Guest Editorial: This Neverending Immigration Scandal
Monday, October 21st, 2013
by: Kay Menzies
I wrote the note below a few days ago because I needed to express what I was feeling as a Belizean about the latest manifestation of corruption in the immigration department. This business of selling our identity for a metaphorical thirty pieces of silver must come to an end once and for all. It has gone on for far too long in multiple ways through multiple governments and has hurt the country immeasurably.
Yesterday morning, I listened as the Prime Minister disavowed former Minister Penner (whom he had previously fired after learning about Citizen Kim) and expressed his desire that Penner resign his position as a representative in the House, stating essentially that the UDP was done with Penner. It was a big step for the leader of a country in which political calculations almost always outweigh thoughts of what’s best for the nation in the minds of those who run her affairs. In that context, the PM is to be commended for walking away and risking further narrowing of an already narrow majority of House seats. But it isn’t enough. Penner hasn’t been punished nearly enough to either learn a lesson or to serve as a deterrent to others who would follow his example.
Aside from Penner, others are running around undetected and unpunished having tampered with our country’s image and with the portion of our identity that’s wrapped up in that image. They have participated in the illegal issuance of passports and visas. They are probably waiting for the furor to die down (as it always does) so they can get right back to it. This is absolutely unacceptable. We can’t relax just yet and we should never be complacent again. So despite yesterday’s events, and partly because of them, here’s my two cents…
I became a Belizean the old-fashioned way: I was born one. As we say here, I “baanangro” da Belize. The birth part happened just a few years before Independence, and while I’m old enough to remember all the fuss, it would be arrogant and pretentious of me to try to claim that I understood fully the significance of the event. However, I’m a proud Belizean who knows all the words to my National Anthem, and I get chills when I see my flag flown internationally or hear my country’s name spoken in positive tones. I know with absolute certainty that my country is beautiful beyond measure, and am fully aware of our unlimited potential for positive development.
I also have friends who became Belizeans through time and patience.They were born somewhere else, but for one reason or other, they came to Belize, chose it as their home, and have never left. Some of them have lived here longer than they’ve lived anywhere else. They speak a funny-sounding version of Kriol, but they love this country, boast about it, see the potential of it, and are noisily proud to be productive and legitimate citizens of it. They had a choice, and they chose us, and we are better and richer for it.
I have now been painfully reminded, over the past three weeks or so, that there are also some Belizeans who have never seen this country, don’t even know where it is, and couldn’t care less about it. They bought their way in, knowingly bought an illegal document from a corrupt official to give themselves cover for God knows what nasty reason. To be sure, their plans for a black-market passport are not going to make us look good. The only thing that those Belizeans know about us is that we are as crooked and corrupt as they are and that we are willing to sell our souls and our birthright at a pathetically cheap price.
How did we come to this? Other countries, including Caribbean islands, also Caricom members, have credible economic citizenship programs, and they seem to escape the corruption and controversy. We were so corrupt and controversial that we had to stop our economic citizenship program a decade ago, and then we were so corrupt that it has continued anyway, through multiple governments, as the country has limped from scandal to scandal. As a result, those paper-only Belizeans know what the rest of us don’t, because they see what we don’t see. They know that we’re just cheap, back-alley peddlers –there’s a worse word than peddlers, but I’ll leave it to you to say it.
You see, it’s all about perspective. They only see corrupt Belizeans, and those are precisely the Belizeans we’ve been trying to pretend don’t exist. Therefore, there are two views of Belize. Which one is the delusion?
That’s for us to decide.
The summary version is this: our passports and visas, in very broad strokes, tell the world who we are. People carrying a country’s passport are, at first meeting, profiled by the image of that country. On the other side of that coin, the people carrying the passport help to develop that country’s image. Think of it. Do we want Belize’s image to be defined by the criminals to whom we sell our passports or our visas so that when we appear at another country’s entry point we are thought of as criminals ourselves? If the answer is (and I hope it is) a resounding “no,” then why should we allow the traitors within to sell our identity to the criminals without?
The last Prime Minister famously claimed that everything in Belize eventually blows over “like wa lee breeze.” The current scandal must at this moment feel more like a raging hurricane to the current Prime Minister and Minister of Immigration. And so it must be. We as Belizeans need to rip off our blinders and begin seeing the larger picture. There are Belizeans out there whose citizenship is born of corruption. In the eyes of other countries, it doesn’t matter, they are still Belizeans. But to us, their existence is undeniable proof that there are those among us who care nothing for our birthright, which most of them got the way I did. Those mercenaries are destroying the image of our country along with its reputation and its security.
What will we do about those Belizeans, our home-grown traitors? Will we let the wind drop again, or will we finally force it to blow the corruption all the way out of the system?