“The thrill is gone.”
– B. B. King
On Monday morning, the United Democratic Party (UDP) Government of Belize sent their Gang Suppression Unit (GSU) to invade the private premises of the Southside’s second largest employer – a media house named Kremandala which is 48 years old.
On Wednesday morning, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Belize’s highest and final court of justice, humiliated the UDP Government of Prime Minister/Minister of Finance, Rt. Hon. Dean O. Barrow, with a judgment in favor of Lord Michael Ashcroft which calls for GOB to pay Ashcroft $78 million in U.S. currency by November 10.
The judgment is in the neighborhood of a quarter of Belize’s foreign reserves; despite Mr. Barrow’s attempt at a Wednesday afternoon press conference to put on a brave face by arbitrarily predicting how profitable the new tourist season is going to be, it was already difficult to do business in Belize because of foreign currency problems, and this CCJ judgment will surely make matters worse.
In a free market economy such as Belize’s, the engine of growth and increased employment is the private sector. Belize’s private sector is a strange animal, because such a huge percentage of our private sector is controlled by foreign businessmen and companies, and supposedly local businesses and companies which think like foreigners. Many of these entities do not employ Belizeans. The macroeconomic indicators are therefore deceiving in Belize: the suffering at the native base of our socio-economic pyramid is much worse than the macroeconomic statistics indicate.
What makes the economic situation on the ground worse is the fact that there is visible fat in the public sector, where the UDP Cabinet Ministers, their cronies, middle level party officials, and their municipal officials, trod, or better said, drive in air-conditioned comfort. Belize’s private sector has been in a tailspin for more than a year, but everybody is hunky dory in the public sector. This is because of a repressive tax regime which is slowly strangling the private sector.
The CCJ body blow which crippled Belize’s public finances on Wednesday morning represents the most serious comeuppance for our swaggering Prime Minister in his nine-plus years of office, because this CCJ judgment, a climactic ruling derived from years of litigations between the Government of Belize and Lord Michael Ashcroft, after GOB nationalized Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) eight years ago, can be traced directly to one-on-one personal negotiations between Mr. Barrow and Lord Michael Ashcroft in Miami in September of 2015. Based on Mr. Barrow’s public description of those negotiations, few Belizeans expected Wednesday morning’s legal/financial catastrophe. So that, there was a strange, unprecedented pathos in the Prime Minister’s weak Wednesday afternoon description of the CCJ ruling: “The judgment leaves a lot to be desired.”
A number of qualified Belizeans in the fields of law, politics, economics, journalism, and so on will no doubt have much and valuable commentary to offer on the November 1, 2017 CCJ ruling, and responsible Belizeans look forward to the discourse. This newspaper, in our editorial today, wants to examine the deeper issue of how a small telephone company was built into an impressive telecommunications network by Belizean engineers, technicians, and workers, and then increased spectacularly in size and value over a period of a mere decade to the point where Belize Telecommunications Limited (BTL) attracted the financial lust of a predatory British billionaire whom PUDP Belizean leaders were eager to believe was a friend.
This newspaper is of the opinion that Belize arrived at a watershed moment in our history on Wednesday morning, a moment when it should have been obvious that the days of innocence and naiveté must now come to an end, or The Jewel will surely perish. Belizeans have absolutely been betrayed by the attorney/politicians we love and admire so much. The BTL betrayal began in early 1993, and that betrayal has been classic PUDP over the last 24 years. The PUDP conspiracy against Derek Aikman in late 1992, just a few months before the BTL betrayal began its course, gave Belizeans a clear, frightening sense of how dangerous PUDP attorney/politicians could be when they were acting in collusion. And remember, the orchestra conductor of the conspiracy against “Mi D” was none other than the predator British billionaire banker, the same Privy Councilor who has been mauling Belize’s treasury.
Younger generations of Belizeans would not know that just a half century ago, in the 1960s, telecommunications played such an insignificant role in the daily lives of Belizeans that the telephone and telegraph business was a government department so small that it was a subsidiary of the Post Office Department. It was not until the later 1970s that the Belize Telecommunications Authority (BTA) was established, under the leadership of Lester Young, who had been chief engineer of Radio Belize.
There is a lot of activity across Belize’s media spectrum, but so much of it is dominated by political parties and religious denominations with narrow-minded agendas. There is not enough serious media work in Belize, and the fundamental problem is a lack of finances and resources. The story of how the telephone department became BTA, which became BTL (Belize Telecommunications Limited), and, finally, Belize Telemedia Limited, how telecommunications in Belize was built by the aforementioned engineers, technicians, and workers, and how they and Belizeans as a people were essentially sold out by the attorney/politicians, is a story which should be told. It would require painstaking, expensive research. It is a story, however, which will not be told, because the attorney/politicians here, our PUDP role models, do not want that story to be told. And, it is they who run things.
We could not end this essay without recognizing the shrewd, icy, patient brilliance of Lord Ashcroft. He found the PUDP attorney/politicians to be easy pickings, because, to a man and to a woman, they were arrogant, ambitious, and greedy. Dr. Manuel Esquivel, two-term UDP Prime Minister of Belize, advised by the accountant Net Vasquez, was not easy pickings for Lord Ashcroft, and, for this, public credit must be given to Dr. Esquivel.
It is not as if the PUDP attorney/politicians are apologetic about their interactions with the Lord, because they all accumulated bulging personal bank accounts. But, from 1993 onwards, it is the Belizean people who have had to pay large bills of various kinds, reference telecommunications and relevant litigations, when it was, to repeat, unsung Belizean engineers, technicians, and blue collar workers who had built the BTL asset from nothing, who were never given their proper credit, and who have had to look on helplessly as the attorney/politicians reaped personal fortunes and the Belizean people paid the bills.
Wednesday morning was a sad day in Belize. We Belizeans have to find ways to stay strong. The now mighty Mexico, you know, became independent in 1821, and 45 years later they were under the rule of a Belgian emperor installed by the French government and French banks. Belize is 36 years old, still relatively young. On Wednesday morning, we learned a bitter lesson. Let this be the last time we are fooled and bamboozled by these attorney/politicians. Wednesday morning was a lesson which has relevance and significance with respect to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The attorneys call it “litigation risk.” In the streets, we say, “Sleep wid yu own eye.”
Power to the people.