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Journal of Political Ecology:
Case Studies in History and Society
VOLUME 6 (1999)
The Making of Belize: Globalization in the Margins. By Anne Sutherland. Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey, 1998, 224 pp.
Reviewed by Laurie Kroshus Medina, Department of Anthropology, Michigan State University.
book asserts that Belize leapt from it status as a British colony to become
a 'postmodern' nation, without passing through 'modernity.' According
to its back cover, The Making of Belize challenges "theories
of globalization that paint marginal areas as losers in the world economy"
by exploring how the small country of Belize is being made - or remade
- in a globalized, deterritorialized world that rewards social and cultural
consists of three major sections, in addition to a preface and conclusion.
The preface presents a history of the author's involvement in Belize,
through her mother's marriage to a Belizean. Part one, "An Ethnographic
History," provides a brief overview of Belizean colonial history
and reviews and updates the author's previous book on a small island off
the Belizean coast, focusing on family organization and relationships.
Part two, "A Nation in the Making," contains chapters on Belizean
ethnic diversity and nation-building efforts, the rise of tourism, and
liaisons between women tourists and Belizean Rastafarians. A major premise
of Part Two is that globalization and postmodernism have led to ethnic
primordialism in Belize. Part three, "Globalization in the Margins,"
includes chapters on the impact of international environmentalism on Belize,
drug trafficking, the contemporary Belizean economy, and the globalization
of communications. It is the chapter on the impact of environmentalism
in Belize that raises issues most closely related to political ecology.
the key assertions of The Making of Belize is that, as a result
of globalization, Belize has been transformed from a colony into a 'postmodern'
nation without passing through the stage of modernity or developing a
"modern economy based on industrial mass production of goods"
(p. 3). The book falls short in its goal of demonstrating the dynamics
of such a transition, because this transformation is not sufficiently
contextualized either theoretically or in relation to the contemporary
political-economy of globalization. None of these states or "stages"
- colonialism, modernism, and postmodernism - are clearly defined or differentiated
from one another, and no clear explanation is provided about how or why
Belize might have moved from one state to another, why it might have "skipped"
a stage in the expected sequence, or why such a sequence might have been
expected. Sutherland's presentation of Belizean political-economic history
stops with the colonial period. She does not explore the political economy
of contemporary Belize and its insertion into the global economy. The
author briefly defines globalization as "the forces of integration
and communication that increasingly lead to a smaller world, as well as
the forces of disintegration and fragmentation that increasingly produce
more conflict and human misery" (p. 5); however, these 'forces' are
not elaborated, with the exception of the media.
describes the Belizean economy as "barely nascent"(p. 9) with
"no industry" (p. 3). She asserts that Belize has traditionally
followed a development strategy of import substitution, a strategy that
aims to replace imported goods with locally-produced goods. In fact, the
dominant development strategy in Belize has been export-oriented. (Indeed,
Sutherland uses the banana industry, which produces bananas for export
to Europe, as an example of import substitution.) The banana industry
is part of the agro-export sector (along with industries producing sugar
and frozen concentrate orange and grapefruit juice), which served as the
centerpiece of Belizean development efforts for decades. Belize has been
positioned in the global order for centuries as a producer for external
markets: this was a matter of official colonial policy, and it has
been the official development policy imposed by the IMF and development
lenders during recent decades. Attention to the political-economic pressures
which generated this development orientation over recent decades would
have provided the background for an analysis of the conditions under which
Belize is being positioned in the context of globalization at present;
in turn, the provision of such context would have enabled a more thorough
discussion of the tourism and environmental initiatives that Sutherland
of ethnographic depth also limits the book's efforts to examine recent
transformations in Belize. For example, regarding the impact of environmentalism
on Belize, Sutherland argues that the evangelizing Christian missionaries
of the past have been replaced by "new missionaries," environmentalists
and their NGOs, who "have obtained 40 percent of the landmass in
Belize and reserved it for animals, fish, and Mayan archaeological sites"
(p. 120). She asks, "For whom are all the reserves in Belize? Are
they are being established for Belizeans, for the good of the natural
environment..., for the resort owners, for the tourists, for the drug
dealers who need remote, unpopulated areas - for whom? The old adage 'follow
the money' came to mind" (p. 135). In asking who benefits from the
reserves, Sutherland raises an important and timely question. However,
she provides no data to begin to answer it: her study did not "follow
the money." By not seeking to answer her question about who benefits,
Sutherland failed to discover or engage the complex relations and negotiations
that are determining who benefits from the reserves. These negotiations
involve a range of participants from within and beyond Belize: international
environmentalist organizations, the World Bank, the UN, transnational
investors, the Belizean state, Belizean tourism operators and organizations,
Belizean environmentalist and development NGOs, and Belizean communities
and their shifting internal factions. In her account, Sutherland accords
agency only to environmentalist NGOs. Her presentation would have benefited
from attention to the strategizing going on across multiple global-local
connections, as "local" actors of all classes and "global"
forces with divergent agendas compete to control resources and revenues.
will illustrate this point. Sutherland discusses the creation of a jaguar
reserve in southern Belize, pointing out that several Mayan families were
forced to move out of the area which became the reserve. These families
were relocated to the village of Maya Center, which sits at the entrance
to the jaguar reserve. Sutherland concludes, "Today these same Maya
sit forlornly on the edge of the park, where they were moved, selling
trinkets to tourists" (p. 119). Her casting of the environmentalist
forces who pushed for the establishment of the reserve as winners, and
the Maya villagers as losers oversimplifies both the process of creating
the reserve and its outcomes. Attention to the ways the relocated families
and their co-villagers in Maya Center have adapted to the reserve's creation,
and how the Maya themselves see their role as "trinket sellers"
would have provided the data for a more nuanced understanding of the reserve's
research conducted by other scholars in this village reveals a complex
set of circumstances, concerns, and perceived opportunities. Lindberg
et. al (1996) document villagers' support for tourism and conservation,
which together have increased the incomes of many households in the village.
This increase in incomes has been partly a consequence of sales by a Maya
Center women's group which produces Mayan crafts for sale, providing new
opportunities for women to earn cash incomes and raising new possibilities
for the organization of gender relations. Maya Center has become a model
for other rural communities who have begun to seek ways to augment their
own incomes by working to establish reserves which might allow them to
attract their "own" tourists. Members of community-based organizations
from rural villages across Belize have traveled to Maya Center to meet
with members of the women's group, seeking advice and information which
may assist them in launching similar efforts in their own villages. Some
of these organizations have themselves sought funding and assistance from
national and international environmentalist NGOs or the World Bank's Global
Environmental Facility. At the same time, villagers in Maya Center do
not see the reserve and their involvement with tourism as an unmitigated
success. Villagers struggle with the government, environmental NGOs, and
larger-scale lodge owners and tour operators to increase their control
over land, resources, and tourism in their area. They also struggle among
themselves over distribution of the opportunities and costs associated
with tourism and conservation. Attention to these diverse relationships
and conflicts would have generated a more complex and illuminating analysis
of the confrontation between environmentalist NGOs and rural Belizean
conclusion, Sutherland argues against predictions that the forces of globalization
will divide the world into "a few winners and many losers,"
suggesting that "the very margins of the global world system may
become the areas of most creative cultural activity...It just might be
that the work of the imagination is best undertaken in the margins, on
the borders of a global system where the freedom to experiment is greater"
(p. 185). While this may or may not be true, this book provides no argument
as to how such creative "imagining" might be linked to either
"winning" or "losing" in a global economy; it shifts
from material concerns to mass communication and imaginings without relating
them to each other. The Making of Belize presents broad generalizations
without providing data from specific cases to demonstrate its assertions.
As a result, it oversimplifies complex relationships and negotiations,
providing little evidence of Belizeans' creative experimentation, as they
respond to the problems and possibilities presented by participation in
a global economy.
Lindberg, Kreg, Jeremy Enriquez, and Keith Sproule.