Those of us who live in the hurricane belt of the Caribbean and Central America know that the most powerful of hurricanes can begin with what meteorologists call, “an area of disturbed weather.” We mean no disrespect when we say that this is what we thought of when we saw Wednesday evening television news footage covering a Belize City press conference organized by a new Belize Coalition for Justice (BCJ). BCJ, which describes itself as a coming together of many different Belizean organizations, represents an area of disturbed weather. The Dean Barrow administration would do well to pay heed.
There were several speakers from the BCJ head table at the press conference, but BCJ has not yet chosen a specific leadership. On principle, this newspaper supports such attempts by concerned Belizean citizens to inform and mobilize the Belizean people. At least three of the head table speakers had been prominent in the demonstration/rally held in San Ignacio Town last week Thursday, which, among other things, called for the removal of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) – Cheryl-Lynn Branker Vidal, on the grounds of incompetence in the prosecution of crime. On Wednesday, BCJ speakers were focused on the personality of Belize’s Foreign Minister, Hon. Wilfred Elrington, whom they wanted Prime Minister Dean Barrow to replace, because BCJ was of the opinion that Elrington’s position on the Guatemalan claim and Guatemalan incursions into Belize had been consistently soft and appeasing.
It so happens that Mr. Elrington is also the Attorney General, which is to say, that he is the Cabinet Minister in charge of the DPP’s office, and he had been in the eye of the Cayo storm last week when the Prime Minister sent him to San Ignacio to soothe the inflamed citizens of Cayo. At a town meeting last Wednesday night in San Ignacio, the majority of the Cayo citizens ended up walking out on Mr. Elrington. This was a very serious rebuff, and it may have been unprecedented in Belizean political annals.
Some biographical data on Sedi Elrington is relevant here. He is a multimillionaire attorney who has had a unique history in Belizean public life and politics. Even though the large Elrington family has been single-mindedly opposed to the People’s United Party (PUP) from the 1950s, Sedi Elrington was always a man who wanted to make money, and he was a man who proved that he knew how to make money. Thus, once he and Mr. B. Q. Pitts had established their law partnership here in the mid-1970s, even though Sedi Elrington was firmly UDP and, for example, played a significant role in the defeat of PUP Deputy Premier C. L. B. Rogers in the Mesopotamia area in 1979, the Pitts-Elrington firm was accepting briefs which were professional instead of partisan, so to speak. You will understand what we mean by “professional instead of partisan” when we tell you that the most controversial of such briefs was when the Pitts-Elrington firm chose to defend William “Silky” Stewart, a PUP “soldier” who had shot four UDP hecklers at a PUP Courthouse Wharf public meeting in the summer of 1975. Stewart jumped bail in 1975 and fled to the United States, but he returned to Belize after independence in 1981 on the reported assurance that he would be cleared. This is when the aforementioned law firm took up his defence, and thus, it was as Mr. Stewart had been assured it would be.
In the early 1980s, Sedi Elrington became involved at the executive level with the Society for the Promotion of Education and Research (SPEAR), which meant that he became a colleague of the socialist PUP Cabinet Minister (1979-1984), Assad Shoman, who was one of the founders of SPEAR in 1969. This was a strange liaison for an attorney so focused on money-making, and the philosophical inconsistency was noted in the following decade by a former Prime Minister who famously said, “Sedi doesn’t know if he wants to be Bill Gates or Hugo Chavez.”
Elrington made a lot of legal money during the passport and real estate era of the UDP’s first term (1984-1989), and again during the UDP’s second tern (1993-1998), when he actually sat in Cabinet for a time by way of the Senate. (Incidentally, Sedi Elrington has claimed credit for forging the alliance between the UDP and Philip Goldson’s National Alliance for Belizean Rights (NABR), a sudden alliance which shocked the incumbent PUP in the June 30, 1993 general elections.)
Sedi ran as the UDP Pickstock candidate in the 1993 and 1998 general elections, and was defeated on both occasions by the PUP incumbent, the late Rt. Hon. George Price. Sedi being Sedi, it was not surprising that he then chose to run in the 2003 Pickstock race as an independent, and though he was defeated by the PUP’s Godfrey Smith, he polled more votes than the UDP candidate. By 2008, Sedi had returned to UDP orthodoxy, and he won the Pickstock seat for the first time, defeating the PUP’s Godfrey Smith. He retained the seat in 2012, turning back the challenge of Godfrey’s older brother, Dr. Francis Smith.
In his political heyday, Sedi Elrington’s older brother, Hubert, who won the Lake Independence seat for the UDP twice, in 1984 and in 1993, was sometimes referred to as an “unguided missile.” It now appears that Sedi is becoming something of a loose cannon. He is on a different wavelength from the Belizean people. Sedi travels on a different track from the rest of us. If you go way back into his history, you will see that this was always the case – Sedi marched to Sedi’s own drummer. And, incredibly for a politician, Sedi doesn’t care what the rest of us think.
Now, he has become the Prime Minister’s problem. Sedi is responsible for the UDP’s latest area of disturbed weather. The irony of the present situation is that the greatest beef which the 1960s generation of young Belizeans, which included Sedi, had with PUP Leader George Price was that he was soft and appeasing where the Guatemalan claim to Belize was concerned. Today, it is Sedi Elrington who is wearing that cap. Amazing.
One assumes, party politics being what it is here, that the Opposition PUP is somewhere spraying gasoline on the DPP and Guatemalan matters. For weeks going on months, the PUP leadership had been rejecting their narrow general election defeat in March of this year. Remember all the election petitions they lodged? As time went along, however, those petitions seemed to disappear, almost as if into thin air, the PUP area representatives were duly sworn in, and they began to cash their vouchers. In other words, they accepted their “Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition” status.
This area of disturbed weather will likely energize the PUP. It does not appear, however, that the Queen Street PUP is in control of the BCJ. The UDP government has been getting away with a number of things which look like corruption and incompetence. One of the reasons for this is that the PUP has little traction in the media capital. The BCJ, though, is a group which can win support in Belize City. Guatemala has always been an emotional issue here. BCJ, then, may become a tail which wags dogs. We shall see.