I generally don't pay much attention to Belizean politics. It is not really part of my job. A few things here or there have caught my eye, such as the recent proposals to institute the death penalty, eliminate trial by jury, and allow for preventative detention in order to cut down on crime. But for the most I remain blissfully unaware. (This is in large part due to the fact that I get most of my news from the internet, which is usually woefully behind on information. Most Belizeans get their news from the radio or TV).
Today, however, Belize politics come into full view. Last week, a bus company was awarded some bus routes in the northern part of the country. There may or may not have been shenanigans in the awarding of the lines. The incumbent bus operators were not happy with the new deal and despite stating that they would not strike, that is exactly what they did this morning.
In the U.S., strikes are generally rare and often have little to no impact on the general public. In Italy, transportation strikes are common and a nuisance, but they are short and planned in advance. With a bit of planning and some extra time, you can get around the strike.
In Belize, not only did many of the operators refuse to run their routes this morning, but they also blocked the major highways with their buses and then proceeded to set tire fires on the highway as well. There were at least four blockades. One in Hattieville (blocking the road between Belize City and Belmopan), one in Burrell Boom (blocking the road from Hattieville to Belize City) and at least two on the northern highway (blocking the towns of Orange Walk and Corozal from Belize City).
Such a maneuver is especially disrupting in Belize because there is generally only one road between towns. The country only has four major highways (Western, Northern, Hummingbird, and Southern). If these roads are blocked, people cannot go around. To make the blockades even more effective, many of the blockades were at bridges, so you could not off-road your vehicle around the blockade.
Moreover, at least 1/3 of the Embassy staff and many government workers commute to work from Belize City each day. In our office, three of our five FSNs could not make it to work until after 10 a.m. This proved problematic for us as none of the officers had ever added visa pages or printed visas. We were able to fairly quickly figure it out, but it made for an interesting morning.
The police and Belize Defense Forces were eventually able to clear the roads, by using tractors to pull the buses out of the way and frontloaders to push the fires off the road. According to some of the news we heard on the radio, this may continue over the weekend or into next week. Fortunately, I don't have many plans to be on the road this weekend.
Unfortunately, writing this made me remember that we did not finish getting clearance for the Warden message and now I am headed into the Embassy to get clearance and send out the message.