This newspaper’s editorials are where we seek to educate the Belizean people. In most of the rest of the newspaper, our focus is on information and entertainment. In feature stories over the last year or so, our reporters, columnists, and contributors have discussed the unraveling of the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) where its moral authority is concerned. Amandala has covered, and quite adequately we think, the rosewood scandal, the Noh Mul incident, the Social Investment Fund (SIF) problems, the meltdown in the Ministry of Lands, the Penner criminality, the Castro adventures, and so on and so forth. In our editorials, however, we spend more time looking at the deeper issues, such as neoliberal capitalism, the role of Christianity, Belize’s trade union history in the modern era, the nature of our parliamentary democracy, and so on and so forth.
Let us proceed. In December of 1984 there occurred the first change of government in Belize’s nationalist era of electoral politics. For the first time in three decades, the People’s United Party (PUP) was voted out of office. At that point, there began a process, one taking place over a period of decades, whereby Belizeans began to see the similarities between the two major political parties. As time went on, these similarities became more and more noticeable, even as Belizeans proceeded to change governments four times in six general elections between 1989 and 2008.
The UDP returned to power in 2008 under a new Leader, Hon. Dean Barrow, who had replaced Dr. Manuel Esquivel ten years earlier. Under Mr. Barrow, the UDP presented itself as the honest Belizean’s solution to PUP corruption. In line with this, it is for sure that the Hon. Barrow became caught up in rhetorical hyperbole on various occasions.
Between 1998 and 2004, PUP administrations had indulged in neoliberal excesses and massive corruption. The PUP, however, had made an attempt to correct the excesses and control the corruption. The G-7 dissent of August 2004 in the PUP Cabinet brought pressure on Prime Minister Said Musa to change course, which he did, to a certain extent.
The damage to Mr. Musa’s reputation had been done, nevertheless, and the PUP lost municipal power in 2006 and national power in 2008. Although Mr. Musa resigned as PUP Leader following the party’s 2008 general election defeat, he remains perhaps the most influential personality in the PUP. The Hon. Francis Fonseca, who replaced Mark Espat in late 2011 after Mr. Espat had briefly sat in for the resigned Johnny Briceño (Mr. Briceño having taken over for Mr. Musa in March of 2008), has been growing in confidence as PUP Leader, but Mr. Musa is the power behind the throne. This is how it appears to us.
With reference, now, to Mr. Barrow’s situation, it may be that “crisis” is too strong a word. Perhaps we should describe the Prime Minister’s situation as one of extreme discomfort. “Mr. Clean” himself was forced to stand in the House of Representatives last Wednesday and declare that the use of Belize Airports Authority public funds for private purposes is not corruption. Mr. Barrow had to do this because his government is hanging by a thread. The evidence indicates that the Cayo Northeast area representative is a criminal, and now his Belize Rural North area rep has been caught playing games with public funds, in addition to his involvement in other funny games.
About a half century ago, Prime Minister George Price disciplined one of his Cabinet Ministers, the Hon. Louis Sylvestre, who was his Belize Rural South area representative. Mr. Sylvestre’s infraction was not egregious by present day standards, and the discipline was token. It is generally agreed, nevertheless, that in the early and middle 1960s Mr. Price was running a very tight ship. He could afford to do so, because he’d won 18 out of 18 seats in 1961 and 16 out of 18 in 1965. As time went on, however, Cabinet discipline gave way to political expediency where Mr. Price was concerned.
Mr. Barrow had been making a lot of noise about running a tight ship after he first came to power in 2008. But he only had a 17-14 seat margin. This is now a government which really should go back to the electorate in quest of another mandate, we think. The Prime Minister will do all he can to prevent the collapse of his administration, however, and that appears to include making a public fool of himself.
We mean no disrespect to the Prime Minister. This is the most powerful Belizean, in constitutional terms, and he is also one of our wealthiest Belizeans. But, it is what it is. On Wednesday in the House, the Emperor was wearing no clothes, and even a blind man could see that.
Mr. Barrow’s crisis is, needless to say, Belize’s crisis. The present administration remains in constitutional power, but it has lost its moral authority. In Belizean politics, a lack of moral authority is not the end of the world. Belize was a haven for pirates which became a den of gangsters. But, society Belizeans still try to keep up appearances, so to speak. It is in seeking to keep up appearances when there is no moral authority that crisis is born. Barrow’s crisis is Belize’s crisis.