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Dangriga – Parts Unknown

Dangriga – Parts Unknown
October 18
13:26 2019

By: Neri O. Briceño

As a product of the south, I have always been torn between the two southern towns of Dangriga and Punta Gorda. While I was born and did most of my early schooling in PG, I became a teen in Griga. The transition to a new location was not completely easy because now rather than living with parents, who ensured that you walk the straight and narrow, you were now with relatives who pretty much saw you as a young adult. No set bedtime hours, no real time by which to reach home, no checking and ensuring that homework was completed or that your clothes was cleaned an ironed. You were now in that transition state where you were responsible for your own decisions and also the outcome.

The close families I stayed with in Griga were completely wonderful and supportive and not overbearing. In retrospect now, as an adult, I believe they were giving me the latitude to be an adult. I fell completely in love and fully embraced everything Grigalizean; our food, our people, our music, our culture and the environment. Not that I did not have the same things in PG – only now it was at a pre-adult age, which made it so much different. There are a lot of firsts that I experienced in Griga, and many great memories that I will carry throughout my lifetime. Some of my closest friends I have today, I met while I was attending school in Griga.

While attending Ecumenical College, I decided to take a course in Economics, under former Dangriga Mayor and Area Representative Sylvia Flores. She was a remarkable teacher because she was able to break down the complicated world of economics so much that a village boy from PG could understand. I excelled at it, but not only that, it gave me a new view of how I looked at the World, up to today. It made me think of everything in terms of numbers and the cause and effects of finance, finances and financing. From those early days, I could see that Griga had huge economic potential.

Then, citrus and bananas were the only games in town and to this day, long after both industries appear to have seen better days, they still remain that way. But with growing overhead costs, shrinking margins and growing international competition, it will take a virtual miracle for both industries to reach almost the peak of where they once were. The natural alternative becomes tourism, which was something that the economy of Dangriga was never prepared for and today it off the beaten path. Griga has that one thing also no other urban area has; a clean river that runs into a long magnificent beach. I remember as a teen every summer going to Bar Mouth every weekend and probably as much time during the week staying in the water well after dark. The Bar Mouth was standing room only and all you could see from a distance were the tiny dots of heads enjoying the beach, sand, sea and river.

With close access to offshore cayes, pristine jungles, beaches, river and sea, Griga had and still has the potential to be one of the premier tourist destinations in the nation, far surpassing its neighbours Hopkins and Placencia and the offshore islands of San Pedro and Caye Caulker which all offer one dimensional tourism which is the ocean. However, in an age when hardly anyone foresaw the decline of the agricultural economy that the town was based on, no one saw it as prudent to prepare the entire region of what would come next. The result; a dying economy that it propped up by remittances from abroad, a few small-scale businesses and some tourism activity offshore and in the interior but nothing to the potential to which it holds.

Arguably the best deep-water port in the country lies dormant and is most active during election times as a political football with the empty promises of restoring it to its former glory while the cruise ships pass by. Griga, which has branded itself as the cultural capital of Belize, remains just that, a brand with nothing more to back it up. It seems no politician who has served this community over the past 25 plus years has had the foresight to really diversify and invest in meaningful long-term economic success in Griga.

Placencia, which was mainly a fishing community during my days in Griga, has long surpassed it and give PG just a couple more years and its tourism would also have them looking at its dust. The people of Dangriga who were natural seafarers would have fit in quite comfortably to navigate tours, expeditions, dives and fishing trips for tourist and local visitors. Its long beaches could accommodate water sports, cultural events, hotels, restaurants and bed and breakfasts.

Today, most remain unemployed and wondering where the next catch and kill will come from. Dangriga, whose residents are one of the largest diaspora communities in the US and known to receive some of the largest remittances, would have easily had a strong investment background to tackle any medium to small scale project. Instead, foreigners have filled this gap with the few investment opportunities that have surfaced. Griga’s spot in the sun and only economic time remains the 19th of November and that too is facing direct competition from PG and Hopkins.

The economic decline of Dangriga is reversible and possible so that the people of that community can begin to get their fair share of the juicy fat tourism economic pie that most other communities are feeding from. Take advantage of the vast beach, the river and the port, since these are the three cornerstones to rebuild the economy. Residents have to be trained and the infrastructure has to be put in place to accommodate the influx of tourists and visitors. Griga needs to challenge its leaders, the government and themselves to make this happen, because it can.

It’s all about the people!!!!

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