“There was a time when Kremandala was the only game in town, controlling the airwaves with their radio and controlling the print medium with their newspaper. And as an opportunistic and parasitic an organization as it is, it always swayed with the ones who better buttered their paws. They thought they could control the masses with their propaganda and they thought that politicians would always bow to their whims and fancies. Their heads began to swell and swell and swell thinking that they could dictate how elections went.”
– UDP GUARDIAN editorial, page 2, Sunday, December 24, 2017
It is axiomatic that you do not mix business with politics. Business suffers when such mixes occur. The problem for Kremandala, historically speaking, is that the flagship of the Partridge Street businesses – the Amandala newspaper, got off the ground, where modernizing its printing technology was concerned, as the result of a business/political alliance with a faction of the ruling People’s United Party (PUP) in 1977.
Over the first eight years of its existence, beginning in 1969, Amandala had become popular amongst roots people. But the newspaper had been severely undercapitalized from the very beginning. There was never any such orthodox thing as a business plan at Amandala: it was always from day to day and from hand to mouth. This is how it is when you are not “godfathered” by Coca-Cola. As we have said to you in these pages before, the 4 percent of voter loyalty which the newspaper had generated, had made the newspaper of interest to the ruling PUP politicians, hence the aforementioned 1977 alliance.
The fact of the matter is that the newspaper business is about news, reliable news and credible news. It is in the interest of ruling politicians, from time to time, to “spin” the news, as the saying goes. If a newspaper (or media house) refuses to “spin” along with the ruling party, then the newspaper (or media house) becomes an object of ruling party hostility. When it comes to an Opposition party in campaign mode, which is propaganda mode, a newspaper (or media house) can also create problems by insisting on the truth of things. Our point is that it is in the very nature of the news business that it becomes mixed up in politics from time to time, because of the nature of electoral politics. The bottom line is what a voter thinks or believes when he or she goes to the polls to make a choice. Newspapers and media houses contribute to the thoughts and beliefs of the people.
Last week the Prime Minister of Belize, the Rt. Hon. Dean O. Barrow, made a statement in a press conference to the effect that all the media of Belize were against the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP). An extraordinary statement, beloved. To begin with, Channel 7 is owned by Nestor “Net” Vasquez, Sr., an ally, confidant, and loyalist of Mr. Barrow’s from time immemorial. (Net Vasquez, Sr., was an accountant in the employ of Santiago Castillo, Ltd. when he became one of the five founders of the Liberal Party in 1972. Another founder of the Liberal Party was Harry Lawrence, the owner and publisher of The Reporter. The Liberal Party joined with the People’s Development Movement (PDM) and the National Independence Party (NIP) to form the UDP in September of 1973.) In the second place, LOVE FM and LOVE Television are owned by a former public officer who rose to multimillionaire business status precisely because he has established a longstanding reputation for never bucking ruling parties. And thirdly, Mr. Barrow owns his own personal, lavishly financed media system – WAVE Radio, WAVE TV, and the Guardian newspaper. The UDP’s media system is lavishly financed, in the first instance, because Mr. Barrow, the Minister of Finance, has made it a matter of government policy to direct huge amounts of taxpayer moneys to the bank accounts of his newspaper, radio, and television.
The rub was, and is, that the UDP media system has no credibility: they are what they are – propaganda organs, pure and simple. The Prime Minister was absolutely wasting our tax moneys. After a while, the UDP Leader’s “Barrow-gance” and megalomania became so considerable that he actually wanted Partridge Street to toe the BelChina line, to repeat the tripe being printed and broadcast by his minions and mooches.
When Kremandala subservience was not forthcoming in the wake of the Citizen Kim/Elvin Penner passport scandal in late 2013, and thereafter, it appears that the UDP Leader/Prime Minister decided to use his monarchical treasury powers to discipline Partridge Street. Mr. Barrow, in effect, politicized Partridge. He did so because he thought the UDP’s Southside stronghold was impregnable. He found out differently on March 7, 2018, because the people of the Southside are not the idiots Dean Barrow takes them for.
Essentially, Mr. Barrow took time out from his anti-Kremandala campaign in 2015 because of national municipal elections in March and general elections in November of that year, but he let loose the dogs of war after Belize’s voters gave him a third consecutive term of office in November of 2015. By the last two months of 2016, Partridge Street was on its knees, but still intransigent.
At that point, all we tried to do was be careful enough in the 2016 holiday season so that we could survive the “mauga season” months of early 2016, which we did. For the rest of 2016, it continued to be champagne and wine on the UDP’s Youth For The Future Drive, while we were drinking fever grass tea on Partridge. So it was that the UDP repeated a mistake they had made in 1989: in their petty, quarrelsome personas, they refused to promote their messages and candidates on Kremandala. The result of “Barrow-gance” was that the UDP was seriously hurt on the western rim of Southside Belize City, where Partridge Street is most influential, because of a 49-year history of roots resistance.
We are not gloating. In a sense, March 7 was only an academic exercise for the Prime Minister. Mr. Barrow is still king of all he surveys. He and his family members and Cabinet Ministers and cronies are flush with cash. The UDP bacchanalia will continue. The post-March 7 problem for the ruling party derives from the fact that Kremandala survived an all-out blitz, and that survival will have implications from here to 2020.
Deputy UDP Leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Hon. Patrick Faber, came out of March 7 with a damaged political reputation, whereas the man he defeated for the second highest UDP post and presumably the Prime Ministership when Mr. Barrow retires before the 2020 general elections, Belmopan’s Hon. John Saldivar, solidified his reputation as a regional juggernaut. Kremandala cannot claim credit for Mr. Faber’s stumble: the man who did the damage for the PUP was former PUP Belize City Mayor, Marshall Nunez, with the assistance of another former PUP Belize City Mayor (and Cabinet Minister), Joe Coye. But the fact that the UDP refused to let sleeping dogs lie in Cordel Hyde’s Lake Independence, and thus suckered Faber into spending valuable campaign days interfering in Lake I, surely contributed to the Deputy Leader’s stumble in his Collet base.
Mr. Barrow also said last week that he likes a good fight. The thing is that when he picks fights with Kremandala, other people become collateral damage. In 2015, Barrow ended Mark King’s political career by siccing him into suicidal excesses against Cordel/Kremandala, and while Barrow himself will escape the March 7 fallout on the Southside by retiring, Patrick Faber will have a weakened hand to play in 2020.
The situation internal to the PUP, for its part, is interesting, to put it mildly. The PUP was badly beaten in the three Cayo municipalities last Wednesday. They lost both southern municipalities, of which they should have won at least one. The hype over their Belize City success is more psychological than substantial, because Minister of Finance Barrow has already indicated that he will punish the new PUP City Council financially. So that, the Bernard Wagner-led Council will have to work like the dickens to stay afloat.
There was pre-election concern in the Opposition that the three Northside constituencies controlled by the Musa faction might not have been totally motivated. But Fort George, Caribbean Shores, and Freetown came through handsomely for PUP Leader John Briceño. The UDP attempted to exploit that pre-election concern with some “dirty” texts, but it was too little, too late.
The early upshot of March 7 is that the UDP suddenly looks vulnerable in their Southside Belize City stronghold. If the PUP is on top of its game, re-registration in July will throw seats up for grabs where the UDP had appeared embedded. Take Belize Rural Central, for instance. And what happened in San Pedro Ambergris Caye made no sense. Junior Heredia had seemed as strong there as Erwin in Benque and Saldivar in Belmopan. That was not the case on La Isla Bonita last Wednesday.
In conclusion, let it be known that the Belizean people once again answered a challenge. Respect is due. Money was not the UDP’s problem on March 7. They had an excess of it. If the Belize City voters, and others like them in the rest of The Jewel, were for sale, last Wednesday would have been a UDP fiesta. The fact that it was not, says that the Belizean people stood strong on principle when we were under pressure.
Power to the people.