Under pressure in Belmopan on Tuesday morning when his numbers did not materialize, Nigel Petillo, the leader of the Belize Youth Grassroots Empowerment Association (BYGEA), displayed a fierce determination on national television. For this, he must be given big respect.
The fact that the BYGEA demonstration in the national capital did not have major support is a setback to BYGEA. But, more important I think, it is a defeat for the masses of the Belizean people. Everyone knows that the target of the demonstration – the Lands Department of the Natural Resources Ministry, has caused more frustration, heartbreak, and pain for the Belizean masses than any other government department. But, the Belizean people did not show up in numbers on Tuesday.
In their post-mortem discussions, the BYGEA leadership will have to figure out why that was so. In this column, I only wish to look at the situation in overview, and from a distance.
BYGEA chose to make their stand in Belmopan, which is about 7 or 8 miles east from Harmonyville, the land development which BYGEA essentially controls. From Harmonyville to Belmopan, you are operating in the electoral constituencies of Belmopan and Cayo South, which are controlled by the UDP’s John Saldivar and the PUP’s Julius Espat, respectively.
In targeting the Lands Department, you are confronting Natural Resources Minister/Deputy Prime Minister, Gapi Vega, whom Saldivar just openly supported in a national convention ten days ago. You therefore expect that Saldivar will be very much opposed to your demonstration efforts, and that he will do all in his power to ensure that you fail.
All things being equal, BYGEA would have expected that the Cayo South area representative, one of the Opposition PUP’s 5 Deputy leaders, would have supported the demonstration in order to embarrass Vega and the UDP administration, but all things were not equal. There was a story here which other people will have to tell. The upshot of that story is that BYGEA ended up receiving minimal support from the two areas which were most important where its Belmopan battleground was concerned.
Again, there were people of profile who should have been marching in Belmopan on Tuesday who chose not to march, for reasons of their own. All these details will emerge as time goes along.
The main point to make in this column is that the PUDP system won a victory on Tuesday, and the masses of the Belizean people lost. The PUDP system, where the Lands Department in Belmopan is concerned, operates the exact same way whether the blue or the red are in office. BYGEA came from the masses of the people, and BYGEA was fighting, in essence, against both the major parties which control the political system in Belize.
I think the two major parties are concerned about the energies which surround BYGEA, Wil Maheia and the PNP, Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA), and the Belize Coalition for Justice (BCJ). Those millions of dollars in campaign funding which both the UDP and the PUP always have at their disposal from oligarchical sources, are available for the PUDP because of the understanding between them, an understanding which amounts to a kind of political monopoly. Nowhere is that understanding between the PUP and the UDP more exposed than in the Lands Department.
From time to time, I criticize Assad Shoman in these pages, but on the issue of land in Belize, Shoman was dead on from the very beginning back then in 1969. Where land policy is concerned, I need to give Assad maximum respect. It was never his style to communicate directly with the people where his personnel crises were concerned, and so his decision to withdraw from electoral politics after 1984 has never received the kind of close, critical analysis which that withdrawal required. Assad Shoman was a controversial personality, but he had a place in Belize’s politics. I believe that.
Shoman lost in Cayo North in 1984 because Hector Silva, the PUP standard bearer he had replaced in Cayo North for the 1974 general elections, came out of retirement to run independent in 1984 and split the PUP’s Cayo North vote. The great Don Hector, then, has his own story to tell.
Anyway, on Tuesday’s positive side, BYGEA brought out Belizeans from all over the country. Good job. We should know that BYGEA put in a huge amount of work to organize this effort. They should not give up. You know, when Castro left Mexico to begin the revolution in Cuba, he had 80 plus people with him in a boat called the Granma. As soon as they landed in Cuba, they were ambushed. Only 12 or 13 survived. With those 12, 13 as a core, Fidel took Cuba in two years time. “You gotta have heart. All you really need is heart.”
Power to the people.