The devaluation of the British Honduras dollar on December 31, 1949, by the British Governor here sparked protests in the streets of the old capital, Belize. Previous to the devaluation, the B.H. dollar had been equal in value to the U.S. dollar. After devaluation, the B.H. dollar was worth 70 cents U.S.
Devaluation began a process of prolonged national agitation by Belizeans which led to self-government in 1964 and political independence in 1981.
Shortly after Belize’s first change of government, from PUP to UDP in 1984, a British investment banker who had spent a couple years of his childhood in British Honduras in the late 1950’s, returned to Belize to do business in this country. His name was Michael Ashcroft. Along the way since then, apart from becoming truly international in his investment banking, Mr. Ashcroft became a British peer and also a Belizean citizen.
What Lord Ashcroft brought to Belize was cutting-edge legal and accounting experts. At this newspaper, we know more about the law than we do about accounting, the reason being that we were accused and tried in Magistrate’s Court and Supreme Court on various occasions in the early years of this newspaper, and we have had to defend libel cases in the Supreme Court and the Appeals Courts on several occasions over the last three decades.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow and his law partner, Rodwell Williams, became two of Lord Ashcroft’s mortgage law experts in 1989. They were well paid. Lord Ashcroft hires the best, and he pays them handsomely.
The thing is that the Lord does not tolerate failures. He wants to win, and he wants to win all the time, each and every time. The indications are that when you fail, or when you fall out of Lord Ashcroft’s good books, your punishment is severe. Lord Ashcroft smiles sweetly, benignly,on television, but when it comes to his money, he is savage.
Now, what you have to understand about telecommunications is that, in the modern era, the profits to be made in this field are truly enormous. The Mexican Carlos Slim is now the richest man in the world largely because of his dominance in Mexican telecommunications. In 1992, Lord Ashcroft got some sweet deals in Belize Telecommunications Limited (BTL) stock from a PUP government which was dominated at the time by Said Musa, Ralph Fonseca and Glenn Godfrey, even though Rt. Hon. George Price was titular prime minister.
When that troika returned to power in 1998, their love affair with the Lord lasted until 2002, when then Prime Minister Said Musa, knowing of Ashcroft’s fabulous BTL profits, felt that the Lord could ease the telephone rates on the Belizean people, it being the case that Mr. Musa was facing a re-election campaign the following year – 2003. It was at this time that Mr. Musa probably began realizing what a serious and dangerous man the mild-mannered Lord Ashcroft was, as fierce legal battles began which involved institutions like Intelco and personalities like Jeffrey Prosser, who today both seem long ago and far away.
Lord Ashcroft ended up embarrassing the Musa administration, but the Dean Barrow-led UDP could not exploit Ashcroft’s humiliation of the PUP in the March 2003 general elections, because the Barrow & Williams law firm was so very much in bed with the Lord’s Belize Bank.
When Mr. Barrow’s UDP came to power in February of 2008, it is unlikely that Mr. Barrow had ever personally experienced the Lord’s savagery. For his part, the Lord of Chichester had no reason to believe that Mr. Barrow would become so populist and nationalistic under the Ashcroft duress. That is why there are observers who still don’t believe the intensity of the conflict presently taking place between the Barrow administration, on the one hand, and the Ashcroft lawyers and accountants, on the other.
The legal field is often rated with medicine where desirability or prestige is concerned, but we can’t see it. Medicine is about life and death: the law is about words and jousting involving words. Yes, the law is often much more financially rewarding than medicine, but there is much that seems sham about these legal sparrings. The glory of the law lies in the thesis that the rule of law is the civilized way to avoid violent conflict resolution.
Today, nevertheless, the people of Belize are sick of all the laws and litigations where BTL is concerned. And, there are a whole bunch of other lawsuits which the government has to be defending against the predatory Lord and other plaintiffs, political and civilian. They have to change the name of the Supreme Court. It is no longer supreme, just a necessary step on the way upwards to more wigs and more extravagant fees.
Mr. Barrow has not been able to convince everybody in Belize that he is deadly serious about these legal wars and rumors of wars with the Lord, because his personal history has been too cute. On the other hand, there are prominent Belizeans who need to study some World War II history, like that of the Vichy French government. Lord Ashcroft’s invasions are not benefitting the nation and people of Belize. We really would not want to compare him to Adolf, but there is an assumption of superiority on his part which we Belizeans do not share. What was September 21, 1981, about anyway? Tell us, please.
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.