Belize: Consumerism in Central America

When Mercy Sr. Mary Pendergast recently traveled to Belize to present an environmental awareness symposium, she hoped the people there hadn’t yet succumbed to “the treacherous path of mindless U.S. consumerism.”

Unfortunately, they have,she discovered. “'Things' are expected to fill the hunger in the human heart, and it doesn’t work any better in Central America than it does here,” said Sr. Mary, in a June 23 article published on the “Awakening the Dreamer” website.

The nun and two of her Mercy colleagues -- Srs. Nancy Audette and Kathleen Erickson, all from the U.S. Northeast region of their community – spent several days presenting “Dreamer” symposiums to nearly 100 participants – including students of St. Catherine Academy, to Mercy nuns and associates. students and faculty from Muffles College, the Ministry of Education, to local leaders, and to members of the UN Development Program.

During their visit, the sisters learned of Belize’s widespread poverty, escalating violence and lack of respect for one another, the animals and the environment. “The need for spiritual meaning and meaning was expressed as a deep hunger,” writes Sr. Mary. Many families live as squatters in a crocodile-infested swamp, she reports. Children are being raised by their grandparents, while parents work in the U.S. These parents then send back to their children great gifts of clothes, toys and electronic devices.”

The prevalent mindset in Belize is molded around “the same advertisements promising the good life if only you buy (fill in the blanks) and they are filling the airwaves.” People have succumbed to the U.S. myth that self worth is measured by how much we earn and what we can buy, and that individualism and predatory competition are acceptable. As a result, many people are left behind with no hope of catching up, said Sr. Mary.

In every group, people reported the same situation: a growing number of gangs, pollution, massive dumping of garbage, and no real recycling.

Now that oil has been discovered in Belize, the hope of job creation is pitted against concern for the environment, said the nun. A referendum is scheduled but already people have mixed feelings on how they will vote.

The little country, which is the geographical neighbor to both Mexico and Guatemala, is also feeling the effects of global warming – “the dry season dryer, the wet season wetter, and stormier, and the temperature noticeably hotter,” said Sr. Mary Pendergast.