Editorial — 29 September 2015
Belize’s Independence – pre and post

    This September Belize celebrated 34 years of political independence. Prior to that September 21, 1981 milestone, Belizeans had been agitating for self-rule for 31 years, beginning with the formation of the People’s Committee in January of 1950.

    Today, Hon. Dean Barrow’s quest for a third consecutive term as Prime Minister is historically noteworthy, because it would establish him as Belize’s most important post-independence Prime Minister. Previous to Mr. Barrow, Dr. Manuel Esquivel of the United Democratic Party (UDP) and Hon. Said Musa of the People’s United Party (PUP) both led Belize for two five-year terms, Dr. Esquivel from 1984 to 1989 and from 1993 to 1998, and Mr. Musa from 1998 to 2008.

    It is clear, of course, that the dominant Belizean politician of the pre-independence era was the PUP’s Rt. Hon. George Price, who led Belize from 1961 to 1984 under the Cabinet constitution. (Mr. Price led Belize to self-government in January of 1964.) Mr. Price led the PUP to national election victory (in coalition with the General Workers Union {GWU}) in 1957, when Belize was still a full-fledged British colony.

    Mr. Price was a consensus politician who was significantly influenced by his Roman Catholic religion, his Maya/Mestizo ancestry on his mother’s side, and his social justice concerns. By the time he led Belize to independence in 1981, Mr. Price had become so iconic that analysts have not noted the fact that his influence on post-independence Belize was actually marginal, more symbolic than substantial.

    Mr. Price lost national power for the first time just three years after independence. After defeat in 1984, he served only one term as Prime Minister – from September of 1989 to June of 1993.  Mr. Price was already 65years old when he lost power in 1984, and there are inside sources who have said that he had asked to be replaced as PUP Leader at that point. No one in the PUP would hear of that, of course, but the evidence has grown over the years to suggest that during his 1989 to 1993 term as Prime Minister, Mr. Price became a figurehead. (He was replaced as PUP Leader in 1996, but remained in the House of Representatives as Pickstock area representative until 2003.)

    What is of concern to us with Mr. Price’s 1989 to 1993 term as Prime Minister is the fact that it was during that term that the PUP began moving away from Mr. Price’s pre-independence social justice concerns to a neoliberal capitalist thinking. Internationally, 1989 was the year when the Berlin Wall fell, and it is considered the year when capitalism was viewed by many as having defeated communism on the world stage. During the 1990’s, neoliberal capitalist concepts such as free trade, globalization, and privatization became generally accepted as the only way for Third World economies, such as Belize’s, to go. Mr. Price’s image was so powerful that the changes in PUP economic philosophy which were taking place during his 1989 to 1993 term were not really evident or properly assessed at the time. The changes in PUP economic philosophy were orchestrated by three younger PUP leaders in whom Mr. Price placed absolute trust – Ralph Fonseca, Glenn Godfrey, and Said Musa. By the time of Mr. Musa’s two terms as Prime Minister, the PUP’s economic philosophy was openly neoliberal.

    Mr. Barrow first came to power in 2008 as the Belizean people’s answer to the PUP’s neoliberal excesses from 1998 to 2008. He did not have to define any UDP economic philosophy: all he had to do was say that he and his party would not be corrupt. In 2008, the people of Belize were ready to embrace any option to the PUP, and so they did.

    In his Independence Day speech last week Monday in Belmopan, Mr. Barrow said that his administration was about to embark on Phase II of a  so-called Southside Poverty Alleviation Project which entails the spending of 37 million dollars by his government. A few years ago Mr. Barrow’s government introduced some social welfare programs, such as a food pantry program, and Petrocaribe loan funds have been used for various charitable initiatives, such as Christmas and Mother’s Day handouts, which are actually political gimmicks. At the same time, Mr. Barrow’s government has welcomed huge foreign investments, such as those from ASR, Santander, and Norwegian Cruise Lines, which keep him in good neoliberal standing in Washington.

    This newspaper’s thesis has always been that one of the principal reasons why the UDP immediately took off politically following its establishment in September of 1973, as evidenced by the Opposition’s best ever election performance in October of 1974 and December of 1974 under a UDP banner, was because the UDP de-emphasized the “No Guatemala” line of Hon. Philip Goldson’s National Independence Party (NIP) and announced that its UDP focus would be on “economic development.”

    With respect to the situation where Guatemala and Belize are concerned, United States’ foreign policy was made clear in Bethuel Webster’s 1968 Seventeen Proposals. Washington, above all, wishes for the economic philosophy climate of Guatemala to remain stable, and all they want from Belize is for Belize not to rock Guatemala’s neoliberal capitalist boat in any way. During the 1960s, Washington felt that Belize was becoming a conduit for Cuban communist ideas and material support to reach Guatemalan rebels in the Peten. This was not to be allowed.

    Mr. Barrow’s settlement of his BEL and BTL nationalization adventures will be welcomed in Washington, which appears to be assisting the Barrow government with its national security image. The Guatemalan military has gone quiet on Belize’s borders, and that will probably remain the case until Belize’s imminent general elections. A possible fly in the ointment is the Guatemalan military’s presidential candidate, Jimmy Morales, who is hard line on Belize. The Guatemalans hold their run-off elections for a new president next month.

    One expects Belize’s political climate to change once Mr. Barrow announces the date for the general elections, but at this point Mr. Barrow appears to be in pretty good shape for his third term appointment with Belize’s post- independence history. The danger to the UDP is the prevalence and visibility of corruption in their ranks. In the matter of the Southside Alleviation Project’s 37 million dollars, just for a starter, there are more questions than answers, as we would say.
Power to the people. Remember Danny. Fight for Belize.

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