By Charles X Leslie: In the early to mid-90s, gangs started becoming prominent in Belize City. In Placencia, where I was born and where I grew up, we were introduced to this world, more so than other parts of Belize, at that time, due to the ‘sea lotto’ era, which brought all the ‘bad boys’ and drug dealers from Belize City, looking to buy cocaine from the ‘lucky’ fisherfolks who happened to stumble on a few kilos to a few bales. I was a kid, 14-15 years old at that time.
A kilo sold for about $8,000 to as high as $15,000 at the time, with discounts on bails. Young men, many of whom would consider it good money, making $150 a week, were rolling with thousands in their pockets, 10s to 100s of thousands under their mattress. I was too young to go to the bars, but guys were running $3,000 bar tabs!
At one point there was a race on who could buy the coolest boat. I heard Bradley’s Boat Yard was cleaning up. Guys were walking in with 40, 50, 60K cash, paying in full for a boat to be built.
The mid-90s introduced the dark side of Belize City to Placencia, to a small village of barely a thousand people at that time. This era created many crack heads, coke heads, prostitutes, drug dealers and all the other social decays that illegal drugs cause in a community, in a very short time. Young men who barely knew what a pellet gun looked like were walking around with 9-millimeter Berettas.
In the later part of the 90s, the social decay was painfully evident. Ayn Rand’s objectivism was in full swing. Money was flowing across the village. The milieu went from being community-minded to materialism and consumerism. Keeping up with the Jone’s was a thing I use to watch on television, now it was in Placencia, in my village, it created a lot of hate and envy.
People started to fence their yards, neighbors weren’t so neighborly anymore. People celebrated the misfortunes of others, instead of, like back in the day, rushing to help. Now I am not saying this in a strawman way, however, social behaviors that were very rare, were now there in an innate way.
Many of that fast fortune dwindled quickly. Most of the people who were ‘lucky’, blew most of that money on things that held little to no value – cars, clothes, parties etc. Petty crime started to become a real problem.
Especially burglary, which was mostly committed by the dope fiends. My mom and dad owned Kingfisher Restaurant, the largest restaurant in Placencia at that time, and break-ins was a constant worry for them, and for many villagers who were trying to grow their business with the growing tourism industry of the Placencia Peninsula.
By the start of the 2000s, the remnants of the ‘sea lotto’ era were in Placencia to stay. Many families saw broken homes, families struggling with drug addicted children, seeing their kids in and out of jail, becoming drug kingpins and the list goes on.
Many people in the village were extremely concerned about the route young people were taking, and what the future of other young people would be. It was nearing where many parents were expecting shootouts and murders to become the norm, as it did in Belize City.
In 1998 my father and other villagers came together and formed the first Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA) Chapter, and established the Placencia Tourism Center. I was fortunate to have had parents who worked hard to send me to school. I graduated from Ecumenical Junior College in 2000 and my first job was at the Placencia Tourism Center (PTC).
The PTC played many roles, the top two, in my opinion that had the most impact were:
Promoting Placencia as a tourism destination.
Promoting and sponsoring tour guide training for young people who wanted to penetrate the tourism job market.
I strongly believe that the promotion of the Tour Guide Training Program is one of the most significant contributing factors that saved many Placencia youths from being sucked into a life of hopelessness and crime.
The Tour Guide Training Program did something that no other program has ever done for youths across Belize: It taught young people how rich Belize is, and thought them the value of their country. When someone learns about the value of what they have, they become proud it.
To take the Tour Guide Training Program, however, is not a cheap one. It costs anywhere from $600 to a $1,000 per person. The vast majority of young Belizeans cannot afford this program. This is why I strongly recommend that the Government of Belize create a country-wide initiative to offer, for free, this Tour Guide Training Program, especially in Belize City.
Coupled with this, the Government should promptly implement the Belize Progressive Party’s land distribution policy of giving each young person a piece of land upon turning 18 years of age (and retroactively), so that our young people will also own a piece of the jewel.
When our young people know the value of their country, they will become proud of it. When they own a piece of it, they will show ownership and protection of it. When young people have access to cheap capital to start, build and grow their business ideas, they will build and grow Belize from a beggar nation to a donor nation.
Once our leaders wake up and start such a nationwide initiative, we will not have to worry about our young people standing up for Belize, whether it is against an internal or external threat, they will stand up and defend Belize at the blink of an eye.
This, my fellow Belizeans, is how we will save and empower our youths and give them hope for the future.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.
The article was written by Charles Leslie Jr., former independent Chairman of Placencia Village (2010 – 2013). He holds an Associates degree in business, accounting and economics and has over 20 years business experience. He is also a member of the Belize Progressive party.
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