Editorial — 23 May 2014

I’ve seen paupers turn to kings. – Jah Cure

The ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) is essentially cruising along, despite the fact that there are at least four critical issues which have organized groups calling for their Cabinet heads. These four critical issues, not in any order of importance or volatility, are: (1) the continued illegal extraction and sale of Toledo rosewood; (2) the dispute in the Sarstoon/Temash between the Kek’chi Maya and U.S. Capital Energy, an oil company; (3) the wrangling between the Belize Grassroots Youth Empowerment Association (BGYEA) and the UDP Ministry of Lands; and (4) the Elvin Penner sale-of-passports scandal, wherein the Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA) is presently carrying the torch.

The rosewood issue is one which has been kept in the public eye by Wil Maheia, the Leader of the Toledo-based People’s National Party (PNP). The opposition to U.S. Capital Energy activities is led by Greg Choc and Cristina Coc of the Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM). BGYEA is led by Nigel Petillo. COLA is led by Geovannie Brackett.

None of the four abovementioned groups has yet been able to put substantial amounts of people in the streets. One problem faced by PNP and SATIIM is that they are Toledo based, and the population in that southernmost District is largely dispersed and rural. BGYEA’s leadership comes from Belmopan. They are working on lands a few miles east of the capital city, but they have been unable to put people in the streets of Belmopan or at the Assembly building. COLA has not been able to get people marching in substantial numbers in Belize City.

The joker in the deck, so to speak, and that joker is a powerful one on paper, is the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP), which is the organization which stands to benefit the most if any of the activist organizations can light a fire in the streets. The PUP, through its newspaper and radio propaganda organs, and in its Independence Hall press conferences, have criticized the UDP government on the rosewood, Sarstoon/Temash, and Elvin Penner matters.

On the Elvin Penner issue, they have gone so far as to have one of their national executive members, the attorney Kareem Musa (who is a son of their 1996-2008 Leader, Rt. Hon. Said Musa), make common cause with COLA in a high-profile legal capacity.

The PUP, however, have been quite coy where their position on the BGYEA controversy at Harmonyville is concerned.

On the rosewood issue, the PUP have been careful not to support Wil Maheia in any of his protests, because they have to protect the various positions being taken by their Toledo East area representative and Deputy Leader, Hon. Mike Espat. Maheia has run in the Toledo East constituency as a PNP candidate, so Espat is opposed to him in every manner, way, shape, and form.

In the latter part of 2004 and the early months of 2005, thousands of Belizeans came out into the streets to protest the Social Security Board (SSB) and Development Finance Corporation (DFC) scandals. Prominent amongst the organizers of these demonstrations were the trade unions of Belize, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and other members of civil society, but it was the then Opposition United Democratic Party which led or took over the protests, and benefited the most from same. Their first electoral benefit occurred in March of 2006, when they swept the PUP out of the City and Town Councils.

It may be that the present PUP leadership is saving money and energy on the calculated premise that general elections are not due until 2017. Such a strategy would run contrary to the longstanding PUP propaganda line, which is that the Barrow government is about to fall at any moment and that general elections are actually right around the corner. The fact of the matter is that the PUP have been unable or unwilling to put people in the streets of Belize City to protest, even though City Council and Town Council elections are scheduled for March of 2015.

There is a feeling of frustration, approaching cynicism, amongst the masses of the Belizean people. That is because a government which is so visibly struggling is, quite contradictorily, at the same time appearing to be on cruise control. This is a government which, had Belize been in proportional representation mode, would have already fallen. The blame for the UDP’s paradoxical comfort zone therefore lies, in part, on the system of government which Belize, sovereign nation-state, operates.

It is our considered opinion that the PUP have not taken advantage of the political opportunities which have been made available for them. We have our theories with respect to this, but will refrain from comment. If there is one thing the present PUP have done well, it is to attack Kremandala at every twist and turn. For now, then, no comment.

In conclusion, one probably has to concede that UDP Prime Minister Dean Barrow must have been playing his political cards very well. We don’t know how the Westminster system works on a daily basis in Great Britain itself, but we know that the most important thing in parliamentary Commonwealth countries like Belize is that one must keep the people around one happy. When the masses of the people are not happy, that is not really important if Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, for whatever the reason, is unable and unwilling to exploit such unhappiness. Always, always, you must read between the lines.

Power to the people.

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