In the last two decades, on two occasions we Belizeans have seen the “second coming of Christ” on Belize’s socio-political scene. The first individual was absorbed by the People’s United Party (PUP), and the second could not resist the blandishments of the United Democratic Party (UDP).
It should be noted that we Belizeans came out of slavery only six generations or so ago, whereupon we entered colonialism, a more sophisticated form of slavery. At the base of the socio-economic pyramid, Belizeans physically rebelled against colonialism in 1919 and 1934, and then our first real political party was formed, which was the People’s United Party (PUP) in 1950. This was only 63 years ago, a couple of generations.
The PUP was built on a foundation which had been laid by a workers’ union – the General Workers Union (GWU). By 1958, however, the PUP politicians had gobbled up the GWU, and in 1959, it appears, the PUP leadership came to a kind of truce arrangement with the British colonial masters. Belize was granted self-government in 1964 and would have become independent soon after, had it not been for the Anglo-Guatemalan dispute over the territory of Belize.
The PUP was opposed by the National Party (NP) in 1951, and the National Independence Party (NIP) in 1958, but the first serious opposition to the dominance of the PUP began in 1973 with the United Democratic Party (UDP).
It is now clear that the UDP of the 1970s was a right wing, neoliberal party, and their success brought pressure on the PUP, which had been experimenting with a modicum of socialism, back to the center. That move from the left to the center worked for the PUP, which retained power in a surprise victory in the 1979 general election, and then led Belize to independence in 1981.
In December of 1984, in the first general election after independence, the UDP came to power. One result of their victory, it is now clear, was that the PUP moved to the right of center in order to regain power in 1989. At the time, it was not that evident that the PUP had moved so far right, because the party was still led by the iconic George Price, one of the founders of the original PUP, and still featured a socialist voice of the 1970s – Said Musa. By the June 1993 general election, however, it had become obvious that Ralph Fonseca, a total and unabashed neoliberal, had become a powerhouse in the PUP.
When the PUP returned to power in 1998, after losing narrowly in 1993, Said Musa became Prime Minister, but his administration was dominated on the ground by Ralph Fonseca from 1998 to 2004. The financial excesses of that period sparked a Cabinet revolt in August of 2004, and led to the trade unions taking to the streets in January of 2005. Essentially, the remainder of Musa’s second term, officially begun in March of 2003, became lame duck after February of 2005.
To a certain extent, the UDP was returned to power in 2008 because there was no other choice. Exactly when it became a popular mantra in Belize that the UDP and the PUP were the same thing, it is impossible to say. But the attorney Audrey Matura-Shepherd’s move to accept the presidency of the Christian Workers Union (CWU), may be reflective, it seems to this newspaper, of the growing impression in this country that the two-party system, as we have known it, has failed Belizeans.
There is extraordinary historical murkiness surrounding the PUP’s disassociation from the GWU, and basically replacing it with the CWU. Our feeling is that union strength in Belize City is always where the waterfront workers are, and by the early 1960s the waterfront workers were definitely CWU, which is to say, George Price/Lindy Rogers PUP.
Audrey Matura-Shepherd’s history in the UDP was high profile. She was a UDP-appointed Senator and editor of the UDP newspaper for several years. It is not clear when she became estranged from the UDP, but Matura-Shepherd damaged the UDP substantially on a talk show aired on LOVE FM and LOVE TV in the months leading up to the March 2012 general election. That show was chaired by Nuri Muhammad and included panelists Francis Gegg, Anne-Marie Williams, and Matura-Shepherd. Muhammad and Gegg were considered PUP sympathizers, at least, while Anne-Marie was a UDP. But most of Matura-Shepherd’s broadsides were aimed at the incumbent UDP, so the show, aired on the national radio monopoly, hurt the UDP, especially in the Districts. It was, effectively, like three PUP versus one UDP. As a known UDP, Audrey’s credibility was huge when she lambasted the Dean Barrow administration: in the words of the old Creole proverb, she was a “fish fram riva batam.”
Audrey-Matura Shepherd already has enough name recognition and enough credibility with the Belizean masses to have made her, all things being equal, highly desirable for the Opposition PUP leadership. So then, what her decision to accept the CWU presidency does, is open up a whole new front in Belize’s socio-politics. Audrey was already too big for her not to have been absorbed by the PUP, by any means necessary, and the CWU presidency makes her even bigger, now and down the road.
Remember now, we who had been slaves only came out of colonialism and entered the era of nationalist party politics two generations ago. Since then, it has taken us this long to realize that the two-party system has served our former slaves and colonial masters very well: the two-party system has drugged us, the Belizean people, in such a way that we have not been able to address our socio-economic problems. We were always being fed a false hope, the hope that a change of political parties in government would make a meaningful difference. This, we submit, was shallow personality, not analytical philosophy.
Audrey Matura-Shepherd is big, and she will now get bigger. So far, the two-party system has not been able to contain her. This means she poses a danger to the two-party system as we have known it in Belize.
We don’t know all that much about Matura-Shepherd, except that her recent history has been that she always fights for small people against big people. There are people who are bigger than big around these parts, most prominently the oil companies, and Matura-Shepherd has fought them. To the best of our knowledge, Audrey Matura-Shepherd always stands for the people of Belize. We support her.
Power to the people.