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Power inside the PUP

A lot of things happened inside the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) between late October and November of 2011. First, the PUP Leader chosen by a leadership convention in March of 2008 to replace the reigned Rt. Hon. Said Musa (Fort George), Hon. John Briceño (Orange Walk Central), himself resigned. Briceño was replaced on an Interim Leader basis by Hon. Mark Espat (Albert); Espat was subsequently endorsed for the substantive post of PUP Leader by 30 of the 31 electoral constituencies, the only nay vote coming from Arthur Saldivar of Belize Rural North. Espat, after an 11-day period as Interim Leader, then withdrew himself from leadership candidacy, and the said Saldivar, Mike Espat (Toledo East), and Julius Espat (Cayo South) offered themselves as leadership candidates. Finally, behind closed doors, an unknown executive cartel of the PUP which did not present itself to the party or the Belizean public, announced that the Hon. Francis Fonseca (Freetown) had been chosen as the new PUP Leader.

Francis Fonseca quickly retooled the national party executive, replacing Mark Espat and Hon. Cordel Hyde (Lake Independence), the two Senior Deputy Leaders who had supported Briceño at the March 2008 leadership convention and had been appointed by him to those executive positions, with a “five pack” of Deputy Leaders which included Mike Espat, Julius Espat, Hon. Florencio Marin, Jr. (Corozal Southeast), Dolores Balderamos-Garcia (Belize Rural Central), and Carolyn Trench-Sandiford (Collet). At that point in time, late 2011, the PUP had only six area representatives, elected in 2008, in the House. These were Francis Fonseca, John Briceño, Said Musa, Mark Espat, Cordel Hyde, and Florencio Marin, Jr.

Between October and November of 2011, the PUP absolutely moved from a democratic leadership to an executive one. Two reasons the executive cartel to which we have previously referred could essentially impose Francis Fonseca as PUP Leader were because he had been the leadership candidate narrowly defeated by Briceño at the March 2008 leadership convention, and because the Rt. Hon. George Price, PUP icon and Belizean national hero, had gone on record in the 2008 leadership campaign as endorsing Francis for PUP leadership. In fact, in the last desperate days of the recently concluded leadership campaign, Francis Fonseca’s handlers actually brought out television ads featuring the late Mr. Price, who died in September of 2011, announcing his Francis endorsement in March of 2008.

As the months had gone by after Briceño’s first election as PUP Leader in March of 2008, a feeling had grown inside the aforementioned executive section of the PUP that the previous Leader, Hon. Said Musa, had resigned too soon, which is to say, immediately after the PUP’s landslide defeat in the general election of February 2008. The evidence is strong that this executive cartel is dominated by Mr. Musa and his sidekick, the controversial Ralph Fonseca. Francis Fonseca’s loyalty to these two gentlemen is firm and unquestioning. Hence, he had been their choice to replace Mr. Musa as PUP Leader in 2008, and Mr. Briceño, supported by Mr. M. Espat and Mr. C. Hyde, had upset their executive apple cart.

Enter The National Perspective, a newspaper published by the Musa/Fonseca group which dedicated itself to the destabilization of the Briceño leadership. It is safe to say that Said Musa took Johnny Briceño to school, so to speak, between 2008 and 2011. Musa got inside Briceño’s head, and made him so nervous about Mark Espat that Johnny, in confusion, turned to the Said camp for counsel and coalition. But it was in the Said camp, the executive camp, that the real danger to his leadership lay. And, so it was: Johnny, harried and harassed, resigned, and the Musa camp replaced him with Francis. The democratic will of the PUP base, expressed in early 2008, had thus been overturned by the executive will of the PUP oligarchy in late 2011.

When the PUP finally returned to a democratic convention on January 31, 2016, after Francis Fonseca had led the party to two general election defeats in less than four years, not to mention village council, national municipal, and bye-election defeats, Francis Fonseca claimed that he was entering that leadership convention with support from 18 of the PUP’s 31 area representatives and standard bearers. It was for sure that of the 12 PUP area reps elected to the House in November of 2015, 8 of them were supporting Francis: himself, Said Musa, Kareem Musa (Caribbean Shores), Mike Espat, Julius Espat, Florencio Marin, Jr., Orlando Habet (Cayo Northeast), and Oscar Requeña (Toledo West).

In last weekend’s democratic convention, Briceño defeated Fonseca by more than 200 votes, establishing beyond doubt that the popular base of the party rejected the executive rule imposed by the Musa camp in late 2011. The PUP base confirmed the democratic decision they had first made in March of 2008.

Yet, earlier this week there were questions being raised by outsiders as to whether Francis’ 8 would reject Sunday’s convention decision and refuse to accept Johnny as Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition in the House of Representatives. Johnny was in control of only 3 PUP area representatives – himself, Abelardo Mai (Orange Walk South), and Rodwell Ferguson (Stann Creek West). But, Johnny was the democratic leadership choice of the PUP base. Punto final.

On Wednesday morning at Independence Hall in Belize City, Briceño and the new national executive of the PUP were sworn in, with Johnny’s personal swearing-in as House Opposition Leader scheduled for Thursday morning in Belmopan. It appears, if we are to judge from the television footage broadcast on the Wednesday evening news, that Francis Fonseca and Julius Espat have accepted the new, democratic order of things. So, as we write this editorial very early Thursday morning, the indications are that the transfer of Opposition House leadership from Francis to Johnny will take place before the Governor-General without a hitch later this Thursday morning.

According to its constitution, the PUP is to have a national convention of the party every two years. The scuttlebutt in the Musa camp is that Kareem will be challenging for leadership in two years’ time. We mention this in order to address the very interesting subject of Julius Espat, who was a loud Johnny loyalist between 2008 and 2011, then became a militant Francis loyalist between 2011 and 2016, and may now have gone home to Johnny. Who is Julius Espat, where did he come from, and from whence cometh his “backative”? For sure Mr. Julius is a most ambitious fellow.

One sad aspect of Sunday’s convention was Oscar Requeña’s being left out in the cold, or perhaps it was a case of his leaving himself out in the cold. A rising star from the Deep South, Oscar, a member of the Francis Fonseca slate, had radio and television microphones stuck in his face after Briceño had taken a fairly commanding Sunday night lead, and was asked whether he would support a new leadership. All we can say is that Requeña must have been in conversations with Fonseca elements who were emphasizing Francis’ clear majority in the House, because he hesitated, and was lost. Requeña did not endorse the absolute power of the national convention and its choices for whatever. He should have.

In the new, democratized PUP, there may not be a space for Ralph Fonseca. Ralph requires very large space, you know. Having been as dominant in the party for as long as he has been, it is doubtful whether Ralph will accept reduced status. The reluctance of campaign financiers to support Francis Fonseca’s bid to become Prime Minister last November reflects squarely on Ralph’s loss of credibility in money circles. Francis was a declared friend of business, foreign investment, and the neoliberal package: so how come Ralph couldn’t raise money to finance his first cousin’s campaign?

Finally, with respect to Cordel Hyde, support from 25 percent of Sunday’s delegates in a campaign which had few resources, represents an impressive achievement. But, needless to say, we are biased. You readers will understand why we say that not only can we not speak for Cordel Hyde, our situation is such that we can speak little of him. Respect is due.

Power to the people.

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