Happy Birthday Belize!
We can’t think of a better birthday toast for Belize than to quote that popular toastmaster, Abraham Lincoln:
“It’s not the years in your life that count – it’s the life in your years.”
Even Honest Abe would be impressed with how much life the newest nation in the Americas has packed into the last 38 years.
He’d no doubt join us in saluting the many things Belize has achieved in such a short amount of time and, perhaps more to the point, the way it has done so.
Prior to 21 September 1981, Belize was a relatively unknown, cash-poor former English colony barely getting by on subsistence farming and fishing. Most overseas visitors consisted of members of the British armed forces, stationed there for jungle training and to protect the integrity of the former Crown Colony’s borders.
Today Belize is a thriving multicultural democracy and one of the hottest tourism destinations on the planet. With almost a quarter of its land and seas under some form of protection, Belize has also become a global model for sustainable development and responsible travel.
That prosperity and sustainability could grow side by is a testament to the hard working people of Belize. For example, after building a tourism industry from the ground up, Belizeans voted overwhelmingly in a public referendum to ban oil exploration and drilling on the Belize Great Barrier Reef, effectively rejecting a fortune in fossil fuel revenues in exchange for the long term health of one of the world’s most vibrant marine ecosystems.
The will of the people was also heard loud and clear in a moratorium on commercial fishing trawling, and more recently in the bold move to phase out single use plastic bags, eating utensils and Styrofoam containers.
Trading convenience for environmental health?
You’d better Belize it.
But then, Belize’s history and long march to independence is built on bold actions that surprised the rest of the world.
Take the Battle of St George’s Caye.
On 10 September, 1798, a small ragtag militia made up of mostly British and African woodcutters, farmers, hunters and shipwrights – the future Belizeans – sailed out to a tiny island off the Belize Great Barrier Reef. Knowing they would be seriously outnumbered and outgunned, they nevertheless took on the much larger and better equipped military force sent by Spain to invade their little English-speaking settlement at the mouth of the Belize River.
In the battle that followed, the settlers and slaves stood “shoulder to shoulder” and, through a combination of sheer bravery and brilliant tactics, defeated the Spanish force so decisively that it sailed off and never returned.
After that first dramatic step towards nationhood, the settlement was pretty much left alone, cutting mahogany and the logwood whose purple dye was in demand for Britain’s textile industry, and keeping pirate ships supplied with smoked game (the boucanée from which we get “Buccaneers”), rum, and other piratical necessities.
In such a remote location, far from any central authority, the settlers formed their own system of governance and a society built on the cooperation so necessary for its survival. That cooperation is still seen today in that uniquely Belizean expression of “hand wash hand.”
Later, after years of self-governing though elected magistrates, the settlement joined the British Empire as the Crown Colony of British Honduras on 1862.
Over the following years, Great Britain and Spain, and then Guatemala, disputed ownership of the land while, within the colony, Belizeans continued to form a distinct national identity and increasingly agitated for self-rule, and then independence.
Belize finally became a sovereign nation after declaring independence on September 21, 1981, and the next day was welcomed into the United Nations.
But how would this new nation with young, inexperienced leaders, no real infrastructure to speak of, and a struggling economy fare on its own?
No one, and that is to say no one, would have predicted that thirty-eight years later Belize not only survived, but became a shining example for the rest of the world.
Peter Shadie, the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Senior Advisor on World Heritage said, “The farsightedness of Belize’s decisive action to protect one of the planet’s finest coral reefs is an inspiration for the World Heritage Convention and a great boost for global conservation.”
And the World Wildlife Foundation’s Chris Gee put it even more succinctly, “It indicates that Belize, a developing country, is prepared to put its people and environment first.”
And Belize’s private sector’s commitment to sustainable tourism is also attracting worldwide attention and accolades. The Lodge at Chaa Creek, also celebrating its 38th birthday (stay tuned for a following post), has garnered awards from National Geographic, Green Globe and other environmentally focussed travel organisations for showing how sustainable tourism and business success can go hand in hand.
Along with protecting its wealth of ancient Maya ruins, wildlife, marine life and hundreds of species of birds, and supporting cultural identity while promoting multiculturalism, Belize is increasingly recognised as a treasure benefitting the international community.
Oh, and did we mention that Belize also offers thousands of visitors each year the vacation of a lifetime? Vacations that allow guests to swim, snorkel and dive the world’s second largest barrier reef one day, and explore ancient Maya temples and vast jungles the next?
We could go on, but will close with one more toast, this time quoting Belize’s first Prime Minister and the man widely regarded as the father of the country. Here’s George Cadle Price, speaking at that first birthday thirty-eight years ago:
“Belize, with the help of God and the support of its people will stand upright and will do its duty and help bring peace, stability and prosperity to our region and to the wider circles of our planet earth.”
Happy Birthday Belize!
If you want to see for yourself what this Belize excitement is all about, you’re in luck. Chaa Creek is celebrating with some Big Belize Birthday Presents of their own:
Visit Belize between November 1 – 20, 2019 and receive a 20% discount off accommodations and amenities. You’ll also enjoy six of the most popular activities at no cost. Free. Gratis.
Stay between December 1 – 19, 2019 and the same offer applies.
Want to start the New Year off right?
Stay between January 1 – 19, 2020, and enjoy a 10% discount
Feliz Cumpleaños Belize!