“I am a bit skeptical about the complete fairness of what is going on here today.”
“I can never vote for Castro again; to me he is a disgrace to Belize Rural North. I worked for him for seven years, but if it’s him they want, I go back to my job on July 1.”
-Dwight Tillett, quoted on page 23 of AMANDALA, Wednesday, June 3, 2015
Sunday’s UDP convention in Belize Rural North concluded with a massive triumph for the incumbent standard bearer/area representative, Hon. Edmond Castro, and a crushing defeat for the challenger, Mr. Dwight Tillett, who had reportedly been the chief executive officer in Castro’s Ministry for several years.
In the aftermath of the convention, Mr. Tillett made comments which reflect irreparable disillusionment with, and estrangement from, Mr. Castro, and, to a certain extent, a loss of faith in his party. While he had appeared to retain his equanimity early on Sunday even in the face of the swarming masses of Castro supporters, it was only human for Dwight to feel, as shocking reality set in later, a sense of betrayal, certainly with the UDP voters and probably with his party.
The Crooked Tree section of the Tillett family into which Dwight Tillett was born, first appeared on the national political stage in late 1973/early 1974 with two of Dwight’s older brothers being introduced as UDP general election candidates. These were Lionel and Kenneth, in the Corozal North and Collet constituencies respectively. (Strictly speaking, there was no UDP candidate in the two Corozal constituencies in 1974: Lionel in the North and Santiago Gongora in Corozal South were described on the ballot as representing the Corozal United Front (CUF), but they were understood to be UDPs.) The UDP had just been formally established under the de facto leadership of Dean Lindo in September of 1973, and when Lindo presented his two personable Tillett candidates, who had come in from their homes in Oklahoma to campaign along with their American wives, there was somewhat of a stir in local political circles.
In fact, the PUP incumbent in Collet, Hon. V. H. Courtenay, who was also the Attorney General at the time, first indicated in early 1974 that he would challenge Ken Tillett’s candidacy in Collet on the grounds that general election candidates had to have resided in Belize for a minimum period of one year before the specific general election date. But, as it turned out, V. H. never did challenge Ken Tillett’s candidacy in court.
This was perhaps unfortunate for myself, because Courtenay’s legal challenge created the possibility that the UDP might have to turn to myself as their candidate if Ken Tillett was disqualified. Had that legal question about Ken Tillett’s candidacy not been raised and had it not continued to exist, there is a possibility that I might have made a correct analysis of the situation and concluded that I absolutely did not fit into Mr. Lindo’s plans, regardless of the UBAD heroics between 1969 and 1972.
In a somewhat sentimental mood, I guess, I eventually decided to run as the only UBAD Party candidate in the October 1974 general election, in the Collet division. I felt this would be the way to convince my UBAD loyalists, once I had lost, that UBAD had reached the end of its road.
I should have found another, less dramatic, way to end UBAD, because my candidacy may have cost Ken Tillett that election. He ended up losing by just one vote in Collet in October ’74, and some people felt that of my 89 voters in Collet, had I not participated in that election, more of them would have voted for Mr. Tillett than for Mr. Courtenay. One can’t be sure of that, and it is interesting to record that after the first counting of the ballots at the Matron Roberts Health Center on election night, Mr. Tillett had defeated Mr. Courtenay by 26 or 28 votes. Ask my younger brother, Nelson. He was my representative in the counting room that night. At that point, Derek Courtenay, V. H.’s brother who was his counting agent, asked for a recount, and the election officer, a bespectacled, senior Customs officer by the name of Tucker (can’t recall his first name), went on to grant recount after recount until the final verdict came up with Courtenay the winner by one. This is the story my brother told me, and he was there the whole night. (Mr. Tillett’s counting agent was the late Karl Mahler.)
After working all day election day, I had visited Matron Roberts between 9 and 10 election night, and I quickly realized that the race was between Courtenay and Tillett. So, resigned to reality, I went about my business. I was on the fringe of a crowd outside Matron Roberts around 8 the following morning when the Collet result was finally announced. Now all the other results had already been announced, and the PUP had won 11 seats, and the UDP 6. The PUP was going to form the next government regardless of what happened in Collet, which ended up as a Courtenay, PUP victory.
The Collet election became a cause célèbre for the UDP, which made me a villain and a scapegoat. That was good politics, opportunistic politics, for the UDP at the time, but it ended up costing the UDP the general election of 1979. Another story, another time.
In 1974, Belize did not have much of a media, so few people really appreciated the fact that Ken Tillett’s older brother, the affable Lionel, had also been the victim of a narrow defeat, by just 12 votes in Corozal North.
Lionel Tillett moved to Belize Rural North for the 1979 general election, where he lost to the PUP incumbent, Hon. Fred Hunter. In 1979, V. H. Courtenay defeated Ken Tillett again, but this time by a much larger margin – 224 votes. After that, Ken returned to Oklahoma. Many years after that, he worked briefly with a PUP government, but I do not remember the details. Apart from that brief aberration, I would say that their large branch of the Tillett family (there are many other Tilletts in Crooked Tree and surrounding villages) has remained solidly UDP.
Dwight Tillett is what Americans would call a “straight arrow.” He is a clean, straightforward guy. The fact is, however, that there is very little which is clean and straightforward in Belize’s electoral politics. It is remarkable that Castro should have increased the size of his convention victory with all the controversies which had been swirling over his head the last few weeks and months. But, all the evidence indicates that Hon. Edmond knows how to play the game.
There was a time in Belize, when I was a young boy growing up into manhood, that the people who were against the PUP appeared to believe they enjoyed some kind of moral superiority over their PUP counterparts. I don’t believe the self-righteous followers of the NIP would recognize the UDP of today. By the same token, the PUP members and supporters from the 1960s would surely be shocked by the current level of confusion and division at Independence Hall. Back then, the PUP was monolithic, a juggernaut. Things have changed.
Politics, you know, can be very ungrateful. I know how Mr. Dwight feels, and how he will continue to feel for some while. But, he is a good man, and he is a believer in his God. He will survive. I’ve been there, Mr. Dwight. I give you my best wishes.
Mr. Castro does not need anyone’s congratulations. He’s now on a mountaintop looking down. Protocol demands, however, that if I sympathize with Mr. Dwight, I must express respect to Edmond The Ras, and congratulate him.
The brother is a winner. And, you must remember that when he entered Belize Rural North as a young man unknown to the rest of the country more than a decade ago, Rural North was being run by a PUP incumbent who had won three general elections in a row. The people giveth, and the people taketh away. Blessed be the name of the people.