Belize’s democracy is not in a good place today. Belize’s democracy is becoming skewed because of the Petrocaribe moneys. In 2003, Belize’s democracy had entered a bad place, because loans from various regional and international banking institutions had made the democracy one-sided: the ruling People’s United Party (PUP) had bought out everyone in sight. “Welcome to the party” was the mantra that was blowing like a storm. The same thing is happening today, in 2015, only that it is now the United Democracy Party (UDP) who are the incumbents and have unlimited money to spend.
The difference between winning and losing in Belize’s electoral politics is so huge that many individuals are afraid of participating as candidates. The amount of personal abuse one suffers after being part of a losing election is crushing. Belize is a small place; the abuse is, to repeat, personal. The abusers in the streets are relentless, because they are encouraged by the politicians who have been victorious and gained access to public funds and the apparatus of state power. Losing an election can become a traumatic experience at the personal level.
The triumphant politicians are not only relentless: they are merciless. One reason for this is that they have a very good idea of how frighteningly bitter it is to lose. When they win, some of the enormous relief of the victorious politicians is expressed in vicious behavior towards those who have opposed them.
The present Prime Minister of Belize, Hon. Dean Barrow, grew up in Belize City in a family which was on the losing side of politics. His grandfather, Ebenezer Oliver Buntin Barrow, also known as “EOB,” was a leader of the National Party (NP), which had sprung up in 1951 as the pro-British opposition to the anti-colonialist PUP, which had been founded in 1950. In 1958, the National Party had absorbed Philip Goldson’s Honduran Independence Party (HIP), which Goldson and Leigh Richardson had formed in 1957 after losing a power struggle with George Price in the 1956 PUP. Thus was born the National Independence Party (NIP) in1958.
As Mr. Barrow was growing up in the 1960s, the PUP was at the height of its pre-independence popularity and power, winning 51 of 54 House seats in general elections held in 1961, 1965, and 1969. Mr. Price reportedly announced publicly that he would reward his friends and punish his enemies. Whether he did so announce publicly, this newspaper cannot say categorically, but we know for sure that it was not good or pleasant to be an opponent of the PUP’s during the 1960s.
Coming out of St. Michael’s College Sixth Form in the late 1960s with three Advanced Level passes, the young Dean Oliver Barrow did not receive any kind of scholarship. Most scholarships were then controlled by the ruling PUP. His late mother, Joyce Lindo Barrow, went to New York City to work so as to help him pay his way through law school at the University of the West Indies.
In 1973, the new United Democratic Party (UDP), led by Dean Barrow’s maternal uncle, Dean Russell Lindo, absorbed Mr. Goldson’s NIP. When Dean Barrow returned from law school in 1974, he joined his uncle’s law firm on Church Street, and he enjoyed the UDP’s surging popularity in the streets of Belize City. Between 1974 and 1979, the UDP went from electoral success to electoral success, until they fell on their faces in the dramatic general election of 1979. This election result was such a stunner, Mr. Barrow’s uncle lost leadership of the UDP, which was led by Dangriga’s Dr. Theodore Aranda from 1979 to 1982.
When the UDP decision makers decided that Aranda needed to be replaced, Manuel Esquivel defeated both Dean Lindo and Philip Goldson to become the new UDP Leader in a January 1983 leadership convention. Mr. Esquivel’s Deputy Leader was the late Curl Thompson. The UDP finally won national political power for the first time in 1984. They lost that power in 1989, and regained it in 1993.
By the time the UDP suffered a landslide defeat to the PUP in 1998, Dean Barrow had become the UDP Deputy Leader, so that when Mr. Esquivel resigned following the UDP’s 1998 disaster, Mr. Barrow became UDP Leader.
It was not until the summer of 2004 that Mr. Barrow’s UDP saw a glimmer of election hope. Since 2006, the UDP have won all the general and municipal elections held in Belize, although they came very close to losing national power in the March 2012 general election. Since 2012, nevertheless, Mr. Barrow has righted the UDP ship. His decision to deploy Petrocaribe loan funds in projects which have immediate political benefits, have turned the UDP into a juggernaut since 2013.
Mr. Barrow now visions himself as about to accomplish something unprecedented in the post-independence electoral politics of Belize – a third consecutive term. This being a gentleman who has experienced how huge a difference there is between winning and losing, it will be well nigh impossible for him to refrain from continuing to use the Petrocaribe funds for electoral political purposes. The problem is, for the people of Belize, that these Petrocaribe loans funds are not the property of the United Democratic Party: these moneys belong to the people of Belize. Mr. Barrow has recently passed a law which permits him to use any and all Petrocaribe moneys in any way, manner, shape, or form he so chooses.
The then ruling PUP was doing something similar between 1998 and 2003. Flush with loan funds, the PUP bombed Barrow’s UDP, 25-6, in the March 2003 general election. The people of Belize rose up in late 2004 against the PUP’s abuse of public funds, and it was as a result of that uprising that the Finance and Audit (Reform) Act 2005 was passed. Mr. Barrow’s recent Petrocaribe Loans legislation bypasses the Finance and Audit (Reform) Act of 2005, so that Belize is right where we were in 2003. Then it was welcome to the PUP party. In 2015, it’s welcome to the UDP party. It’s the same circus, with different clowns. Only thing is, the audience is still not happy.
Power to the people. Remember Danny Conorquie.