The Belizean Saviour
December 31, 2017
My preference in reading has always been autobiographies and biographies for the mere fact that it gives real accounts of people, their lives and events. On the top of my list is ‘It Doesn’t Take a Hero’ which is the autobiography of General Norma H. Schwarzkopf, who was the general who delivered the Coalition victory in the first Gulf War following the invasion of Kuwait. The book inspires, because it shows that ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things. It does not take the richest, the smartest or the most influential people to make changes, sometimes it takes an ordinary man. Schwarzkopf’s book, first published in 1992 right after the war, remains a key factor in part of my motivational tool kit when things are not going as planned. While I will never compare myself with the likes of General Schwarzkopf in terms of achievements and world influence, two things are certain. One, sometimes it’s the little things that create bigger changes and it does not always have to be one big great thing and two, ordinary people can do great things. The general is by no means my hero because I do not have mortal hero like myself and besides I think the word hero is just another fad and a recent catch phrase. As Belizeans we must develop this undying belief that we are capable of doing anything and that we are as good as any other citizen of this world.
The economic prosperity of most modern nations can be tied to one particular commodity, resource or product somewhere in its developmental history. The Gulf States of the Middle East can be tied in with oil, the United States by its vast manufacturing, technology and natural resources. African nations by its vast untapped natural resources, China for its tremendous mass manufacturing capacity, South America for meat production, while the main nations of Asia like Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and India can be seen for their rapid advancements in technological manufacturing. The nations of the Caribbean are viewed more for their natural touristic ecosystems and beaches. Like the things in their history which propelled them into the modern 21st century, the same can be said about the families behind these advancements. The American had their Titans of Industry in the form of John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, JP Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt and Henry Ford during the late industrial period. The Saudis had the House of Saud, whose family formed modern Saudi Arabia and from whom the country derived its name, while the Japanese had the likes of Yataro Iwasaki who was one of the founders of Mitsubishi and Sakichi Toyado the father of Toyota Industries. The Italians on the other hand can attribute much of modern Italy’s economic success to one company and one family. FIAT and the Agnelli family.
FIAT which stands for Fabbrica Italiana di Automobili Torino, which loosely means Italian Automobile Factory of Turin, was and still is Italy’s largest manufacturer of vehicles, located in the city of Turin in northern Italy. At one time during World War I and II, the company also manufactured tanks, planes and armored vehicles. While Italy was a close ally with the German and Austria-Hungarian forces during World War I, it did not fight on their side and actually changed alliance to the Allied Powers between 1915-1918. During World War II however, under the leadership of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini also known in Italian as El Duce or the leader, they chose the wrong side and fought on the losing Axis side. Italy would again kind of switch side after its invasion by the Allies in 1943 but remained divided for most of the war. After the Allied victory in Europe and Asia, those families whose industry was associated with the war effort were either banned, nationalized or faced heavy governmental restrictions and most of the families who founded them were banned from participating in the operations of the company or in some case all together. This period represented the dark period for the owners/founders of such companies as Japan’s Kawasaki and Mitsubishi which made a myriad of vehicles, planes, heavy equipment, tanks and armored vehicles. Germany’s Volkswagen, Bayer, Siemens and Hugo Boss, yes, the same Hugo Boss clothing and products that you absolutely adore and cannot live without, once made uniforms for the racist Nazi army and the much-feared SS. In Italy it was no different and those who were seen as collaborators were either punished, killed, imprisoned or ostracized as in the case of one of the main founding fathers of FIAT, Giovanni Agnelli, Sr. His grandson Giovanni Agnelli also know as L’Avvocato or the lawyer, would become the modern father of Italy’s economic success and probably one of the most influential industrialists of not only Italy but also Europe.
Giovanni Agnelli the grandson of Giovanni Agnelli, Sr. became the heir of the FIAT dynasty when his father died in a plane accident in 1935. The younger Giovanni would lead FIAT from 1966 to 1996 and throughout some of its most tumultuous financial years. He would remain influential in the company until his death in 2003. Agnelli saw Italy and FIAT as one and saw that the survival of both was dependent on each other. Today the company employs as much as 250,000 people and makes up about 8.5% of the Italian GDP. Italian GDP in 2016 was an estimated staggering $2.23 trillion. Do the math and you will realize FIAT’s influence in the Italian economy. During the financial downfall caused in part by the fuel crisis of the 1970’s, like the rest of Western Europe, Italy saw a huge decrease in its economy and naturally in car sales which was FIAT’s core business. The Italian experiment with socialism was in full swing and the communists were even able to harness as much as 30% of the electorate between 1968 and 1970’s elections. The communists were seen to be made up of a patchwork of Far Left, who were bent on transforming the nation totally into a Communist State model after the USSR with zero capitalism, the middle who were those who were willing to live with some form of capitalism and the moderates. A large part of the Italian population believe that the socialists were either a faction or at the least partially controlled by Moscow. The socialists were not only Italy’s democratic government, but also NATO’s great fear in Europe and by extension the Americans. Italy during this period was in open revolt. A fermenting economic crisis, coupled with a difference of political ideology between the democrats and the socialists had placed the nation at a tipping point. The kidnapping and assassination of Prime Minister Aldo Moro in May of 1978 offered the backdrop of what was to happen next. Bleeding financially and at the verge of bankruptcy, Agnelli made the decision to get a loan from Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi after being turned down by his own Italian bank. The loan was for an estimated $415 million and it spelt the rebirth of FIAT. This was not seen positively either by the West, Europe or the Americans but Agnelli took the risk nevertheless. In the end the loan became one of the most important factors that saved modern FIAT. The company was able to pay off the loan in 1980’s following pressure from the West who were initially fearful of the relationship between FIAT and Gaddafi and also with socialism and political violence in Italy in the 1980’s. Agnelli’s decision to do business with Gaddafi and his willingness to negotiate with the socialists is what saved FIAT and by extension the Italian economy.
During this dark age in Italy, the nation saw the assassination of their Prime Minister Aldo Moro and the rise of internal terrorist groups such as The Red Brigade. Through strikes, counter-strikes and civil unrest, FIAT, the nation’s largest employer at the time weathered the storm because they realized how key the company was tied to the nation. Today FIAT remains a successful global car manufacturer because the Agnelli’s love of country remained steadfast. In its young history Belize too can boost about its own titans of industry. There have been many influencial families both in business and politics who have helped to shape this nation. I can think of the Sharps, Bowmans in the citrus and agricultural sector, the Turtons in mahogany and chicle, the Price, Barrow, Courtenay dynasties and many other influential families. The big question now is who will be that modern businessman that is willing to put country ahead of money. Who will be that influencing person who will stand up and be the leader to address the plight of the nation. In the face of adversity take a path that may not be the most popular politically, socially or internationally as Agnelli did with Gaddafi. Which Belizean, who has everything to lose and fortunes to be lost will be that man. Agnelli was able to see that Italian prosperity was interlinked with the masses and that a nation’s economy did not exist in a vacuum. The people who control business in Belize so too must realize that with all the wealth in the World, no nation will survive without social justice, equal opportunity, removal of class and racial barriers and without peace and security.
It’s all about the people!!!!
Neri O. Briceño