It is said that when the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU) demonstrate on Monday morning, September 19, in Belmopan to emphasize its different areas of dissatisfaction with the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) government, it would be the fifth such demonstration in the capital city against the Dean Barrow administration within the last month.
The government of Rt. Hon. Prime Minister Dean Barrow is under fire on several fronts, but none of the demonstrations have yet featured the size and ferocity of those which shook the People’s United Party (PUP) government of Prime Minister Said Musa in late 2004 and early 2005. In late 2004/early 2005, there was one overriding issue, which was the abusive, corrupt handling of Belize’s public finances, as exposed at the Social Security Board (SSB) and the Development Finance Corporation (DFC).
It is notable, if not surprising, that within the now Opposition PUP there is still an extremist fringe which claims that all things blue would still be bright and beautiful had it not been for the challenge to the Musa administration by 7 Cabinet Ministers in August of 2004. Those 7 PUP Cabinet Ministers, incidentally, included the present PUP Leader, John Briceño, and his National Deputy Leader, Cordel Hyde. At the time of the so-called G-7, Mr. Briceño was the Deputy Leader of the PUP, and Deputy Prime Minister of Belize.
In compromising with the G-7, Prime Minister Musa made shifts in his administration’s approach to fiscal policy which served Belize well when the financial crisis hit Wall Street, and indeed all major world financial markets, in 2007 and 2008. Had Belize been continuing on its wild “growth economics” ride up until the financial crash, Belizeans would have felt substantially more pain than we did.
At their root, the present problems of the Barrow administration, except for the Section 53 homosexuality matter, have mostly to do with money and corruption. The economy of Belize is primitive and fragile, and our elected politicians over the last quarter century have become naked in their greed and corruption. As long as they are using a quantum of their ill-gotten proceeds to “take care of” their constituents, elected politicians in Belize get away with their dishonesty. This is how things are over most of the post-colonial Third World – poor countries and populations, and wealthy, corrupt politicians.
As important as the major political parties are to the democratic well-being of countries like Belize, because they are such national, authentic, indigenous institutions, the major political parties are also responsible for selfishness and amorality in their members. Or, we could put it another way: the members and supporters of political parties encourage their leaders in corruption because they, the party members and supporters, want to receive special benefits as rewards for their party loyalty and work. After a while, many party members and supporters think party before country; they develop a “we against them” mentality, and they are encouraged to despise members and supporters of the other party, while they ridicule independent thinkers.
In the case of Dean Barrow’s UDP, the UDP members and supporters have been on a joyride since 2008. The UDP have won every single election held in Belize since 2006, and they won a third consecutive term in national office, unprecedented in the post-independence era, on November 4, 2015. This is less than a year ago. But the UDP spent a lot of money to win that third consecutive term, and around the same time the bottom began falling out of the Belizean economy.
Mr. Barrow has been taking a conciliatory line of late where his business, union, and church critics are concerned. Mr. Musa, for his part, after the initial shocks of late 2004/early 2005, became stubborn and defiant. In addition, he was taped in Ladyville swearing loyalty to the growth economics guru, Ralph Fonseca, who had led him into the SSB and DFC messes. From the beginning of his Prime Ministerial rule, Mr. Barrow adopted a holier-than-thou posture for himself, and he has disciplined, openly and behind the scenes, powerful UDP politicians who became hopelessly corrupt. We will not examine the charges of nepotism against him in this essay. We will say, though, that Mr. Barrow, overall, has been winning elections at the head of a corrupt group of UDP politicians because he has succeeded in keeping himself personally separate from their misdeeds. All we Belizeans know, however, that when you sleep with dogs, you wake up with fleas.
Even if we were to accept that the Prime Minister is simon pure, there is the matter of UDP leadership succession, and how he prepares a rotten group for his departure. Constitutionally, Mr. Barrow is serving his last term as Prime Minister, and he has said that he will not run again for his Queen’s Square seat, and that he will give up leadership of the UDP in time for the new Leader, who would be, all things equal, Hon. Patrick Faber, to prepare the UDP for the 2020 general election.
Belize at 35 is saddled with a first-past-the post political system which chokes the populace when a national government essentially crashes early in its five year term. This happened in August of 2004. The Musa government had just been re-elected by a huge margin in March of 2003 when it essentially crashed 17 months later. The present UDP government has lost a lot of moral authority. It is collapsing, from the public’s perspective, a little more than ten months after winning that ballyhooed third consecutive term.
How do we Belizeans cope, financially and emotionally, with the four, dreary years ahead? We wish we had an answer to the question. Belizeans have proven themselves a strong and resilient people, and the teachers of Belize have become even more heroic than they have been before. We wish that our youth and students showed the same interest as the teachers in matters of serious national concern, but until such time, as we would say, we will hold on to Belize’s teachers. Go deh strong, BNTU.
Power to the people. Remember Danny.