During the 1998 general election campaign, there was one businessman/industrialist who wrote a check to the People’s United Party (PUP) for one million dollars. When the PUP won that general election in late August of 1998, they moved quickly to enact taxation legislation favorable to the businessman/industrialist which probably saved him five or six million dollars. The return on his campaign donation investment, then, was in the region of several hundred percent.
Today in Belize, there are several corporations which can easily write checks similar in size to the one we mentioned above. In addition, there are many, many businesses which can easily write campaign donation checks of two or three hundred thousand dollars. These campaign donation checks buy influence and leverage inside of the two major political parties which have a chance to win elections and form governments. This is how the big boys and the very big boys roll.
In the case of this newspaper, we know who we are, which is to say, we are the free press. We provide reliable information to the Belizean people. In almost all the other democratic, capitalist countries of the world, the free press is controlled by the big boys and the very big boys. That is because it is very expensive to purchase competitive printing technology. The reason our Amandala newspaper exists as a roots voice for freedom, justice, and equality, is because we were founded by a roots organization in 1969, and popular support enabled us to survive deadly attacks from the big boys, from foundation.
After a few years, the then ruling PUP, undefeated at the time but feeling itself threatened by the surging United Democratic Party (UDP), entered a business partnership with Amandala, mostly because, we suspect, they wanted those voters who supported Amandala to support them.
This partnership worked for the benefit of both the PUP and this newspaper, until late 1980 and early 1981, when the PUP and Amandala had a disagreement because of the Heads of Agreement. The disagreement became so bitter that two PUP Cabinet Ministers launched separate, massive, libel suits against Amandala in 1981.
Libel cases had been a rare occurrence in the socio/judicial/political history of British Honduras/Belize because prospective plaintiffs usually feared that suing for libel or character defamation created the danger of some issue becoming public during such trial which would be just as damaging, or more so, than the material for which the defendant was being sued.
As Belize moved towards political independence in September of 1981, attorneys for PUP Cabinet Ministers clearly believed that they could sue for damages and, at the same time, control discussions in court of other aspects of their client/plaintiffs’ personalities and reputations. Attorneys for the PUP Cabinet Ministers easily won their libel cases against this newspaper, and foreign Supreme Court judges, one from Portugal in 1982 and the other from Barbados in 1983, made huge awards for damages to the respective plaintiffs.
For those of you who are younger readers, it is noteworthy that the defence attorneys for Amandala in both these monumental cases were the attorney brothers, Dean and Denys Barrow. Mr. Dean Barrow has been Prime Minister of Belize since 2008, and Mr. Denys Barrow became a judge on the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) bench earlier this year. At the time he did these cases for this newspaper, pro bono, along with his younger brother, Dean Barrow had never run for any kind of office in Belize or won any election. His political career began with a Belize City Council victory in December of 1983, and he first became an area representative and Cabinet Minister in December of 1984, after being elected to the Queen’s Square seat in the House of Representatives. (Mr. Barrow has always run on UDP tickets.)
It should also be noted that members and supporters of the then Opposition, now ruling, UDP, assisted materially in raising funds to help this newspaper pay the two awards, which would otherwise have been crushing to the ownership of the roots Amandala. Time has flown.
In three months time, critical national municipal elections will be held in the nation-state of Belize, and there are more big boys and very big boys around here than ever before. In Belize, there is a huge difference between being in political power, and being out of political power. In 1982 and 1983, when they were defending this newspaper, the Barrow brothers had never been in power. At the same time, there were people in the PUP who had been in power for decades and had never been defeated. Overall, these people considered themselves entitled.
Since 2006 and 2008, the political tables have been turned to an extent which is stunning. The PUP, after first losing power in 1984 to the UDP, returned to power in 1989, lost power again in 1993 to the UDP, and then won consecutive general elections in 1998 and 2003. But, since 2003 the PUP has not won any kind of election in Belize, and the UDP has won an unprecedented three consecutive terms in government – 2008, 2012, and 2015.
The big boys and very big boys in Belize see electoral politics differently from roots people. For many roots people, the political party they support represents a chance for something as basic and as urgent as a job when that party comes to power. For the big boys and very big boys, electoral politics is a gambling and business game they play, using disposable cash to donate to whichever party they think has a better chance to win. The very big boys even go so far as donating to both the UDP and the PUP, so they win either way: the only question is the size of their victory.
Today, more than ever before, the big boys and the very big boys are not Belizeans. They live in a world which is alien to roots Belizeans. What role does Amandala play in the new Belize of 2017? As dominant as party politics is in Belize, this newspaper has succeeded in maintaining its independence. There have been specific times in our history when the arrogance of a ruling party has made our position untenable unless we supported the constitutional Opposition. In this regard, we would point specifically to the general elections of 1984 and 1998.
Electoral politics is an emotional, visceral affair in Belize. Ideally, it behooves the free press to be as non-partisan as possible. But, at the same time, the big boys and the very big boys are taking sides to further their own business interests. There is a high stakes burly burly going on within this electoral politics, but at the base of the socio-economic pyramid, which is where most roots people who have remained in Belize are, a kind of pessimism has set in, a pessimism which is interspersed with opportunism. Quite often, our roots Belizeans are missing the point.
What is the point? The point was made by Samuel Haynes almost nine decades ago, and the point is “wealth untold.” These dibby dibby handouts from the big people and the very big people are the purchase price they are offering for our Jewel. Belize is more valuable than these one-off bribes. Roots people, it is you who built Kremandala. See if you can find any instance where we have betrayed you or sold you out over the last 48 years. The Irish people have a classic song titled, “How can you buy Killarney?” We would ask you roots Belizeans today, “How can you sell The Jewel?”
Power to the people.