“Nothing is easier than self-deceit. For what every man wishes, that he also believes to be true.” – Demosthenes
There are some observers who feel that recent discourses by Prime Minister Dean Barrow suggest a man who may be approaching Hamlet-like indecision. At best, they think he may be sharing too many confidentialities with the people of Belize and, indeed, the world.
From another perspective, it may be that what we are seeing is a man, like Diogenes of Sinope, who is seeking honest men. At this newspaper, we are cynical about such matters. We don’t believe it is possible to form a government in Belize without dishonest individuals. There are simply too many of them in the high places of Belize. And, by “high places,” we are referring to the categories from which the political parties draw on candidates. Whatever the qualifications involved with membership in these categories, we choose to refer to them as “high places.” To be quite blunt, we are being sarcastic.
Toledo West PUP area representative, Oscar Requeña, quoted from one of last week’s Amandala editorials in the House of Representatives on Wednesday afternoon. It was a blistering editorial in condemnation of corrupt practices inside the ruling UDP administration, and it had been greeted with glee by the Opposition PUP. It is supposed to be a mark of some distinction, we imagine, to have one’s material quoted in the “honourable” House, but there was danger for the newspaper here. We’ll tell you why.
There are many options available to a Prime Minister who decides to retaliate against criticism. When the Opposition chooses to highlight in the House some specific editorial comments, it is essentially throwing gasoline on fire. Party politics in Belize is a macho business, and the Opposition was saying to the Prime Minister on national radio and television: “Look at that. Amandala is tearing you apart. What are you going to do about that, Big Man?”
We said last week that the PM is the most powerful man in Belize, in constitutional terms. Therefore, to repeat, he has many options available. In times past, such a sequence of events as the blistering editorial and its highlighting by the House Opposition would have quickly led to direct conflict between this newspaper and the government in office. In fact, this may still take place. But, for the time being, the Prime Minister chose to swallow and move on.
For now, there are two things we wish to note here. One is that this is the weakest government we have seen since the Cabinet system began in 1961, even though it is not the government which won by the least seats. The PUP won by only two seats in 1989, 15-13, but they quickly bought over a UDP area rep to make it a 16-12 margin for the rest of their administration.
In 1993, the UDP won by only three seats, 16-13, and the PUP actually attempted to pay two UDP area reps to cross over in the House of Representatives, which would have changed the election result to 15-14 in favor of the PUP. At that time, it was still possible for an area representative to change sides in the House without having to face an immediate bye-election. The law was changed by the 1998 PUP administration.
So, it was not really possible for the UDP to expand the 17-14 margin they won in the 2012 general election. With Penner having been disgraced and distanced, there is really a 16-14 margin. Castro’s adventures have raised the specter of the UDP’s margin becoming only 15-14, so this was becoming the most “dicey” any majority margin had ever been in Belize. And when you factored in all the noise implicating other Cabinet Ministers in shady deals, the atmosphere really began to take on elements of a Diogenes–like desperation in the office of the Maximum Leader.
The other point we wish to make is this. There is a much more serious problem the Prime Minister has to deal than with comments in this newspaper. That problem is the marching and rallying of the teachers of Belize, as organized in the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU) and supported by the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB). The BNTU is like nitroglycerin: it must be handled with the most delicate of care.
At the same time that this, for different reasons, is the weakest government we have seen in the modern era, the political awareness and issue sophistication of the Belizean people are at their highest levels ever. In the first instance, this is because of the proliferation of the electronic media in Belize. Any Belizean who believes his or her opinion can stand the test of public analysis, can find a microphone and/or a camera to transmit his or her views to the nation. The discourse on socio-political matters has become intense in Belize, and along with this have come more and more organizations all over the nation designed to take on serious and relevant topics.
The democracy in Belize, at the level of discourse, is encouraging. Organizationally, the democracy is not at the level the discourse is. In other words, there are more individuals and organizations who talk the talk than walk the walk. But, there is more talking and more walking than there have ever been. These are good signs, we submit. The people of Belize are becoming involved. The people of Belize are slowly becoming nationalistic. It is not necessary for us to say to the politicians, beware, but we will say it anyway: beware!
Exchanges that took place in the House on Wednesday afternoon involving three politicians from the same District on opposing sides of the party fence, involved the kind of insulting rhetoric which would have provoked violence in the streets. There was no honor in these exchanges. The people will be the judge.
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.