BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Oct. 1, 2015–With 34 more days to go before Belizeans go to the polls to elect a new national government in general elections, three organizations have amalgamated to form a new political party, providing an alternative to the entrenched two-party system of the United Democratic Party (UDP) and People’s United Party (PUP).
The People’s National Party (PNP), Vision Inspired by the People (VIP), and We the People Movement (WPM) have come together to form the Belize Progressive Party (BPP).
At its first press conference this morning at its unveiling, the BPP described itself as Belize’s first labor party, which has chosen Patrick Rogers, formerly of the VIP, as its leader, and Wil Maheia, formerly of the PNP, as its deputy leader.
The BPP, which also described itself as a political movement “that is here to stay,” so far has eleven candidates ready to contest the November 4 general elections. Rogers, however, told Amandala that his party is reaching out to fill more of the 31 seats necessary to cover all constituencies in the country. The goal is 31, Rogers insisted.
In unveiling the party, chairperson of the BPP executive, Paco Smith, formerly of the VIP, described the BPP as “a new political consciousness.”
Smith said that the two-party system in Belize is corrupt and it offers no viable alternative to move Belize forward in a progressive and sustainable fashion.
“The BPP does not comprise of politicians. We are agents of change,” Smith said.
“Your Belize Progressive Party is not here to replace the UDP or the PUP; our purpose is to change the game. In effect, no game shall be played, for this party represents a new Belize political consciousness in which governance is inclusive, and not selective, as is currently practiced by the powers that be,” Smith said.
“I submit that our slogan, 8867 today, 8867 tomorrow and 8867 forever, is not only demonstrative of our commitment in preserving our sovereignty and territorial integrity; it is also our rallying call to all Belizeans and true friends of Belize, irrespective of our whereabouts, to take the proverbial leap of faith and join us in this noteworthy, meaningful effort to save the nation of Belize now, before we lose it,” Smith said in his closing.
Following Smith’s presentation, the 11 candidates declared their candidacy “to serve without fear or favor”, and also stated that they are “willing declare their assets and liabilities in accordance with the Prevention of Corruption Act.”
The candidates are BPP Leader Patrick Rogers, for Collet; Deputy Party Leader Wil Maheia, for Toledo East; Robert “Bobby” Lopez, Jr., for Belize Rural South (Lopez is also the BPP National Campaign Manager); Hipolito Bautista for Orange Walk South; Lucilo Teck for Corozal South; Edna Doris Diaz for Corozal South East; Ray Rodriguez for Corozal Bay; Andrew Williams for Cayo South; Hector Adam Palomo for Corozal North; Ion Cacho for Pickstock; and Charles Leslie, Jr., for Belmopan. Leslie is also the BPP Public Relations Director.
The name, Belize Progressive Party, was submitted by Albert Moore, among other submissions. Moore was present as a guest of honor for the unveiling of the party.
Edna Diaz, who is a farmer, addressed the gathering, saying that, “We need to take care of our farmers. We need to take care of our children. I like to fight for a worthy cause. As a woman, I will fight for my area so that we can see true progress.”
Diaz said that it is time for women to step up. BPP has its door opened for more women who want to be candidates, she said. Diaz also declared that corruption is a cancer that must be stopped.
Charles Leslie, who was the master of ceremonies, said the BPP will issue a moratorium on foreclosures. “We have to stop the banking system from kicking people out of their homes,” Leslie said.
Leslie said the BPP will also pass a usury law to control the interest rates.
Robert “Bobby” Lopez said that he was humbled that he was asked to be the party’s national campaign manager for the next 34 days. “It’s 34 days to the new dawn, to the change,” he said.
“We have always published out campaign financing,” Lopez said. “We have always challenged both parties to do the same. And today, after 34 years, we have not seen a budget [for the elections] for any one of them. We have not seen a financial report for anyone of them. We don’t know where the money comes from.”
Lopez made reference to a question about campaign financing that Amandala’s Adele Ramos asked Prime Minister Barrow on February 26, 2008 at one of his press conferences. “Mr. Prime Minister, what are we going to do about campaign finance legislation?” she asked.
According to Lopez, the Prime Minister’s answer was, ‘how can we stop the big boys from giving money under the table?’
Lopez went on to say, “I want to ask the Honorable Prime Minister, who is it [that he spoke about] on the other side of the table taking the money, because, that’s the root of corruption.”
“The Belize Progressive Party will stop the big boys from taking money under the table,” Lopez declared.
“Because,” Lopez said, “We will owe nobody no concession, no land, no tax free holiday.”
Lopez said, “They laughed us to scorn when we only had $7,000. Then when we had about six candidates and we went up to about $15,000 in Belmopan, and in 2009, when we beat the PUP, because history has recorded that this little group beat the PUP in Belmopan with $25,000, and they spent hundreds of thousands.”
“So I want to tell the people of this country that money doesn’t vote; people vote. Stop selling your vote,” Lopez said.
Lopez then went on to present a breakdown of how much money their campaign would cost for the 31 constituencies.
Deputy Leader Wil Maheia said that the BPP is serious about corruption. “We will do our best to stop importing more than we export”, he said.
“I am so happy that a farmer has stepped up, because you know, Belize could be the bread basket of Central America and the Caribbean. There is no reason why we have to continue to import food into this country,” Maheia said.
“Millions and millions of Petrocaribe dollars has been spent and none of it has gone to helping the poor farmers,” Maheia said. “I am calling on every Belizean to make that difference on November 4.”
BPP Leader Rogers said, “I am humbled that these brothers and sisters keep referring to me as Party Leader, when in effect I am a political leader of a new Belizean consciousness that has each and every member sitting at this head table, and in the front row, that has the testicular fortitude to be a national leader.”
“This struggle that we are taking on may turn out to be a multi-generational struggle,” Rogers said.
“We will win when you invest some sweat-equity into the BPP,” Rogers explained. He said that the oligarchy would have given them half a million dollars, but they had to explain that they were not about to form a liberal party.
“We are a labor party. Our philosophy is based on labor. That is the name I would have chosen, the Labor Party of Belize. But it’s not about Patrick. There is no way that I can be right, when it’s about ‘we,’” said Rogers.
Rogers said that they were caught off-guard (by the calling of the general elections), but they are not intimidated by the five weeks of campaign time that remains.
“We were thinking about bringing more independents onboard; some of them are still wavering, but by the time of Nomination Day, we will have more than 25 candidates,” he said.
“We are excited today that a new political reality has emerged; it has emerged with a lot of humility, a lot of respect and a lot of honor and a lot of honesty. Those are the things that brought us together”, Rogers said.
Rogers went on to say that the PUP and UDP are only paying lip service to things like free education, because the revenue structure has to be changed. They have not been able to tax the direct foreign investor. “We are a labor party. If the labor unions did the right thing, they would have had about 65 candidates with us right here”, he said.
“The Prime Minister has daubed everybody with the Petrocaribe brush of corruption, so nobody wants to talk about corruption. Where are the ACB today? There is a direct correlation with crimes committed with a pen and the violence in the streets,” Rogers pointed out.