BELIZE CITY, Mon. May 15, 2017–President of the Public Service Union (PSU), Eldred Neal, elected in 2015 to replace Marvin Blades, is under fire over allegations that he intends to “purge” the executive of the union of its Garifuna members and have them replaced because of their ethnicity. A recording of incendiary racial comments attributed to Neal, as well as a letter demanding his resignation was circulated among members of the press today.
Eldred Neal, PSU president, denies allegations of betrayal, says he is “not a racist or a bigot”
Nine of fifteen executive members have signed their names to the written demand hand-delivered to Neal last Thursday, calling on him to step down before the union’s annual general meeting slated for August and for him not to offer himself as a candidate in the upcoming elections—and Neal suggests that the terms of the demand should raise suspicion.
Speaking with Amandala today, the PSU president denies the allegations levied against him, saying: “I am not offended with the individual [who lobbied the other executive members] for not wanting me as president, but for portraying me as a racist and a bigot.”
Neal, who calls the demand for his resignation “a clear takeout” attempt, was secretly recorded while speaking with former president of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) Marvin Mora, about a month ago.
Mora told Amandala that the conversation he had with Neal is being “taken out of context,” suggesting that portions of what they discussed have been spliced together. Mora said that he and Neal were having an extended discussion about the fracturing inside the NTUCB, the umbrella organization. Mora said that he did not record the conversation and when we asked him if he knew who did, he said: “I don’t know who recorded it and I don’t care.” He said that he learned last week that a letter was being sent demanding Neal’s resignation, and that a recording was surfacing with anti-Garifuna comments.
In a snippet publicly aired on News 5 tonight, Neal allegedly said: “I spent all my night researching why the Garifuna in Belize behave the way they behave, because this is the only country where they behave that way… the same Garifuna are behaving the same way… they are so fixed on position.”
The letter to Neal, dated Saturday, May 6, was signed by both his deputies: Herman Pastor, Jr., 1st Vice President; and Kenneth Mortis, 2nd Vice President. Neal said that Pastor hand-delivered the letter to him at his office in Belmopan last Thursday evening.
According to Neal, it was Pastor who drove “border-to-border” to gather signatures for the letter from other executive members. That letter charged that the council members had received information that Neal plans to replace certain executive members because of their racial background. The letter goes on to say that the members feel a deep sense of betrayal by both Neal’s statements and actions, adding that the last thing that they would expect from their president is for him to “fan the flames of racial discord and intolerance.”
After calling for his resignation by the time of the AGM, the letter ends with an obscure statement, telling Neal, “Please note that your failure to honor this request will result in appropriate action being taken at the appropriate time.”
“The PSU members signed [the letter] based on misinformation…” Neal retorted.
He said that “choice pieces” were taken out of the dialogue, including comments he made about his visit to St. Vincent last year, “to fit the content” now made public.
He said that the point he was raising was about “power and control” which tends to lead to quarrels, when the union leaders are supposed to be concerned about the workers they represent.
Neal furthermore contends that what is now emerging inside the PSU’s management is a spillover of the big union-small union war which has persisted inside the umbrella organization – the NTUCB. The PSU, he said, is one of the bigger unions, and he claims that an influential trade unionist allied with the smaller utility unions is also behind the attempt to have him removed.
Neal said that when he came to office in 2015, he was said to be a supporter of the Opposition People’s United Party, “Johnny’s boy!”, referring to the Opposition Leader Johnny Briceño. Then he was accused of being a supporter of the ruling United Democratic Party.
“Because they can’t accuse me politically, it’s a race issue,” he charged.
Neal, who came to power on a wave of support from the PSU’s Stann Creek branch, said he grew up in the Stann Creek Valley, and he has family members within both the Creole and the Garifuna communities.
He also told us that he has been targeted by certain factions in the NTUCB because of his support for former NTUCB interim president, Jackie Willoughby, who has also served as president of the PSU.
In the run-up to the recent NTUCB election, out of which a new president was chosen in the person of Floyd Neal, General Secretary of the Christian Workers Union, it was being rumored that the ruling party was purchasing a new vehicle for Willoughby, who is currently the PSU’s delegate at the NTUCB level.
Neal disclosed to us tonight that the PSU for the first time has received a vehicle from the Government. The green Wingle was donated last December, he said.
He told us that if he is removed as president, the new president would be able to remove Willoughby. If he resigns before an election, in the ordinary course, Pastor would become eligible to act as president, he suggested.
In speaking with us tonight, the PSU president said that he did not make any derogatory comments against the Garifuna people. “Let those recordings have me declare something racial!” he said.
Neal told us that before the recent turn of events, he had no intention of running again for the presidency, but he said that this now fuels him to seek another term.
Incidentally, the Stann Creek branch of the PSU, which supported Neal’s rise to presidency, is said to be the branch which usually comes out with the largest numbers at the PSU’s AGM. Losing their support would mean that Neal would have a slim chance of returning to the helm of the PSU.
“If I were not doing something right, people would not be taking this kind of shot at me,” he said.
Asked how the union which represents thousands of public servants across the country will move ahead in this kind of tense atmosphere, Neal said: “The rift was always there…”
He said that the PSU members are being used as pawns in a bigger struggle that has had the NTUCB divided – which is the topic which really sparked the controversial conversation about the PSU in the first place.