Editorial — 14 August 2012

There was a time when Said Musa was considered socialist, roots even, a youthful populist. His detractors used to even accuse him of being a “communist.” But the 1998-2008 administration of the PUP under his leadership did a lot to debunk those myths. The man had become a middle-aged oligarch, a raging neoliberal, for all the world to see.

But still, he has been re-elected time and again in Fort George. We suppose he must have been doing some things right where his constituency is concerned, even as he was doing all manner of wrongs to the rest of the nation.

Still, we consider it a new low the firing of the five workers at The Belize Times by Mr. Musa, and his alleged callous handling of the dismissed workers, the most prominent of whom is Ms. Doreth Bevans, a well-loved resident of the Southside, and an employee of The Times for 43 years – incidentally, that’s as long as we at AMANDALA have been around. The lady is an “institution” in these parts.

We think the gentleman made a mistake on Friday. The heartbreaking image of a tearful Doreth will not be so easily forgotten. The pain he obviously caused her – a lady who had, for all intents and purposes, given her life to the People’s United Party — was palpable, and captured for all to see in the powerfully authentic image of modern television.

Doreth grew up in the PUP. Her late mother, Mrs. Louise Bevans, was a soldier in the “revolution” from the inception of the party, such that a street was named to honor her in the Port Loyola section of the Southside. The Bevans family members are “blue blood” PUP supporters.

And while nothing should really surprise us anymore about Said Musa, considering how many times over the years he has been unmasked for what he has become, Friday, we must admit, caught us a little by surprise. Mr. Musa, we suppose, has done many a treacherous thing in private, behind closed doors, to any number of PUP supporters, but we never thought we would see this day.

Doreth said Musa was rude to her, and treated her with astounding apathy, almost as if he didn’t even know her. He told her he didn’t want to hear that she had children going to school and that she had bills to pay. The erstwhile union president, the man who once led the party that was built on the backs of the trade union movement, even told the lady to take him to the Labor Department if she wanted.

The man has been accused of some of the vilest things imaginable in modern Belize politics. He has been accused of stabbing the masses in the back while playing fast and loose with their money. He was even charged in the Belmopan Magistrate’s Court with the theft of $20 million, but still, Friday was bad. Even if his heart doesn’t tell him, the Bible does — “Woe unto him that…useth his neighbor’s service without wages, and giveth him not for his work.”

Mr. Musa can decide to shut down the newspaper if he so desires; he has that right. But he doesn’t have a right to deny Doreth and the rest of the workers their just severance package. If you terminate a worker who has 43 years in your service, then you must pay her a week’s salary for every year that she was employed. Mr. Musa owes Ms. Bevans a lot of money, and he knows it. On Friday he sent a very chilly message to the rest of the Southside. What the hell was he thinking!

Incidentally, just two days earlier on Wednesday, August 8, the leaders of the People’s United Party were upstairs Independence Hall securing their job titles, and wages and benefits for at least another 5 years. They passed a resolution that no one can challenge the present leader and his five deputies in their respective National Executive positions, and neither can the elected representatives be challenged as standard-bearers — until after the next general elections!

In a modern democracy, a party ought not to casually discard its constitution unless some sudden exigencies require it to do so. We know of no such conjuncture, so it begs the question, what is it that the PUP leaders are so afraid of, that they would so openly stunt democracy inside their party?

Our sources tell us that from time immemorial, the Constitution of the PUP has required the party’s leaders to stand for election at a national convention every two years in November. In its practice, that’s democracy in its purest form. Theoretically, such a procedure keeps the leaders honest and responsive, and it allows the rank and file of the Party to actively and regularly participate in the choosing of their leaders, or even to offer themselves for such leadership. That philosophical underpinning was thrown out the window on Wednesday.

We suspect Wednesday’s resolutions have a lot to do with the past leader of the PUP, the five-time area representative of Orange Walk Central.

John Briceño performed as stoutly as any in the March 7 general elections. He delivered 3 of 4 seats in the Orange Walk District, in the backyard of the well-oiled behemoth known as the UDP’s Northern boss and Deputy Prime Minister. Gaspar Vega was expected to deliver the north for the ruling UDP, again, as he had in 2008 – at least 6 of 8 seats, if not more. Briceño went toe to toe with Vega in Orange Walk, and emerged with spectacular victories.

But Briceño, who in some quarters is considered as primarily responsible for the PUP’s re-emergence in the districts, had reportedly begun grumbling privately. Our sources say the party’s new leadership owes him in the range of $3 million, loans he had taken on for the party when he served as leader from March 2008 to October 2011. Briceño was getting antsy.

A couple months or so ago, John Briceño’s closest allies, including his brother Jaime Briceño, had been unceremoniously dumped off the PUP’s National Executive. Briceño, we are told, was not informed that his people would be removed. They walked into an ambush.

So it was that last Wednesday when the resolutions were tabled at the National Executive by Julius Espat, a former Briceño ally turned turncoat, Briceño stood alone. He could not challenge an anti-democratic measure, which upon closer inspection, is clearly meant to “contain” him. He has not been paid, and he can’t be sure when he will. In normal circumstances, under the existing PUP constitution, he could have challenged the present leader when the National Convention comes due in November 2013, or at least agitate as if he were going to, to increase his leverage. That is not possible now.

There are some inherent lessons in all this for us, Belize. They show us that inside the party these people live in a moral universe of their own. They chew you up, and when you are useful no more, they spit you out, usually with the contempt uniquely reserved for those they hate, and they hate in a way that some men love – with passion. It is written.

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