National Geographic : 1972 Jan
the countryside. Next morning at six I met Premier George C. Price at his modest wooden house near the center of Belize City. A bach elor, he lives alone with his books, his classi cal records, and his work. Mr. Price bounced down the front steps athletically, and shook my hand with a firm grasp. "Let's go, Jimmy," he called to his driv er. We piled into his Land-Rover and headed for Crooked Tree, a village isolated for a good part of the year by a ring of creeks, lagoons, and wet grasslands. This day we would take our chances, attempting to cross a nearly dry lagoon bed. Premier Looks to the Future As we drove, people everywhere recognized the Premier and waved to him with warm fa miliarity. He waved back and called out in Spanish and English: "jBuenos dias! Good morning!" Now and then Mr. Price would direct his driver to stop so he could chat with people (page 135). He picked up a few children, too, and we gave them a ride to school. In be tween, he told me of his country's needs. "We need to attract more private invest ment," he said, "and we need, in some areas, to enter into partnership with the capital and skills of our friends from abroad." He told me about his hopes for the country's future as a geographic bridge between the nations of Central America and those of the Caribbean basin. Belize already belongs to the Caribbean Free Trade Association, com posed of British possessions and former colo nies in the area. After independence, Mr. Price hopes to pursue closer ties with the Central American Common Market. "We must build a strong, viable, and di versified economy," Mr. Price continued. "Even now, we have achieved self-sufficiency in such basic commodities as rice and beans and corn. "Development of the livestock industry should make a substantial impact. Grains will emerge as major exports. And the tourist industry should be a leading contributor." Mr. Price interrupted his serious discourse frequently and made the driver halt so he could point out a flower-the yellow poppy like blossom of the wild cotton, an orchid growing in the branches of a fragrantly blooming cashew tree, or a bird-a great kiskadee here, a trogon there. We had brought box lunches, and we stopped to eat by the side of a narrow dirt road. To our right, covered by rank growth, rose a large mound-a relic of the ancient Maya civilization. Mr. Price picked up bits of broken Maya pottery that had been scraped from the ground by the bulldozers that carved the road, and talked about Belize's pre-Colum bian heritage. "Even the name 'Belize' comes from a translation of the Maya words 'be likin-road to the east.' At least, that is the interpretation I prefer," he said. There are other possible meanings of the name, I later learned. One of them is "muddy water," and anyone who has seen the Belize River in flood would recognize its aptness. At Crooked Tree we visited a large one room building that houses one of the few gov ernment-run schools. Church missions-Ro man Catholic and Protestant-operate most of the others, with substantial government aid. As we entered, the 211 pupils stood up and sang the proposed Belizean national anthem: "0, Land of the Gods by the Carib Sea, Our Manhood we pledge to thy Liberty...." Mr. Price sang lustily with them, but when they finished, he told the children, "Next time sing it faster. It is not a funeral march." Then he gave a brief lecture on civics and closed with a simple exhortation: "All of us must work hard. When we come home each day, we may have dirt on our hands. But we need not be ashamed, because we are working to build a nation." We returned to Belize City after clocking some 225 miles. I was worn out. But an aide met Mr. Price with a briefcase full of papers. He would work late that night. Having heard the Premier's view of what lies ahead, I went a few days later to the resi dence of the British Governor for his opinion. Sir John Paul spoke confidently. British Honduras, he reminded me, has governed itself, except for matters of defense, civil service, and foreign relations, since 1964. "There is a high degree of literacy and an efficient civil service. Of course," he added, "there's a problem with Guatemala, which Britain would like to see solved." The 17th-century British settlers of Belize took over land which Spain claimed but never occupied. After Spain's Central American colonies became independent in the 19th century, one of them-Guatemala-claimed Belize as part of its territory. Britain never allowed the claim, and Guatemala has periodically raised the issue ever since.