“Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes.” (Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.)
– THE AENEID (II, 49), Virgil
The Sky tells me that when he finally cleans up all the loose scratch around his home town and decides he needs more room, his old man has a little private talk with him – says to him like this:
“Son,” the old man says, “you are now going out into the wide, wide world to make your own way, and it is a very good thing to do, as there are no more opportunities for you in this burg. I am only sorry,” he says, “that I am not able to bankroll you to a very large start, but,” he says, “not having any potatoes to give you, I am now going to stake you to some very valuable advice, which I personally collect in my years of experience around and about, and I hope and trust you will always bear this advice in mind.
“Son,” the old guy says, “no matter how far you travel, or how smart you get, always remember this: Someday, somewhere,” he says, “a guy is going to come to you and show you a nice brand-new deck of cards on which the seal is never broken, and this guy is going to offer to bet you that the jack of spades will jump out of this deck and squirt cider in your ear. But, son,” the old guy says, “do not bet him, for as sure as you do you are going to get an ear full of cider.”
– THE IDYLL OF MISS SARAH BROWN, by Damon Runyon, Picador Books, 1975 (first published by Constable and Company, 1954)
The Belize Prime Minister who saw through Lord Michael Ashcroft, so to speak, or did not play his game, in other words, was Dr. Manuel Esquivel, and he was not an attorney. After Dr. Esquivel, our next two Prime Ministers, Rt. Hon. Said Musa and Rt.. Hon. Dean Barrow, have both been eminent attorneys. The record of all the contracts, agreements, settlements, and litigations involving the Government of Belize, on the one hand, and various Ashcroft companies and groups of companies, on the other hand, shows that the people of Belize have been the losers during the Musa and Barrow governments. Lord Ashcroft continues to win hundreds and hundreds of millions of US dollar awards in various courts, and yet he remains in good standing in Belize: he has never been declared a persona non grata.
Attorneys never really lose cases, you know. It is their clients who lose. The attorneys always collect their fees. Over these Musa and Barrow years, the people of Belize have always been the losers in disputes with Lord Ashcroft. Overall, Belize owes billions of dollars because of loans and litigations during the Musa and Barrow administrations. Lord Ashcroft has ended up with a lot of that money, Belize has become the poorer of it, and yet there is no outcry against the good Lord in Belize. What we have, instead, is the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) and the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) hurling charges at each other. Someone must be blamed for Belize’s serious financial crisis, because the people of Belize are angry. The UDP and the PUP are blaming each other: their politically-affiliated attorneys, meanwhile, have laughed all the way to the bank, as it is said. It’s nice work if you can get it.
How did we get to where we are today in Belize? In the present instance this week involving more than $100 million in awards, the bulk of it for Lord Ashcroft, there had been rulings in favor of Lord Ashcroft made by an arbitration tribunal in London. The matter then came before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, where the CCJ rejected the London awards as “repugnant to the established legal order of Belize,” “unconstitutional, void and completely contrary to public policy,” and against “the foundations upon which the rule of law and democracy are constructed throughout the Caribbean.” The matter, however, moved on to the U. S. Supreme Court in Washington, where the London awards were upheld, and, ominously, “the decision means that the claimant which had filed suit in the US against the Government of Belize is able to enforce the award in the US against any property of the Government of Belize that is available for enforcement.”
Now, when laymen like us consider these legal proceedings, what jumps out at us, apart from the size of Belize’s losses, is the fact that London and Washington ruled against Belize: only the Caribbean saw it our way. Jump high, jump low, London and Washington are bigger fishes in the sea than Trinidad. To repeat, we “be talking” layman’s talk here. Prime Minister Barrow’s bluster and bombast on Wednesday do not impress us: Belize is in even more hot water today.
The ruling UDP has been developing a siege mentality, as reverses follow reverses. But their attorney families keep getting richer and richer. Down here on the ground, we humble laymen now have to speculate if all these “conjointly meeting” defeats have any implications for our Chiquibul and our Sarstoon. We will be told, we are sure, that there is nothing to be worried about, but non-partisan citizens of Belize have reached the point where we think, on the contrary, that there is everything to be worried about.
Theoretically and ideally, the law, blind lady and all that, is supposed to have nothing to do with power. If you so much as suggested otherwise during colonial days, then you would be charged with contempt of court or sedition. But too many things have happened in independent Belize over the years which have disillusioned Belizeans where the question of legal purity is concerned.
In the Elvin Penner case, most notably, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court specifically ordered the Commissioner of Police to do certain things, and the evidence, to the best of our knowledge, is that the Commissioner of Police ignored the Chief Justice. The conclusion of the layman Belizean was that because Elvin Penner was an area representative in the Government of Belize, the law treated him differently from the way the law would have treated a beggar in the streets.
There is a much quoted saying which advises, try and try again, boy, you’ll succeed at last. We do not believe in this saying. There are some games which are rigged. You may not be able to figure out how the game is rigged, but if you find that you cannot win, then you must allow for the possibility of rigging. You cannot keep playing a game which you keep losing.
What are we saying? We are saying that Belize has to find a way to stop playing Lord Ashcroft’s games, because he always ends up winning. It may well be, for instance, that his British and American attorneys are superior to Belize’s attorneys. Who knows? All we know is that the results are always skewed against us.
It is similar to when we first brought in the big time Americans to ride in the Crosscountry. The results suggested that the game was rigged. At first, we Belizeans did now know how the game was rigged, but later we found out that there was a thing called “doping.” Life is real: you must understand this. All’s fair in love and war.
If Belizeans can’t see by now that we are in a war, then we will continue with our PUDP naiveté. It doesn’t matter which Belizean politician (or political party), ultimately, is to blame, whether it is Musa or whether it is Barrow, whether it is PUP or it is UDP. Right now, Thursday, January 12, 2017, you are still grinning with Lord Ashcroft, and he’s taken us to the cleaners. Our Belizean backs are against the wall. Get real, Belize.
Power to the people.