Transcript Speech by Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow:

I have been delivering Independence day speeches for over twenty years now, either as Leader of the Opposition or as Prime Minister. I do so one last time today in circumstances that are the most taxing in a generation.

Of course, Governance is never a smooth continuum. The general caprices of human affairs are multiplied ten times over in matters of state. For our country, then, the poetic notion that we are ultimately bound for glory has always been accompanied by the prosaic everyday struggle actually to scale the heights; to regain our foothold when we slip; to clamber back up; to resume our climb towards what we see as the summit of our destiny.

Every Independence Day’s stock taking, therefore, has acknowledged that success is not linear. Unfailingly, though, the ledger has confirmed more progress than problems; that our hard work and optimism and talent mark us in the end as sure to prevail.

Now, however, we are confronted by a confidence-buckler of a pandemic, one that is as relentless as it is devastating. It appeared in the early days that we had it pretty much licked. Given this latest surge, however, we may be forgiven for thinking it somewhat like the American game of whack-a-mole. I remember the debate that raged about the reopening of the PGIA. Many of us feared that the return of the tourists would mean importing the virus, multiple cases of foreign infection. As it turned out, though, our problem proved not to be external. Like that old horror movie trope, the scary thing was not what was threatening to invade from without our tightly shuttered home. It was rather the danger from within: the jumpers and the contrabandistas, obstinately and repeatedly going across our supposedly sealed borders to places where the proliferation and danger were astounding. That was the principal source of the importation; and it was exacerbated by the heedless in-country behavior of too many: the partying with Dionysian abandon, the ignoring of the mask wearing and social distancing and public gathering rules.

Notwithstanding all this, I am certain that we will defeat this covid-19. Even as I speak there is qualified good news. That is because the testing record over the last month or so, shows a trending week-over-week percentage deceleration of positive cases. The phenomenon of indiscipline, the lax or wilful behaviour that contributed to the new outbreaks, is, I think, receding. The rapid tests that will allow for ease of mass detection and contact tracing, are steadily becoming more reliable; and the vaccines that will provide immunity now appear within reach. Remember that at the virtual global meeting recently convened by the WHO, 30 Heads of State pledged, as a matter of the greatest urgency, an additional 37 billion dollars to accelerate development, production and equal access to Covid-19 tests, treatment and vaccines.

All this is a huge plus to our own reset here at home. There is little doubt that our minds are now wonderfully concentrated in terms of the necessary behavioral changes, the enhanced surveillance to ensure that we better look out for ourselves and each other. Thus, I am firmly convinced that it is now just a matter of time till we come safely to shore.

When that happens, when these trials and tribulations are in the rear view mirror, this generation will be remembered and celebrated as ultimately having thwarted one of the foulest periods of Belizean history.

Of course, we will always lament that so many of our people have been afflicted. We will always grieve for those fallen to the plague. Likewise, we will not gloss over our shortcomings, our blank fear at the start as we struggled with a phenomenon that none could have imagined, for which none could have prepared. But we will ever know that during our greatest trial we once more found our heroes: our nurses and doctors and health inspectors and immigration and customs officers; our police and our soldiers and our coast guard and all those that defend the ramparts against this insiduous scourge. We fought and are fighting what is not even tactile, what seems spectral but is all too real. It is a virus no bigger than a mote of dust, something we can’t touch or feel or see. Still, it has felled us in numbers, rich and poor and high and low.