Editorial — 07 July 2015
The Church challenges the state

Only as a matter of historical reference, it should be noted that there were two famous occasions in English history when high-ranking Roman Catholic churchmen challenged the King of England. The first challenge was in the twelfth century, when Thomas a Becket, then Archbishop of Canterbury, ran afoul of King Henry II. Henry II’s followers murdered the Archbishop. In the sixteenth century, Thomas More, the High Chancellor of England, disagreed with King Henry VIII’s decision to separate the Anglican Church from Rome. More was tried for treason and beheaded.

In Belize over the weekend, Roman Catholic Bishop, the Right Rev. Dorick Wright, called for the repeal of the 2015 Petrocaribe Loans Act and its amendments. The Church, through a release from Fr. Noel Leslie of Belize City’s St. Joseph’s Parish, called for a return to the legal guidelines of the Finance and Audit (Reform) Act of 2005. This constitutes a direct challenge to the power and authority of Prime Minister/Minister of Finance, Right Hon. Dean Barrow, and the Church, we would say, is aware of that. The release pointedly mentioned the fact that the Roman Catholic congregation or flock in Belize is 40 percent of the Belizean population. Fr. Leslie’s release sought to explain that his vote last Wednesday in the Senate in favor of legislation having to do with the Petrocaribe Loans Act and its amendments (in addition to other financial legislation), was on the instruction of the Belize Council of Churches, for whom he is the representative Senator. He said that his views and those of the Roman Catholic Church were different from the views of the Council of Churches, hence the July 4 call for the repeal of the Petrocaribe Loans Act and its amendments and a return to the 2005 Finance and Audit (Reform) Act.

Bishop Wright has not said that Roman Catholics should vote against the United Democratic Party (UDP) government in this Wednesday’s bye-election for the Dangriga seat in the House. With general elections expected within the next eight months or so, and with the ruling UDP enjoying a comfortable 18-13 margin in House seats, the Dangriga bye-election will not be a game changer. A victory or strong showing by the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) would, however, change recent electoral momentum trends, which have been overwhelmingly in favor of the UDP. So, Prime Minister and UDP Leader, Mr. Barrow, will be offended by this release, and its timing. (Of course, Belize is not twelfth century or sixteenth century England: there is no physical threat to the Bishop.)

Belize’s electoral politics, and, by extension, our parliamentary democracy, is a game of arithmetic, numbers. Power and legitimate authority are decided, in individual constituencies, by who receives the majority of votes cast on election day, and then the party which forms the new government is the party which has won the majority of the 31 constituencies or seats. The Leader of that majority party becomes the Prime Minister, an exalted position in the Belizean system, because he can satisfy the Governor-General that he controls the majority of the seats won by his party.

The first two Prime Ministers of Belize, Rt. Hon. George Price (PUP) and Rt. Hon. Manuel Esquivel (UDP), were Roman Catholic. Their Deputy Prime Ministers, C. L. B. Rogers and Curl Thompson, respectively, were Anglicans. The next two, and recent, Prime Ministers of Belize, Rt. Hon. Said Musa (PUP) and Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow (UDP), are both Anglicans. Their Deputy Prime Ministers, John Briceño and Gaspar Vega, respectively, are both Roman Catholics. Do you get the picture?

73 percent of Belizeans consider themselves Christians, and Roman Catholics and Anglicans represent most of that amount: Roman Catholics and Anglicans together are more than half of Belize’s population, and that is why they have controlled political power in Belize. Simple. The Bishops of the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches do not tell their flocks how to vote on election day, but the two major political parties choose their candidates based on their appeal to the voters. Since Roman Catholics and Anglicans constitute more than half of the voters, anyone can pick the sense out of the nonsense where Belizean electoral politics is concerned.

Since the Council of Churches last Wednesday went contrary to Roman Catholic wishes, it is probably safe to conclude that the Anglican Bishop, Right Rev. Philip Wright, is supporting the Prime Minister’s position.

A hell of a situation has developed in Belize because of these Petrocaribe moneys. On the one hand, these moneys have consolidated the ruling UDP’s popularity and power to an intimidating extent, but, on the other hand, the Petrocaribe moneys got the UDP Leader/Prime Minister/Minister of Finance, Hon. Barrow, into legal trouble. The Finance and Audit (Reform) Act was clear, but the vehicle for the transfer to Belize of the financial assistance from Venezuela which we call “Petrocaribe,” was unorthodox, for the lack of a better word. The Mr. Barrow we have known for more than four decades is not a man who takes unnecessary chances: he is “safety first.” Mr. Barrow did not set out to violate the Finance and Audit (Reform) Act. But, most indications are that he did so violate.

In Belize, the Prime Minister is as close to a king as anyone can be. Where realpolitik is concerned, the Prime Minister can do no wrong. If anyone says otherwise, the Prime Minister’s power is such that he can make such a person rue his or her words. The Prime Minister had the power to change the law he broke, inadvertently, to our mind. But the law he chose to rewrite, because he had broken it, was a precious law, one which the masses of the Belizean people had fought to have introduced in those bitter days of 2005. And, it was because of popular rebellion against a PUP government in those bitter days of 2005 that Mr. Barrow had come to power. A year earlier, the UDP had been, like, dead in the water. You listen to the UDP hags and nags talk these days, you know they don’t really remember 2005, or 2004, for that matter.

A hell of a situation has developed in Belize because of these Petrocaribe moneys. Bishop Dorick has now taken the bull by the horns. We will be listening to the hags and nags. Do they dare to smear him with their filth?

Power to the people. Remember Danny Conorquie. Fight for Belize.

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