Headline — 12 March 2016 — by Rowland A. Parks
Gapi shocks UDP!

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Mar. 10, 2016–The United Democratic Party (UDP) was hit with the political equivalent of a tsunami when the party secretariat issued a press release today confirming a rumor that the First Deputy Party Leader, Hon. Gaspar “Gapi” Vega, will not accept the nomination to continue in the post when the UDP holds its national convention in Dangriga on Sunday, March 20.

Hon. Vega, a three-time area representative for the Orange Walk North constituency and a powerhouse for the UDP in the north, has also informed his party that he will not be contesting his House of Representatives seat in the next general elections.

Hon. Vega communicated his decision to step down via a letter to UDP Leader and Prime Minister Dean Barrow on Tuesday, March 8.

A UDP Secretariat press release opens saying: “The United Democratic Party confirms that First Deputy Party Leader Hon Gaspar Vega has, by letter dated March 8, 2016, informed the Party of his decision not to stand again for his Orange Walk North seat in the next General Elections. Hon Vega has also said that in view of this early notification of his retirement from electoral politics at the end of the current term, he feels it is right that he not continue as First Deputy Party Leader of the UDP.”

The UDP release continues: “Accordingly, he is no longer prepared to accept the four-year endorsement as First Deputy, which endorsement would have been done at, and with effect from, the UDP Convention on March 20, 2016. In the result, the March 20 Convention will now proceed only to endorse, for the next four years, the Party Leader Rt. Hon Dean Barrow; the Second Deputy Leader, Hon Erwin Contreras; the Party Chairman Alberto August; and the Deputy Party Chair Fern Gutierrez. The National Party Council of the UDP will meet shortly after the March 20 Convention to decide on the procedure and timing for a special election to choose the new First Deputy Party Leader to succeed Hon Vega.”

What the release did not say, however, was that by stepping down as First Deputy Leader, Hon. Vega has effectively demitted his Deputy Prime Minister’s post.

Vega’s announcement comes as a major development within the UDP, especially in light of Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow’s announcement after the November 4 general election that he will step down as party leader before the next general elections, which are scheduled to be called in 2020.

Barrow had indicated that he would step down in time to give his successor time to prepare the party to go into the next general elections.

At the UDP convention in February 2013, Vega had successfully defended his post of First Deputy Leader when he beat back the challenge of the Collet area representative Hon. Patrick Faber, who had stepped down as Party Chairman in order to run for the First Deputy Leader post.

With only months into his party’s third term, Vega’s decision to seek an early retirement from electoral politics suggests that all is not well within the hierarchy of Belize’s governing party.

After Prime Minister Barrow named his new Cabinet following the November 4 victory at the polls, the word filtering out of Belmopan is that Hon. Vega is extremely angry over having been stripped of his powerful Ministry of Natural Resources portfolio, and that very important ministry was given to Senator Godwin Hulse, an unelected favorite of PM Barrow who had described the Ministry of Natural Recourses to a Belizean-American audience in Los Angeles, California, as “a hotbed of corruption.”

That “hot bed of corruption” designation by PM Barrow, when it is decoded, could be construed as an indictment of Deputy Prime Minister Vega, the man at the helm of the Ministry of Natural Resources at the time, and reputedly one of the party’s strongest financial supporters.

In the new Cabinet alignment after general elections in November, Hon. Vega, the powerhouse UDP leader in the north, was appointed as Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry, Environment and Sustainable Development, a far cry from his powerful Ministry of Natural Resources.

It is the Prime Minister who appoints his Cabinet, but given the importance of Vega’s role in the UDP, his Agriculture portfolio had to be seen as a demotion for Vega, who, as previously mentioned, is reputedly one of the big campaign financers of the party.

So, Senator Godwin Hulse, an unelected Minister, has emerged with the powerful Ministry of Natural Resources and Immigration portfolio.

Hon. Vega, in perhaps a foreshadowing of what was to come, was conspicuously absent when the House of Representatives met on Tuesday for the Prime Minister’s budget presentation.

The power vacuum created in the UDP by Vega’s unanticipated departure as First Deputy Leader will create the opportunity for at least two area representatives who reportedly have expressed interest in the top deputy position.

Hon. Patrick Faber, the Collet area representative who gambled his chairman position and lost to Vega in 2013, and the Belmopan area representative, Hon. John Saldivar, are said to be early aspirants to fill the post for the Deputy Prime Minister’s seat.

Amandala made several attempts to get a word from Rt. Hon. Prime Minister Barrow on Vega’s stepping down, but we were unsuccessful, and when we called the CEO in the Office of the Prime Minister, Audrey Wallace, she would only say, “We sent out a press release. The press release explains everything.”

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