Today we want to do something different from what we usually do, and look at the politics of Belize from above, from the perspective of the wealthy, powerful families, groups, and corporations which finance the two major political parties – the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) and the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP). (At this newspaper we are always considering Belize’s politics from the base of the socio-economic pyramid, because the base is from where we originated in 1969 and it is this base to which we are loyal.)
All the political chatter which takes place on the talk shows and in the social media involves exchanges and disputes between and among Belizeans at the socio-economic base. How important is this political chatter where the exercise of real political power is concerned? Real political power is exercised by the Cabinet of Belize, with the Prime Minister as its boss, and it has never, ever been the case in Belize’s modern political history that a Prime Minister has been moved by Belize’s base. Prime Ministers are influenced by the base, but they are never moved. This is because the two fundamental powers of the Prime Minister, his power of taxation and his power to deploy armed security forces, are derived from the constitutional system of Belize as supported by our power structure – our wealthy, powerful families, groups, and corporations.
No matter the noise in the political marketplace, and no matter the volatility of the specific issue, the power structure, in line with our monarchical constitutional system, never really encourages the base in its activism. What the wealthy families, groups, and corporations want from elected governments in Belize is a maintenance of the law and order which allows them to protect their wealth and to acquire more in the ordinary course of life. In other words, the power structure of Belize sees the Prime Minister and his government as primarily responsible to keep the base in check. As long as the Prime Minister proves that he controls the masses at the base, the power structure will support his five-year term of office.
The base would have to rebel to an extent where the power structure reaches the conclusion that the Prime Minister is no longer in control, before the local power structure would withdraw their support from the Prime Minister and his government. That level of base rebellion has never occurred in Belize since independence in 1984. (That level of rebellion did occur in 1981, when Belize was still a self-governing colony, and so the British Governor declared a state of emergency. Premier George Price and his Cabinet continued to administer the day-to-day affairs of the country.)
For purposes of this essay’s analysis, we should point out that we consider the two most influential churches in Belize, the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church, to be members of the power structure. The congregations of those churches may think otherwise, or they may not think of it at all, but the reality would explain to you why the Papal Nuncio hurriedly came to Belize during the teachers’ strike of October 2016 and why he spoke as he spoke. In the reality of the power structure, stability is more important than justice.
Constitutionally, the PUP is described as Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. The PUP is a part of Belize’s power structure. That is why we have always been at editorial pains to emphasize to you that there is only so far the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU) can go. The BNTU Is not a part of Belize’s power structure, and, theoretically, the BNTU therefore presents the possibility of revolutionary change. The success of the BNTU has been absolutely remarkable so far, but the only change the power structure will allow is for a change from the UDP to the PUP. And, from the systemic point of view, no such change can take place until the UDP decides to call general elections.
The point of all this, as we have been saying to you for months, is that what we have of parliamentary democracy here makes major demands on the Opposition PUP. But the PUP has an internal problem which involves a rivalry or struggle between PUP Leader John Briceño and former PUP Leader Said Musa. This is an old problem which may go back as far as August of 2004 and the challenge of 7 PUP Cabinet Ministers to then Prime Minister Musa’s public finances policies. Mr. Briceño was not in the country of Belize at the time when the challenge was made in Belmopan, on Thursday, August 12, 2004, but, as Deputy Prime Minister, he was the highest ranking Cabinet Minister of those who signed their names to the challenge, so to speak.
There is an aspect to the rivalry between Briceño and Musa which we have not previously discussed. There have been historical rivalries between the Districts of Belize, the Belize District being the dominant area during colonial days. During those colonial days, the rivalry between the Belize District and the Cayo District was probably the most engaging. But the most serious rivalry now is definitely that between the Orange Walk and Belize Districts. As things are, Mr. Briceño would become the first Prime Minister of Belize who was not from a Belize City constituency. With all the political opportunities offered the PUP during Mr. Briceño’s leadership to make the UDP uncomfortable in the population center, he has always appeared to be hesitant.
The PUP needs to get over this hurdle, for the good of Belize. The BNTU can give just as much trouble as they wish, but it is only the PUP which Prime Minister Barrow considers a real existential threat where his administration is concerned. The BNTU is not organized to form a Cabinet, and the wealthy families, groups, and corporations of Belize are aware of that.
Two core issues in Belize today are UDP government corruption and questions surrounding the justice system. The two issues are related, because public perception has become that the corrupt executive arm of government is more powerful than the supposedly independent judiciary. If this is so, and the base of Belize does so believe, it means that the sacred rule of law no longer pertains. If the sacred rule of law no longer pertains, and the base of Belize does so believe, that is a development of mammoth proportions.
The reason we have to call for “power to the people” is because the power structure of Belize either does not believe what the base believes, or the power structure does not care. To repeat, the power structure apparently cares more about stability than about justice. This is the disconnect between the wealthy families, groups, and corporations of Belize, on the one hand, and the masses of us who live at the base, on the other.
In Guatemala and Honduras, the base does not matter one whit: only the power structure does. In Belize, we have always held the belief that we, as the base, matter. A growing question surrounds that fundamental belief of the self-rule era. We are the ones who make the noise at the base, but silent, invisible ones appear to rule. The truth must be told. It is only the truth which can make us free.