Editorial — 14 June 2013

“The middle class in rich countries is shrinking, and a tiny set of people is accumulating unimaginable riches. Groups and individuals with huge wealth use it to gain inordinate political influence. The ’99 percent’ feel swindled, impoverished, and exploited by the rich and powerful 1 percent.”

– pg. 218, The End of Power, Moisés Naím, Basic Books, New York, 2013

In late 2011, then PUP Leader Johnny Briceño resigned, and the Albert area representative and then PUP Deputy Leader, Mark Espat, became Interim Leader. During his 11 days as Interim Leader, Mark Espat was endorsed by 30 of the 31 area reps/standard bearers for leadership of Belize’s oldest political party.

In early 2008, following the resignation of the 1996-2008 PUP Leader, Said Musa, Mark Espat had been one of three candidates for PUP leadership, along with the aforementioned Briceño and present PUP Leader, Francis Fonseca. Espat and Briceño had withdrawn their candidacies because they wanted a more democratic convention, with more delegates given a chance to vote. Francis Fonseca was supported by the aforementioned Musa, Ralph Fonseca (his first cousin), and PUP Leader Emeritus, Rt. Hon. George Price.

Mr. Briceño then re-entered the race, supported by Mr. Espat and another PUP Deputy Leader, Cordel Hyde, and defeated Mr. Fonseca in a PUP leadership convention.

The indications are that Said Musa was unhappy with the convention results, and so he began to publish a “newspaper” called The National Perspective, in order to undermine the Briceño leadership and also blast the two Deputy Leaders who had supported him – Espat and Hyde.

During his 2008 to 2011 leadership, Briceño spent millions and borrowed millions in order to sustain his leadership. The PUP’s most important assets – Independence Hall, The Belize Times, and the FM2000/Positive Vibes radio station, had fallen into the private hands of Said Musa and Ralph Fonseca, and this created problems for Briceño, because he had not been the Musa/Fonseca leadership choice.

By late 2011, Briceño’s financial hemorrhaging had become so critical that his brother Jaime advised him to resign, which he did. But, the Interim Leader who emerged, Mark Espat, was probably even less palatable to Said and Ralph than Johnny had been.

There is a ghost that haunts the PUP, you see, and that ghost is the ghost of Lord Michael Ashcroft, the 1000-pound gorilla in Belizean politics and financial affairs for the last quarter century. Johnny Briceño was actually a business partner of Lord Ashcroft’s throughout his years of PUP leadership, and he still is. This is the Speednet/Smart telecommunications connection. But Mark Espat had gone on record in the Belize House of Representatives as condemning the stranglehold Ashcroft appeared to have on the Musa government, and, by logical extension, the PUP.

There is no doubt that Mark Espat wanted to be the PUP Leader, and there is no doubt that the vast majority of PUP area reps and standard bearers believed that he had the ability to lead the party and, by extension, the nation. So then, with the prize within his grasp, why did Mark Espat walk away?

Our considered opinion at this newspaper is that he walked away because the conditions of PUP leadership appeared to him to be that he be Lord Ashcroft’s stooge. As far as we can remember, we have never published such an opinion at this newspaper, because that is Mark Espat’s business. As far as we know, during the many, many months of being lambasted by the PUP since he walked away, Mark Espat has never discussed this issue publicly.

Following Mark Espat’s resignation as Interim Leader, three PUP standard bearers offered themselves for the leadership position – Toledo’s East Mike Espat, Cayo South’s Julius Espat and Belize Rural North’s Arthur Saldivar. At some point, someone or some group of someones called those three in and informed them that Francis Fonseca would be the new Leader.

The news coming out of Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s press conference this Wednesday that Said Musa, as Prime Minister, and Francis Fonseca, as Attorney General, had signed a secret, and therefore illegal, agreement with an Ashcroft ship registry company in March of 2005, is bad news for the Francis Fonseca PUP. Mr. Fonseca was quoted after the press conference as saying that the matter was in fact discussed in Cabinet, but even if that were so, and the Prime Minister swears otherwise, the raising of the Ashcroft ghost will trouble those Belizean voters who are not hard core PUP. Lord Ashcroft’s ghost will likely haunt the Francis Fonseca PUP for a while.

Francis Fonseca’s spokesmen have been claiming for months now that the PUP should not be daubed with the same brush with which some people daub Lord Michael, because the Francis PUP is not getting any money from the Lord. So, when did that stop? Perhaps more important, who were the specific people who appointed Francis PUP Leader, and was this leadership discussed with and approved by the Lord of Chichester? Inquiring minds, Jack, would like to know. Some people may even call it “transparency.”

Power to the people.

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