Because of United Democratic Party (UDP) Leader Dean Barrow’s dominance in the visible politics of the UDP, a lot of attention has not been paid to the operations and ambitions of the aspirants for his position, which appear to be Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega (Orange Walk North), National Security Minister John Saldivar (Belmopan), and Education Minister Patrick Faber (Collet). This third term as Prime Minister being, by constitutional decree, Mr. Barrow’s third and last, he is expected to step down as UDP Leader in time to allow a new leader time to prepare to lead the party into the next general elections, scheduled for 2020.
On the ground, DPM Vega has proven himself to be more powerful than both Saldivar and Faber in national conventions of the party. With the UDP scheduled to hold a national convention on March 20, and with Vega, the former Minister of Natural Resources, trying hard to stay clear of a very messy murder conspiracy trial involving an American tourist resort owner who was materially assisted by Hon. Vega’s Natural Resources Ministry in illegally obtaining a strategic piece of land from a landowner the American is now accused of conspiring to murder, a lot of interest will begin to surround the UDP’s national convention once the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) get through with their intense leadership convention this Sunday, January 31, in Belmopan.
In fact, while the announcement on social media by the UDP’s Lake Independence standard bearer, Mark King, that he would seek the UDP’s chairmanship position at the March 20 party convention, probably sounded quaint to party outsiders because of King’s terrible defeat in Lake I just 11 weeks ago, our sources say King is one of Gapi’s people. Other prominent Gapi people outside of his Orange Walk District stomping grounds include Belize Rural North’s Edmond Castro, Belize Rural Central’s Beverly Castillo, and even at times, Belmopan’s Saldivar himself.
From day to day, for years Mr. Vega has been the single UDP Cabinet Minister who has the most private liquidity at his disposal. This surely counts for something in politics, and while Hon. Vega often flies beneath the radar where the Belize City media houses are concerned, keen political observers, such as those in the PUP, know that Mr. Vega is not to be taken lightly.
It was therefore considered a stunning development when Prime Minister Barrow separated Gapi from his beloved Natural Resources portfolio in his new post-November 4 Cabinet, and passed it for safekeeping over to Senator Godwin Hulse. This surely did not sit well with Mr. Vega and Mr. Vega’s people, but again, the extent of his displeasure has not been captured by the Belize City media.
Before we continue to analyze the situation with respect to Sir Gapi, let us consider another leadership contender, Hon. John Saldivar. Over the last decade, Saldivar may have concentrated too much energy on his Belmopan constituency, where he has become a powerhouse. But you must remember that he had been badly defeated in the August 1998 general election, and beaten again in the March 2003 general election, before he won a bye-election a few months later after the sudden death of the PUP Cayo South incumbent, Agripino Cawich. Hon. Saldivar is acutely aware of his Belmopan base fundamentals, and he has become a hero of the area because of his sports teams’ successes. Saldivar does not, however, have a proportionally impressive profile on the UDP’s national landscape, and therefore he cannot be expected to mount a serious challenge to Vega at the present time.
Education Minister Patrick Faber, always considered a Barrow favorite, has seen his national credibility decline after some highly publicized domestic incidents. But he remains strong inside party circles, and his escapades are minor when compared with Mr. Vega’s Ramon Cervantes and Dark Knights heat.
The UDP’s leadership succession may seem some distance away, but their March 20 convention will surely feature some early posturing and flexing on the part of the contenders and those who wish to hitch their future fortunes to their respective wagons.
We suspect that this UDP convention will not be just a bunch of roses. Vega is not happy, and that is why he sent Mark King out early: to make a statement. Saldivar has to graduate from Belmopan to the national stage, and Faber has to figure out how to revive his career.
The UDP propagandists have been paying a lot of attention to the squabbles over leadership inside the PUP, but we feel the very democratic nature of the PUP leadership convention means that the blue party will come out of January 31 with more focus and better morale. The UDP, for its part, is headed for trouble because Gaspar Vega is presently too big to fail, as the Wall Street saying goes. Mr. Barrow’s removal of him from Natural Resources has not gone smoothly. The UDP’s new five-year mandate is a personal achievement of Prime Minister Barrow’s with respect to his third consecutive term, unprecedented in the post-independence era, but there are headaches up ahead for Mr. Barrow’s UDP.
Not only is the ruling party about to enter an internal power struggle, the state of the Belizean economy is about to alarm the Belizean people to the point where this UDP administration will be challenged. Whatever honeymoon there may have been after November 4, ended when this administration raised fuel prices on Christmas Eve. This suggested to Belize’s smart money that whatever budget we see in the next few weeks, will be more bogus than substantive.
Power to the people. Remember Danny.