Book Review of 'Belize: Anatomy of a MultiRacial Society'

By Wayne Lutton
Volume 9, Number 2 (Winter 1998-1999)
Issue theme: "Secure identification and immigration enforcement"

Belize Anatomy of a Multi-Racial Society

by Robert Jarvis

40 pages, $5.00

C-FAR, P.O. Box 332, Station "B"

Etobicoke, Ontario, M9W 5L3, Canada

If the world has any ends, British Honduras

[Belize] would certainly be one of them.

- Aldous Huxley, Beyond Mexique Bay

In his latest monograph, Canadian historian and world traveler Robert Jarvis focuses on the small Caribbean country of Belize, viewed by some American scuba divers and eco-tourists as a multicultural paradise. Multicultural it is. But Jarvis, who has spent parts of four decades in the former British colony, finds it wracked by deep tensions. And Belize is undergoing a major power shift along racial and ethnic lines that is already having an impact on the United States.

First settled by loggers and pirates in the 17th century, British Honduras (as it was officially designated until independence in 1981) became inhabited by a collection of whites, "Creoles" having some African ancestry, Mestizos (perhaps 40% of the population), Garifunas (descendants of Caribbean Blacks comprising 6.6% of the population in 1991), and Mayas. In more recent decades they have been joined by Chinese, whose numbers are growing through immigration, as well as Mennonites from Canada, who began to arrive in 1958, following a Canadian government decision forcing their children to enroll in public schools. The Mennonites signed an agreement with the government, allowing them complete freedom to practice their form of Protestantism and farm within their closed communities. As Jarvis notes, the Mennonites "are responsible for making chicken the national dish and for producing most of the marijuana exported from Belize."

Agriculture, primarily the raising of sugar cane, bananas, and citrus fruit concentrate extraction, along with modest forestry and fishing industries, account for most of the legal economic activity outside of tourism. While Belize enjoyed economic growth into the 1990s, with its foreign debt being the smallest related to export income of any Central American country, this prosperity depended on preferential access to the large U.S. and European markets, now threatened by various "free trade" agreements. High labor costs and low productivity will not permit Belize to compete effectively in the future against Latin American low-cost producers and North American, Mexican, and Guatemalan agricultural and manufactured products.

Per capita, Belize is one of the world's top recipients of U. S. and Canadian foreign aid. This Western economic support has gone far to dampen the consequences of the country's high levels of un-and-under-employment. But the situation can only get worse. Forty-five percent of the population is under the age of 15, and their birth rate of 5.2 children per family is one of the highest in the world. The percentage of children born to single women continues to increase (from 43% of all live births in 1970 to 57% by 1990, and 67% in Belize City).

Like the United States, an ethnic transformation is underway in Belize. There, the once majority Black population is giving way to Guatemalan and Salvadoran immigrants. Spanish is now the first language of over half the population. "Pan American Day" has become a national holiday. A 1984 amnesty for all illegal aliens then living in Belize only spurred additional immigration. Government officials contend that the waves of refugees and illegal economic migrants prompted the crisis of crime and violence, which has seen Belize rise to a position among the top ranks of Latin American drug exporters. This is the foundation of an illegal economy permeating all levels of society.

As Central Americans move in, native Belizeans are in turn migrating northward. By the mid-1990s, one in five were living in the United States, concentrating in greater Los Angeles. Most of them enter illegally, either arriving without valid documen-tation, or by overstaying their non-immigrant visas.

For those remaining in Belize, Jarvis sees a future of increasing tensions. Central Americans look upon the area (four times the size of Jamaica) as a fertile land they can populate. Chinese and East Indians run many of the shops and restaurants. Local politicians have tried to ignite a "Black Power" movement, but to small effect. For the native Black Creoles, "spiritually, he has already abandoned Belize for America," the author observes.

Robert Jarvis has written a revealing case study of a country undergoing an immigration-induced demographic revolution. As we witness in Belize, "multi-racialism" is not an end in itself. Rather, it is a way station marking the eclipse of one or more established groups as different people, in what once was their homeland, displace them.

Dewy-eyed supporters of multiculturalism endlessly assert that multiracial societies are more desirable places to live. Colorful ethnic festivals and a gourmand's heaven of culinary diversity are chief among the images "multi-culties" invoke. But where is there a successful multi-ethnic or bi-racial country? One has yet to be found, on this planet, anyway.


Television As a ‘Push Factor

'Up until the 1980s, radio was the most influential media form in Belize. Radio Belize broadcasts in English and Spanish. More recently television is everyone's favorite. There are four stations with another thirty channels available through satellite. Three young gap-toothed, rasta-haired visitors from Livingstone, Guatemala, were seen sitting in Chinese restaurant, mesmerized by a television. Dandriga is the high spot of civilization, to those from a society with no modern technology. Belizean society has been shaken by the effects of the technology of television. Some children have been seriously hurt by attempting to mimic stunts.

'Many illiterate or mentally slow youths seem to realize that in order to obtain the Cadillacs, Rolex watches, and other goods presented to them on the TV, they must go to the U.S. Once there, the only work open to them are low-paid, unskilled jobs which soon lose their appeal. These youths eventually drift into a life of crime and drugs. They are looked down upon by other minorities as being country bumpkins." Young Belizeans do not fare well in the drug wars against utterly ruthless Jamaican posses in New York, and Chicago gangs in Los Angeles.

'Another effect of the television revolution is the American-ization of the Belizean youth. Their lilting, sing-song dialect is being replaced by hard-edged accents of the South Bronx and South-central L.A. With Doc Johnson's mondettas and Malcolm X baseball caps turned to the side, youths are virtually indistinguishable from their counterparts in inner city, USA.'

- From Belize Anatomy of a Multi-Racial Society

By Robert Jarvis

About the author

Wayne Lutton, Ph.D. is editor of The Social Contract.