“On Wednesday the second of February I therefore decided to try to bring the negotiations to a successful conclusion, and appointed Minister Assad Shoman and the Financial Secretary Doctor Carla Barnett, to take a response to the ultimatum sent by the Unions the day before. That ultimatum stated that unless government replied favorably by the following day to two specific demands of the Unions, they would cause a total shutdown of the country on Thursday and Friday of this week and hold a countrywide demonstration on Friday. The two demands were that the government roll back the new taxes and agree to implement as of April 1, 2005 the full salary increases of 5% and 8% due to the public officers and teachers.”
– from Address to the Nation by Prime Minister Hon. Said Musa, February 4, 2005
The late Odinga Lumumba always insisted that the Belizean people needed to raise their level of political education. Too much of Belizean politics involves personality and popularity, whereas this young nation is faced with some decision-making which requires careful, informed study of the issues in both their short-term and long-term aspects and implications.
We listened to the Rt. Hon. Said Musa being “savaged” by Prime Minister Dean Barrow in the House of Representatives on Wednesday, and it was a little sad for us. In truth, the Rt. Hon. Musa, who was PUP Prime Minister of Belize from 1998 to 2008, did not seem to be affected that much, if at all. What Mr. Musa did in response was to point out the Hon. Barrow’s political sins, and that seemed to comfort him, Musa, during this House session when the merciless condemnation of himself and the Hon. Francis Fonseca, present Opposition PUP Leader, by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) was being featured.
It is fair to say that the Hon. Musa, the attorney Assad Shoman, and the publisher of this newspaper entered Belize’s public life together on New Year’s night, 1969. This involved a demonstration outside the Eden Theater on North Front Street against a John Wayne film which extolled the American war effort in South Vietnam.
Shoman and Musa demonstrated several nights, but Evan X Hyde did so only that first night, when he was pulled away by the late Robert “Rasta” Livingston to begin lecturing at Liberty Hall on Barrack Road.
Following the Eden Theater demonstrations, Messrs. Shoman and Musa called a mid-January meeting at a Vernon Street home with their fellow demonstrators, who included people like Derek Courtenay, Lionel del Valle, and Ronald Clarke, to discuss a campaign against mechanization at the Belize Sugar Industries (BSI). That anti-mechanization campaign did not get off the ground.
Evan X Hyde’s weekly lectures at Liberty Hall quickly resulted in the constitutional organization of the United Black Association for Development (UBAD), on February 9, 1969. It appears that this caught Shoman and Musa by surprise. They immediately became members of UBAD, although they were married to English Caucasian wives.
After a few weeks, Shoman and Musa asked to meet with the ten-member UBAD executive. This meeting took place at the original UBAD headquarters on Hyde’s Lane. They wanted to form a political organization, because UBAD was explicitly cultural. But, they wanted UBAD to be allied with their new political organization, which they named the People’s Action Committee (PAC). And, so it was.
In October of 1969, UBAD and PAC became one organization – the Revolitical Action Movement (RAM), and their two newspapers, Amandala and Fire, became one – Amandala with Fire. This unity, however, lasted only four months, and UBAD and PAC went their separate ways in mid-January of 1970.
Three weeks later, two UBAD leaders, Evan X Hyde and Ismail Omar Shabazz, were arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy, whereupon Messrs. Shoman and Musa immediately offered to defend them free of cost. In a famous Supreme Court trial in July of 1970, Shoman and Musa won acquittals for X Hyde and Shabazz.
At some point after that, Shoman and Musa became linked to the ruling PUP, for whom they were general election candidates in October of 1974 – Shoman in Cayo North and Musa in Fort George. Both lost. In 1979, however, both men won their constituencies and became powerful Cabinet Ministers in the new PUP government which led Belize to independence in September of 1981.
Still a left-wing thinker, Said Musa challenged the incumbent, rightist Louis Sylvestre for the chairmanship of the PUP in 1983. He lost. Then in December of 1984, both Shoman and Musa lost their seats as the Opposition UDP won a landslide general election victory, the PUP’s first general election defeat ever.
Assad Shoman immediately withdrew from electoral politics. Said Musa remained active in the PUP, and when the party began to rebuild in preparation for the September 1989 general elections, he worked closely with the Rt. Hon. George Price’s young protégés – Ralph Fonseca and Glenn Godfrey. These two Price favorites had a completely different thinking from that which Mr. Musa had demonstrated between 1969 and 1984, the years when he was closely allied with Mr. Shoman.
Mr. Musa has never publicly said when he changed his thinking, but it is for sure that when a reform movement began in the PUP in May of 1994, Mr. Musa was closely allied with Ralph Fonseca who, to repeat, was a personal favorite of the iconic Mr. Price’s. The May 15 Movement, a PUP reform movement led by Florencio Marin, Joe Coye, Dan Silva, and Dr. Ted Aranda, was unhappy about the fact that the PUP had called the June 1993 general elections fifteen months before they were due. Their feeling was that the early elections served the specific, personal interests of Ralph Fonseca.
Unity was restored to the PUP in a November 1994 national convention, but without any formal agreements. In 1996, Mr. Price was forced out as PUP Leader, and Said Musa defeated Florencio Marin in a leadership convention and took over the PUP. When the PUP won the August 1998 general elections and Mr. Musa became Prime Minister, the two men who locked his side in all financial matters were Ralph Fonseca and Glenn Godfrey. These two men were total neoliberals, if not worse. The question then was, when did Mr. Musa become such? All the evidence shows that Mr. Musa’s ten-year leadership of the Belizean nation was a neoliberal leadership, but he had never, has never, admitted that he had changed the thinking for which he was known between 1969 and 1984.
It is said in some circles that Mr. Musa hangs on in electoral politics because he wishes to refurbish his tarnished image, the neoliberal image of 1998 to 2008. The recent CCJ blow to that tarnished image, however, was a deadly one.
There is nothing wrong with a man moving from the left to the right where his political philosophy is concerned. This often happens when men age. In Mr. Musa’s case, however, he never came clean with the people of Belize where the change in his thinking was concerned. The decision not to reveal his change in philosophy was, we submit, the beginning of Mr. Musa’s image problems. They say that confession is good for the soul. Mr. Musa never confessed. That is why his soul is in turmoil.