We explained to you in last weekend’s issue that political parties which are populist, trade union, or masses-based, are called “left wing,” and political parties which defend the interests of wealthy, propertied citizens, large companies, and the business class, are called “right wing.”
We also said in our last column that since the masses of the people are always far more numerous than the wealthy elite, then it would seem that the left wing parties have a numerical advantage in political systems which feature universal adult suffrage – one citizen, one vote.
Over the last six decades in Belize, we have seen the business of political campaigning become much more extravagant and expensive than it used to be. As a consequence of this, the importance of campaign financing here has grown by leaps and bounds, especially since our political independence in 1981, and the power of the wealthy has reached the point where they essentially control both of Belize’s two major political parties.
Even though the People’s United Party (PUP) appeared to be completely left wing at its birth in 1950, the richest native in British Honduras, a mulatto mahogany/chicle contractor by the name of Bob Turton, was supporting the PUP from behind the scenes. He was, in fact, Mr. George Price’s employer, and it was Mr. Turton who had pushed Mr. Price into local politics in the early 1940s.
Mr. Turton’s businesses had grown to the point where he was seriously competing with the giant, British-owned, mahogany/chicle company in British Honduras – BEC, but the colonial masters who made laws and financial decisions in the colony openly favored BEC over Mr. Turton, naturally, and their 1949 devaluation of the Belize dollar had been a body blow to Mr. Turton’s business interests, which incensed him. The PUP’s subsequent agitation for self-government and independence enormously excited the masses of the Belizean people, but self-government and independence were also where it suited Bob Turton’s businesses for British Honduras to go.
Mr. Turton died in 1955, and Mr. Price became PUP Leader in 1956, replacing Leigh Richardson. By the 1979 general elections, Mr. Price led a PUP which had both a right wing – Louis Sylvestre and Fred Hunter, and a left wing – Assad Shoman and Said Musa.
The struggle for control of the PUP’s direction came to a head in 1983 when Said Musa challenged Louis Sylvestre for the chairmanship of the party, and lost. In retrospect, this was the end, or the beginning of the end, of the PUP’s left wing, but it was not so obvious at the time.
Right wing dominance in Belize actually began with the coming to power of the United Democratic Party (UDP) in 1984. The UDP’s victory had been very popular with the masses of the Belizean people, and one big reason was simply that Belizeans wanted a change: we wanted to see if things could be different with people in administrative control other than the PUP.
It quickly became clear after the UDP came to power that theirs was a pro-United States, pro-business government which was interested in selling passports, facilitating real estate transactions, and promoting tourism. In order to achieve independence in 1981, Mr. Price had had to appease Washington’s State Department by breaking the power of those left wing trade union leaders who appeared too leftist, in fact radical, to Washington. So that, the UDP had a free rein, so to speak, with their right wing selves between 1984 and 1989. The economy roared, but the roaring was not sustainable.
The erstwhile left winger, Said Musa, saw the error of his ways, as it were, during that first UDP government, and he became a right winger. Said, we would say, became Billy. Said’s partner, Assad Shoman, retired from electoral politics after the 1984 defeat, and between 1984 and 1989 Mr. Musa entered political partnership with Glenn Godfrey and Ralph Fonseca, two of Mr. Price’s favorites who were unabashedly right wing.
When the PUP returned to power in 1989, Mr. Price was PUP Leader and Prime Minister, but it turned out that he was not the man he had been, and that the troika of Glenn, Ralph, and Said was running the show. Impatience with Mr. Price’s vestigial populism led that troika to push for early general elections in 1993, and then the actual replacement of Mr. Price as PUP Leader in 1996.
Mr. Musa’s two terms of office as Prime Minister between 1998 and 2008 were neoliberal capitalist in nature, decidedly right wing. This is why this third millennium PUP has to be invoking the name and reproducing the portrait of Mr. Price so frequently and religiously: it is to mask the fact that the PUP is on right wing steroids, a taste the party developed while watching the UDP run things between 1984 and 1989.
We said to you last week that the original political opposition to the PUP in the early 1950s was a pro-British, right wing party called the National Party (NP). The original UDP of 1973, which was an amalgamation of the National Independence Party (NIP), the People’s Development Movement (PDM), and the Liberal Party, was a pro-American, pro-business, right wing party. When the UDP came to power in 1984, its philosophy had not changed from what it was in 1973.
UDP Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s left wing decisions to take over the telecommunications company (BTL) and the electricity distribution company (BEL) have been offset philosophically by his decision to have the monster American Sugar Refining (ASR) company buy out Belize Sugar Industries (BSI). Mr. Musa had taken Belize so far to the right that Mr. Barrow’s UDP appeared leftist for a while, but that is only by comparison.
Why do poor people vote for political organizations which are controlled by rich people? This happens when poor people are not organized, as they most often are not, and when campaign financing from the rich drowns poor people in the propaganda of the said rich. The critical thing is that the propaganda of the rich ends up convincing the desperate poor that they cannot help themselves, that it is only the wealthy who can help them, with the crumbs from Dives’ table.
Right wing policies, moreover, appear safe to Belizeans because we have seen all the kinds of pressure the awesome Americans bring to bear on Castro’s Cuba, Chavez’s Venezuela, Morales’ Bolivia, etc. The enduring problem with right wing policies for people like me, nevertheless, is that if you track such a philosophy back in time, you will find that right wingers are really the philosophical descendants of those who enslaved and colonized us. Resistance to imperialism, colonialism, racism, and neoliberalism is always where I want to go and always where I want to be. Because of that resistance, I’ve taken my licks. This is real.