UDP Education Minister Patrick Faber’s decision late last year to challenge Natural Resources Minister, Gapi Vega, for the First Deputy Leadership of the ruling UDP and, by extension, the Deputy Prime Minister’s post, was a surprise at the time, and early speculation was that some large force, like Lord Ashcroft, for example, must have contributed to Faber’s decision. The reason for that early speculation was that, while Patrick had always been an acknowledged favorite of Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s, the change in the national political dynamics occasioned by the results of last March’s general elections, suggested that Mr. Barrow would have no choice other than to throw his support behind Mr. Vega.
The results of the March 2012 general elections had shown that there was a clear difference in thinking between Belize City voters, who went UDP, and the District voters, who went PUP. Even though the UDP failure in the Districts could be considered, to a substantial extent, Gapi Vega’s failure, Mr. Barrow needed Mr. Vega more than ever, in the wake of the unprecedented March 2012 results, for “ethnic and geographical balance.”
A powerful element in the Opposition PUP, which had made up its mind that they did not need Belize City to win the next general elections, welcomed, in fact embraced, the Faber challenge to Vega, because it would prove that the UDP was a Belize City-based party if Faber won, and upset the Prime Minister’s apple cart.
Sunday’s Vega victory over Faber in the national UDP convention is a victory for the Prime Minister. It is also a victory for National Security Minister John Saldivar, who had been defeated by Patrick Faber for the party chairmanship a couple years ago, and who was a prominent Gapi Vega supporter in the convention contest. Our sources say Saldivar will now assert himself as a UDP national leadership aspirant.
Sunday’s Faber defeat is a defeat for the PUP, not only because the PUP may have to rethink their District supremacy emphasis, but because Mark Espat’s hand is strengthened by the Sunday verdict in the UDP. Even though Patrick Faber’s most powerful Cabinet supporter in Belize City, Housing Minister Michael Finnegan, had recently made an open call in the House for Espat (and his older brother, Jorge) to join the UDP, it was widely believed that Patrick was anti-Mark.
In this newspaper’s discussions with Mark Espat, he has insisted that he is an independent consultant who has no interest in a return to electoral politics. The PUP, however, believe differently, and in their propaganda they have been obsessed with Mark Espat who, they have been at some pains to argue, is an incompetent. All the known evidence surely indicates otherwise, but this is the stubborn public position the PUP have taken. The fact of the matter is that, in his independent consultant’s capacity, Mark Espat has become extremely valuable to Prime Minister Barrow. A Vega victory is a Barrow victory is an Espat victory.
Apart from Finnegan, the most high profile of the Patrick Faber camp were the former UDP Leaders – former Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Manuel Esquivel, and the original UDP Leader, Dean Lindo. There was talk that Esquivel had regretted his public endorsement of Faber, but it was believed that the UDP Caribbean Shores area representative, Santi Castillo, and indeed the larger San Cas business empire, were in Patrick’s camp. These are traditional Esquivel allies. So.
The UDP has considered itself, by comparison with the PUP, to be “squeaky clean,” and there was talk that the UDP convention delegates would not be unduly influenced by gifts. Gapi Vega is not considered “squeaky clean” in political circles. His victory suggests that the UDP is not as innocent as it may have thought it was.
There is a final thought. Belize is a mere speck in the sand compared to the mighty United States. But, the United States is quite interested in the politics of Belize, and, more than that, interferes in the politics of Belize without seeming to do so. The two former UDP Leaders who supported Patrick Faber are heavily pro-Washington. The chances are that Washington, from its imperial observation tower, preferred a Faber victory. Whether Washington was, in fact, a part of the energy source which actually launched Patrick’s doomed campaign, is something we peons will never know for sure. But, it is always fun to speculate.