In legal, financial and political circles here, the Belize Waste Control (BWC) and Belize Maintenance Limited (BML) contracts are considered masterpieces of the neoliberal art. Designed at the behest of Ralph Fonseca when he controlled all the public finances of the national government and when his younger brother was Mayor of Belize City, the contracts guaranteed huge, some would say excessive, profits for the companies, and also made it next to impossible for the Belize City Council to get out of them.
Belize City Mayor Darrell Bradley understood the exploitative nature of the contracts, but perhaps because he himself was/is a neoliberal, he did a poor job of explaining to the Belizean people exactly what the problem was. At core, the problem was neoliberalism, a philosophy wherein those who are in a position, or happen on an opportunity, to do so, enable the few rich to become richer at the expense of the many poor. The rewards for the facilitators thereof, we leave up to your imagination.
What happened between Monday and Tuesday of this week was that one of the sanitation companies was able to pull a public relations coup on the Mayor, who has not been paying that company for months. The company blamed the Mayor for their decision to lay off fifty workers last week, and the Mayor, caught up in his neoliberal academics, did not appreciate the human hell being visited upon the sanitation workers.
Now, here’s the thing. Sanitation workers in Belize are the poorest Belizeans who are not criminals or rebels. They accept their lot in life. They are a neoliberal’s dream. The activist named Delroy Herrera empowered the BML sanitation workers on Monday morning. Herrera, who ended up being arrested and imprisoned with the fired sanitation workers on Monday, later told the media that what happened in front of City Hall was not planned: it just happened spontaneously. Whether that was so or not, what happened Monday empowered the sanitation workers and, incidentally, must have given ideas to other, less docile people. What happened on Monday and Tuesday showed how easy it is for a few organized Belizeans to cause a traffic jam in the City’s confinement and legal processing of protestors.
The Belizean public, knowing that the protestors were law-abiding victims of systemic Belizean injustice and oppression, could not be hostile to them. After all, the garbage was not being thrown in front of our homes: it was being thrown in front of the Mayor’s offices on City Hall. This is when Mayor Bradley made a mistake. Gosh, he had just received all kinds of bouquets and accolades the day before at the ruling UDP’s convention to select candidates for the 2015 CitCo elections. In less than 24 hours, Bradley had become a ranking villain. This was real, and he couldn’t handle it.
Senior Superintendent of Police, Edward Broaster, and his officers did a brilliant job of lulling the protestors on North Front Street and then steering them into group lockup at the Central Police Station on Queen Street. The problem was that the holding facilities could not accommodate forty odd people, and so the police came off as inhumane.
But, the police are always coming off as inhumane. They are used to that. It was the Mayor who was exposed. The Mayor did not realize that it was he who began to get the blame for everything. He maintained a hard line when the protestors were experiencing repressive, cruel conditions, and on Wednesday, Prime Minister Dean Barrow had to bail him out of the public relations disaster Bradley had contributed to creating.
Where was the Opposition PUP in all this? It appears that attorneys Kareem Musa and Anthony Sylvestre, PUP Belize City standard bearers who work out of the Musa & Balderamos law firm just a stone’s throw away from City Hall, volunteered to help Audrey Matura-Shepherd, who was the sanitation workers’ attorney, in assisting the protestors during their hassles with the Police on Monday and at Magistrate’s courts on Tuesday. But the PUP has yet to name its Mayoral and councilor candidates for the Belize CitCo election due in seven months time, has no CitCo campaign energy, and thus did not exploit the situation on Monday and Tuesday as much as the Opposition should have. PUP talk show host Albert Vaughan did get himself locked up and earned some street “creds.”
COLA appeared to be caught off guard, and its high profile president, Giovannie Brackett, found himself functioning more as a journalist for Belmopan-based Plus TV than as an activist agitator fighting for the oppressed.
Out of the incidents Monday and Tuesday, Delroy Herrera emerged as a leader who is comfortable operating in the streets with the people. Audrey Matura-Shepherd’s already shining reputation as a fighter for the poor and oppressed is enhanced.
And the Mayor had to pretend that it was on his initiative that the Government of Belize had decided to call off its prosecution of the protestors and make substantial employment promises to the sanitation workers. The Mayor did a fairly good job of damage control, but he wasn’t fooling many Belizeans. Just saying.