parchment with official stamps and ribbons on it and held it up in the air. “It says here that our Carnival can wreck whatever we want and wherever we please.”
“What’s that?” The people asked, pointing to the mysterious parchment.
“Why, this is THE DEAL!” The Ringmaster said, quickly rolling it up.
“Can we have a look at it?” one of the village elders asked.
“No, it’s written in Carnivalese, you wouldn’t understand it,” the Ringmaster said, handing the roll to one of his assistants, who quickly scurried off.
The people became angry. Felizeans are very easy going, but they are also a proud people, and now they were very, very unhappy with how the Carnival people were acting.
“They think we’re simple! They’re acting like bullies! They just want to use our land to make money! This Carnival’s no fun for us!”
The owners of the Carnival called the Ringmaster back to the magical land of Myamee for a meeting.
“What’s all this grumbling down in Felize? It’s supposed to be a happy place! Our Party People don’t want to hear a bunch of grumbling and complaining! They want big smiley faces! What’s going on?”
“Well,” the Ringmaster replied, “They say we’re acting like bullies…”
“Bullies! Bullies!  We’ll show them bullies! Get back down there and show them who’s boss! This is what we’ll do…”
Soon the Ringmaster called the people of Felize together and said, “Starting tomorrow, you’ll need to buy new boats…”
“But we just bought these boats! We still haven’t even finished paying for them! They’re fine new boats! You said so yourself!”
“Well, yes, but we changed our minds. You need boats that can carry hundreds of people now.”
Hundreds of people? We don’t own any boats like that!”
“Oh well, we have some friends who do, and if you can’t buy some quick, we’ll just have to use theirs.”
“No!” the Felizeans shouted. “You can’t keep changing things like that! No!”
“OK, fine,” the Ringmaster said, “No more Carnival for Felize. It’s going somewhere else.”
The next day the Floating Fiesta didn’t arrive as it usually did. The boatmen, the people who drove the carriages, the vendors and the hair braiders all stood idle in the hot sun, worrying where the gold would come to buy dinner that night. Soon they realised that there would be no gold to pay the moneylenders that week, and they would lose their new boats, carriages, and the land they used to borrow with.
Their leaders quickly travelled to Myamee to meet with the Carnival owners, but the owners just laughed at them and sent them home. “You people shouldn’t interfere with our Grand Plans,” they said.
Suddenly the Carnival became a nightmare. Felizeans owed so much to the moneylenders that they would never be able to repay it without the Party People. It seemed like a big dark cloud settled on once sunny Felize.
The moneylenders said, “Sorry, but there’s nothing we can do,” and they took back the new boats and carriages, and then started taking the Felizeans’ houses and lands too. Instead of the promised prosperity, Felize now faced hunger and despair. Desperation replaced happiness, and there was no joy to be found.
Back in Myamee, the Carnival owners asked the Ringmaster how it was going in Felize.
“Very bad, sir. Many people are out of work and losing their homes. There is much hunger and unhappiness…”
“Excellent,” the owners said, “Now they know who’s boss! A few months of this and they’ll be begging us to come back at any price.”
“So what do we do now?” The ringmaster asked.
The owners chuckled.
“We wait and see…”
Coming soon in the next instalment:  What the Felizeans and their Leaders did
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