With the relatively late entry of engineer Wilfredo Guerrero as a mayoral candidate, Belmopan, Belize’s capital city, suddenly had a sensational total of five mayoral candidates nominated for next week Wednesday’s municipal elections. Originally, there had been the ruling United Democratic Party’s (UDP) Khalid Belisle; the Opposition People’s United Party’s (PUP) Jose Chacon; and Hubert Enriquez of Vision Inspired by the People (VIP). Then the well-known Christian advocate, Richard Albert Smith, had thrown his hat into the mayoral ring. Finally, there came old Wilfredo.
We are intrigued by the independent candidates, Smith and Guerrero. They have no chance of winning, because they do not have any political machines to get out their voters. Even if they had such machines, their number of pledged voters would, from the get go, be way fewer than those pledged to the UDP, the PUP, and the VIP, respectively. We’re talking real politics here, election day politics.
Cayo is the District which has been targeted by evangelical Christian churches for decades. It may be that Toledo takes second place in this regard. Stann Creek is protected, so to speak, by its Garifuna spirituality, in partnership with Roman Catholicism, while Corozal and Orange Walk are firmly Roman Catholic. The Belize District, dominated by Belize City, the population center, is the most heathen of Belize’s six Districts. Belize City, incidentally, was founded by pirates: they worshipped the bottle.
When Belmopan opened up shop in 1970, it was the strangest thing: there were no bars, no clubs, no gambling dens, no houses of ill repute. Back then, some of Belmopan’s majority civil servant population used to commute daily – mornings to Belmopan, after work back home to Belize City. The rest spent all their weekends in the old capital. Some pioneer public service families took root in Belmopan, and appreciated the uniquely sober ambience of their new home. The younger and more adventurous public officers partied in Roaring Creek. There was some sin in Roaring Creek: there was none in Belmopan.
Where petroleum is concerned, the technology of the transnational oil companies is light years ahead of the geological awareness of Third World countries like Belize. The oil companies, and the world powers with which they are in partnership – the United States, Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, and so on, knew how much oil there was in British Honduras and exactly where it was located long before Belizeans had any inkling of our oil bounty, and the oil companies knew Belize was an enormous lake of oil even before we achieved self-government in 1964. Cayo was where the finest crude bubbled, and Cayo is where Belize finally began to pump some oil for export six or seven years ago. This was the Spanish Lookout area, in western Cayo. When Belize found another “commercial” deposit, it was in Never Delay, eastern Cayo. And the Christian preachers have been hard at work spreading the Word of God. In fact, Plus TV, the Belmopan-based television station, admitted this week that their Christian group every year personally welcomes thousands of “tourists” who are actually Christian missionaries.
Belmopan is, of course, the nation’s political and administrative capital. We do, however, have to cut a long story short. The Christians became so powerful in the Belmopan area, because of their radio and television media, that they became drawn into a political battle with Belmopan’s UDP kingpin, Hon. John Saldivar, the Minister of National Security. A Christian who had been a co-host of Plus TV’s morning talk show, even became the Opposition PUP’s candidate for the Belmopan seat last year, while the wrangling between Saldivar and Plus TV has reached the stage of multiple lawsuit threats against the station. All things being equal, the Christian core vote would have been anti-Saldivar, hence anti-UDP, next Wednesday. The fact that the Christian vote will presumably go to Richard Smith, the independent, may actually hurt the PUP mayoral candidate. (For the record, it should be noted that the morality issues surrounding gay rights and gender matters, for their part, have driven a wedge between the UDP administration and the militant Christians within the Plus TV orbit.)
Off the top of our heads, we would hazard a guess that a few Chacon voters may give Wilfredo Guerrero a sympathetic vote. But we don’t know Belmopan politics enough to be sure. We are intrigued by the Smith and Guerrero candidacies because we want to see whom they hurt on election day. Whom they hurt on Wednesday will give us an idea of whom they were intended to hurt, whereupon we will have an idea of who and what were behind their independent candidacies. We’re just saying. Incidentally, the independents, Smith and Guerrero, are not bringing councilor candidates, only mayoral complications.
The VIP have been around for a while. They actually polled a few more votes than the PUP in a Belmopan City Council election won by the UDP some years ago. They have spread their wings to San Pedro Ambergris Caye, where their Bobby Lopez is the VIP mayoral candidate on La Isla Bonita, and leading a full team of six Town Council candidates. The VIP’s mayoral candidate, Hubert Enriquez, for some reason did not appear on a LOVE Radio/TV morning show on Tuesday which featured the other four Belmopan mayoral candidates – Belisle, Chacon, Smith, and Guerrero. Plus TV will be holding a televised mayoral debate tonight, Thursday, and we expect Enriquez, a well-known former trade unionist, to be involved.
The VIP in Belmopan has been the most regionally credible of Belize’s third parties, while Wil Maheia’s Toledo-based PNP may be the most nationally high profile of the third parties because of Maheia’s activism with respect to Belize’s border issues with Guatemala. It seemed logical some years ago for these two parties to come together. At the time, Hipolito Bautista and Lucilo Teck (the same brave cane farmer who recently defended the interests of the cane farmers in the Belize Supreme Court) were leading a Corozal-based political party called “We, The People.” Had the three third parties come together, their coalition would have been almost national in texture. It didn’t happen. Today, “We, the People” has been defunct for some years, and the VIP and the PNP remain isolated from each other.
On Wednesday in the Garden City, who will lose more votes to the VIP – the red or the blue? This will be such an interesting and complex election. At least, that is how it appears this Thursday morning, February 26, 2015. It may well happen, as it so often does in these cases, that after the dust is settled all our editorial election analysis will become irrelevant because whosoever’s victory margin will have been so large. But right at this moment, none of the candidates in the two major parties is sure how the presence of the third party and the two independent candidates will affect the behavior of the Belmopan voters. So for now, and for this reason, the Garden City rumble represent a most intriguing scenario, and one, moreover, which has implications for the general election up ahead.