REPORT #625 March 2003

Produced by the Belize Development Trust

I have to weigh-in on the Internet access/phone/business climate issues being discussed on the Belize Culture listserve.

First, maybe the Internet isn't directly important to most Belizeans, but it sure is important, directly or indirectly, to quite a few people in Placencia, be they roots Belizeans, retired gringos or transplanted North American business owners.

I have a very small business in Placencia that provides tourism-related services such as fly fishing, snorkeling and sailing trips, plus arranges lodging and transportation for visitors.

In the last 7 days, I've written $14,000 BZ in checks to local guides -- all Belizeans, all born and bred in Placencia. Every last cent of that money was the product of Internet access.

AND, that figure doesn't include another other amounts paid to local business so far this month, including $21,000 BZ to local hotels (most of them in Placencia Village and Belizean owned), $3,800 BZ to Tropic Air, over $2,600 in sales and business taxes, and about $1,200 to Atlantic Bank in merchant's fees for our MasterCard/Visa merchant accounts PLUS what our clients' spend for food, drinks and transportation in the local restaurants, gift shops, bars, grocery stores, and taxi services. Again, ALL of those amounts are directly or indirectly attributable to Internet access.

And, those dollars paid to local Belizeans could probably have been greater IF our phone and Internet access were more reliable. Just yesterday, I received a call from a woman who said she had been trying to get through to me by phone for 4 days, but the lines were always busy. (Placencia continues to have phone service problems -- just this morning the phones were out until around 9 a.m.). She also said that emails were bouncing back. Who knows how many people might have tried to reach us, but couldn't, and finally gave up.

Second, while it's great to talk about a slower life-style and pace of life here, the lack of reliable communications means that some of us actually have a more frenetic lifestyle. For example, this morning, when neither the cell system nor the land lines were working, I had to physically chase down 5 guides, boat owners and others who I should have been able to reach by phone to make sure arrangements were in place for today's trips. But, what should have taken a half-hour, took 2 hours, and made my life-style a WHOLE lot more stressful and whole lot less "laid back" than I would like it to be. (Yesterday, I tried all day to reconfirm 10 plane reservations for today -- and never could get through to Tropic Air.)

There have been many times that the frustrations of trying to do business in Belize have been so great that I've made up my mind to leave. But, part (not all, but part) of the reason I have stayed is because of a sense of loyalty to the people here who work so hard and invest so much of themselves in what they do -- and who are so often the victim of government policies that seem designed to take as much as they can from them while giving little or nothing back -- no low-interest loans after their homes, boats and businesses were destroyed by a hurricane, no reasonably priced and reliable communications systems, no local control over just about anything, little ability to trust elected representatives to stand by their promises or enforce the laws that are supposed to protect Belize and Belizeans.

I, too, have decided to make Belize my home because of its people, its natural beauty, its diverse cultures and its climate. But, because it is my home, I believe that I have an obligation to preserve it, protect it, AND to make it better. With my own house, there's always something that needs to be repaired, cleaned and/or improved. Same with Belize, or any other country -- I believe its citizens and residents have an obligation to preserve, protect and improve it to make it the best place that it can be.

I think that's all the people on this list are doing - speaking out about what they believe needs to be repaired and improved to make Belize a better place to live for everybody, not just a favored few.


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