Powerful indicators, including his outright convention defeat of Patrick Faber earlier this year, followed by rosewood, Noh Mul, and now Fresh Pond, point to the fact that Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar “Gapi” Vega has surged dramatically in clout.
Vega came out of the March 2012 general elections as somewhat of a UDP scapegoat, because he lost three out of the four Orange Walk District seats to the PUP’s Johnny Briceño, defending only his own Orange Walk North constituency. As late as 11 p.m. on general election night, it appeared that the incumbent UDP, which had been expecting a big victory over a seemingly confused PUP, was about to lose a shocker to the blue. In the aftermath of the narrow UDP escape, the smart money said the big disappointment had been Gapi’s performance in his home district.
One of the big seats which came in late to save the UDP, however, had been that of Belize Rural North’s Edmond Castro, and Castro had been an area representative who had been disgraced by Prime Minister Dean Barrow and sent to the back bench. Not only that, Castro was being challenged by a talkative PUP lawyer who exuded all kinds of confidence – Arthur Saldivar. Castro, nevertheless, won big. He won big because Gapi Vega had his back.
The man who was seen as having bested Gapi in the Orange Walk District, Johnny Briceño, had been the PUP Leader from March of 2008 until late 2011. During his PUP leadership, Briceño had had to spend and borrow millions to sustain the PUP Opposition. The two kingpins of the PUP from 1996 to 2008 – Said Musa and Ralph Fonseca, had wanted Francis Fonseca to become PUP Leader, but Briceño defeated him in a leadership convention. The sources of PUP financing which Musa/Fonseca controlled, essentially became closed off to the Briceño leadership, which led finally to Johnny’s resignation as PUP Leader in late October of 2011, just four months or so before general elections.
The reason we gave you the background of the previous paragraph is to make the point that Orange Walk has now become a powerful, perhaps dominant, force in Belize’s national politics. Briceño and Vega are prime exhibits. PUP Leader Francis Fonseca won just two out of Belize’s City’s ten seats, and only three out of thirteen overall in his home District. Johnny, to repeat, won three out of four in Orange Walk, battling against the man who now appears to be a national godfather – Gapi Vega. And, the 11 -7 PUP margin in the five Districts outside Belize in last year’s generals, is attributed by some observers to the Briceño leadership years.
On the ground, Orange Walk Town is clearly the superior municipality to Belize City. This has been so for decades. 141 years after his death, Marcos Canul is the victor. There is no murderous gang warfare in Orange Walk Town. On the streets, there are no crack addicts and beggars to harass the citizenry; no homeless and mentally challenged sleep on the sidewalks in Sugar City. Overall, there is an air of energy, competition and optimism in Orange Walk Town, unlike the mood of defeat and despair which haunts the old capital.
The ethnic implications of this are not startling in 2013. During the 1970s the Mestizo population of the nation, a population which had been oppressed during British colonialism, began to dominate the Belizean economy, and then in the 1980s, census figures established that Belizean Mestizos had become the ethnic majority. Mestizo Orange Walkeños did not make any noise or beat their chests publicly. They just continued going abut their business. Black Belize City is still the population, financial, educational, and media center of the nation, but where the fundamental building blocks of community and nation are concerned – families, Belize City is in crisis and chaos. Orange Walk Town demands and deserves respect.
In the nation of Belize today, many citizens have come to the conclusion that Mr. Gapi is more powerful than your average Deputy Prime Minister. One of the notable things that has happened was that Prime Minister Dean Barrow had to support Gapi against Patrick Faber, who had been seen as Mr. Barrow’s personal protégé, because of ethnic and geographical considerations. The Mestizo North is underrepresented in the Barrow Cabinet: if Patrick had become Deputy Prime Minister, the UDP would have appeared altogether too black and too Belize-City dominated. That convention was held earlier this year, at a time when some of the PUP leaders, buoyed by the 2012 general election results, were saying they did not need Belize City to win the next generals because they ruled the Districts. The mid-year village council elections have changed the dynamics recently, because PUP District dominance was undermined. But, the situation had been different in February when the Vega-Faber convention was held.
The new status quo is more important for the PUP to appreciate than for the UDP to accept. Vega’s power surge strengthens the UDP, because it gives them greater ethnic and geographical balance. While P.M. Barrow may be looking like a paper tiger, constitutionally he is not. If the PUP can’t see that the ball is now in their court, at least we can say that they have a lot of time to “fiddle and diddle,” if that is what they insist on doing.