The United Democratic Party (UDP) government of Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Dean O. Barrow, received several hundred million dollars in loans at highly concessionary rates from Venezuela a few years ago, when things were still going pretty well for the Bolivarian Republic.
Mr. Barrow’s government chose to invest the Venezuela money in domestic infrastructure instead of investing in the youth and people of Belize. The decision to go with streets, roads, roundabouts, bridges, and auditoriums, was a sensible one, short term, because it immediately created jobs at the base of Belize’s socio-economic pyramid, and the infrastructure investment decision no doubt contributed mightily to the UDP’s success in the November 2015 general election, which the UDP won fairly comfortably, as opposed to their very narrow victory in the March 2012 generals.
On the macro side of the economy, Mr. Barrow has unwaveringly committed to the tourism industry, and his infrastructure investments neatly dovetailed with his tourism commitment. So what’s the problem with this shrinking Belizean economy in July of 2018? The tourism figures look so good, for sure tourism contributes to foreign exchange circulation in our economy. But, for reasons the experts would have to explain to you, the beneficial impact of the tourism industry is limited. The Harvest Caye decision by the UDP, for instance, is classic in that regard. Harvest Caye’s detouring of tourists to a private facility owned by a huge transnational was devastating to the Belize City streets, but the Harvest Caye statistics must look good in government’s books. We guess.
Where the Belizean economy is concerned, Mr. Barrow has protected the lavish lifestyles of his generals, his party cronies, and middle-level favorites.This is fundamental party politics: the Prime Minister is in power because his generals, cronies, and favorites put him there. Fuel prices remain crushing in Belize because the public sector, the government sector, needs the revenues in order to maintain the standards of living of the favored ones, those who won the general election for the UDP in 2015.
Still, you can take care of your generals, your cronies, and your favorites all you want, there comes a time when the masses of the people can’t take the pressure any more, and they vote parties out of office no matter how well the parties are taking care of those inside the party tent.
Now then, Mr. Barrow has personal health issues which have been distracting him for some time. This is supposed to be his farewell tour, but there is great concern inside the UDP and amongst their campaign financiers where the leadership succession is concerned. The voters in Belize City, the nation’s population center, just sent a shock message to the UDP on March 7. And now, events and exchanges preceding the International Court of Justice (ICJ) referendum, scheduled for April next year, are reducing the UDP’s popularity, we would say.
The way the ICJ education campaign was supposed to work, with seed financing from the Friends of Belize, was to create the pretense of impartiality. The ICJ education campaign was supposed to inform the Belizean people about both the pros and the cons of submitting the Guatemala claim on Belize to the ICJ for final, binding arbitration. It is now clear that within the UDP, there were people who became spooked by the growing energy in the “no” camp, both at home and abroad. Not only that, the ICJ referendum vote takes place just eighteen months before a general election must be held in Belize, and the increasing intensity of the ICJ debate threatens to leech into the UDP vs PUP discourse.
There is pressure on the UDP administration from the Friends of Belize for there to be a “yes” vote next April. There is also pressure on the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) leadership to support “yes,” but the PUP has hitherto enjoyed the luxury of saying that the party has not yet reached a decision on the matter. The UDP had been going along for years with the line that UDP followers would be free to make up their minds individually, but the Foreign Minister, Sedi Elrington, publicly abandoned that line recently. It’s now “yes” all the way for the UDP.
Had the UDP continued to claim that the education campaign would be impartial, their Foreign Ministry would have been under public pressure to spend some education campaign money with the Kremandala media system. But the Prime Minister has personally embarked on an absolute effort to strangle Partridge Street financially. Any money spent with Kremandala amounts, in the Prime Minister’s mind, to a lifting of his siege on Partridge.
Most Belizeans can now see that the UDP is deathly afraid of Kremandala, because of the street prestige which the 49-year-old media system enjoys inside the Southside of Belize City, the ruling party’s political stronghold. Any money spent with Kremandala for the April 2019 referendum would be seen by the UDP leadership as endangering the UDP in 2020. This is our impression.
With the ruling party having turned the screws on Partridge Street, and with the ruling party pushing the “yes” vote more and more, you will understand that this amounts to pressure on Kremandala to go “no.” The relevant Special Agreement, or compromis, was signed almost ten years ago, and the evidence indicates that it was Sandra Coye who first remarked on the unsatisfactory and disturbing nature of the wording of the Special Agreement. As the years went by, more and more Belizeans adopted Ms. Coye’s position, that the wording of the Special Agreement opened too many dangerous doors and excessively empowered the International Court of Justice.
It is now the case that a movement has come out of the west and the south, led by Bobby Lopez, Paul Morgan, and Wil Maheia, which is challenging the very constitutionality of the Special Agreement, on the grounds that the Constitution of Belize explicitly declares that only the Belize House of Representatives can change the borders of Belize, a power which the Special Agreement arbitrarily grants the ICJ.
Perhaps more ominous for the UDP down the road is the mobilization of Belizeans in the United States under the leadership of Aria Lightfoot in Florida, and Bilal Morris and Nuri Akbar in Los Angeles. Diaspora Belizeans represent a sleeping giant which could upset the ruling party’s plans.
As the area of disturbed ICJ weather grows in size and strength, this newspaper would like to continue performing the function of facilitating Belizeans who wish to publicize their ideas and opinions, whether “yes” or “no.” Although the UDP government is essentially pressuring Kremandala to go “no,”this ICJ matter is not a party political matter. Unfortunately, in their political desperation, the UDP is making the matter one of party politics.
This really is not a stage for players of the game. The multimillionaires who lead the UDP government must understand that the ICJ referendum is an existential issue. It is very, very serious. In times like these, we must remember and honor our true Belizean heroes. Thusly, this newspaper remembers and honors Danny Conorquie. And, a happy July 25 birthday to the late, great Mr. Philip.
Power to the people.