The ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) on Tuesday this week released an audiotape to the Belizean media in which former Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) Leader (March 2008-October 2011) and former PUP Deputy Leader/Deputy Prime Minister, John Briceño, criticized the PUP Said Musa administration of August 1998 to February 2008. Mr. Briceño became PUP Deputy Leader when Said Musa was elected PUP Leader in a 1996 national convention, and then became Deputy Prime Minister when the PUP won the August 1998 general elections.
Channel 7 aired portions of this audiotape in their news broadcast on Tuesday evening. Mr. Briceño is speaking in both English and Spanish to one “Julian”, a PUP loyalist in the Orange Walk East constituency, and a companion. His accusations of financial corruption against the Said Musa/Ralph Fonseca regime are nothing Belizeans have not heard before from other sources, but Mr. Briceño’s tirade includes colorful details, such as those having to do with the Jeffery Prosser/Lord Michael Ashcroft era at Belize Telecommunications Limited (BTL). The somewhat sensational nature of the Briceño tape has to do with his lofty status in the political party and the government administration to which he is referring and which he is indicting.
Word of the existence of the tape had been circulating in political circles for two or three weeks. The Francis Fonseca leadership of the PUP had even held a national executive meeting at Independence Hall to discuss the matter. Francis Fonseca himself, always considered a Said/Ralph loyalist, had come in for some specific attacks on the tape from Mr. Briceño, who had defeated Francis in a March 2008 PUP leadership convention and succeeded Mr. Musa as PUP Leader. Belize being as small, intertwined, and treacherous as it is, some political insiders who had heard of the audiotape immediately wondered if it was not just a matter of time before the ruling party got their hands on it. And, so it would be.
In this column, I want to give some political background to the conversation in which Mr. Briceño was taped and betrayed by a PUP loyalist (or loyalists). The political parties always try to give the appearance of seamless unity, but officials in these organizations are always hammering each other behind the scenes. In their fighting for power, they have to climb over each other. Normally, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Electronic recording, however, has become more common. There were fairly credible reports last year, for instance, that UDP Lake I area rep Mark King had taped a conversation with UDP Belize Rural North area rep Edmond Castro and turned the tape over to their Party Leader, Prime Minister Barrow.
The background to Johnny Briceno’s conversation with the one Julian cum companion is the old power struggle for control of the PUP Northern Caucus between the Corozal Marins (Florencio, Sr. and Florencio, Jr.) and the Orange Walk Briceños – Johnny and his brother, Jaime, who is not an electoral politician but is very close to John. A standard bearer convention was recently held in Orange Walk East to replace the area representative, Dr. Marco Tulio Mendez, who had indicated that he would not be running again. In a bitter convention, the Briceño loyalist, Josue Carballo, narrowly defeated the one-time area rep, Dave Burgos, who is considered a member of the Marin group. In the aftermath of that convention, it appears, Johnny is trying to give Julian cum companion reasons why they should switch their loyalty from Burgos/Marins to himself and Josue.
Let’s go back to May of 1994. At this time, Florencio Marin, Sr., is the entrenched caudillo Corozal Southeast area representative from 1965 and the Deputy Leader of the PUP, and John Briceño, elected in June of 1993 as the PUP’s Orange Walk Central area rep, is the new kid on the PUP block, succeeding his Uncle Polo. They are on the same side in a dispute inside the PUP which begins after the PUP suffer their worst election defeat ever in the March 1994 Town Board elections. Florencio Marin is unquestionably the highest ranking PUP official in a faction which includes Briceño, Cayo Central’s Dan Silva, Dangriga’s Dr. Ted Aranda, Caribbean Shores’ Joe Coye, Lake Independence’s young Cordel Hyde, and Dolores Balderamos-Garcia.
Essentially, the Marin faction is blaming the PUP’s woes on the fact that the party called general elections fifteen months early, in June of 1993, in order to facilitate Ralph Fonseca’s entry into the House of Representatives. So then, Mr. Marin’s “May 15 Movement” is in a struggle with a faction which includes PUP Deputy Leader Said Musa, Belize Rural South’s Glenn Godfrey, Belize Rural Central’s Ralph Fonseca, Belize Rural North’s Max Samuels, and probably Harry Courtenay. Even though Mr. Marin has always been completely loyal to PUP Leader, George Price, in the May 15 matter it is clear that he is now opposing a Musa/Fonseca/Godfrey faction which Mr. Price is supporting.
And even though the dispute is settled at independence Hall in time for the PUP’s national convention at Baker’s Ranch in November of 1994, Mr. Marin’s PUP star begins to fall. Mr. Marin is defeated by Said Musa in a Belmopan PUP leadership convention following Mr. Price’s ouster in 1996, and at that convention Johnny Briceño becomes PUP Deputy Leader. This means that Briceño has replaced Mr. Marin as the most powerful man in the Northern Caucus, in exchange for giving his loyalty to Mr. Musa.
In August of 2004, Mr. Marin finally gets an opportunity to revenge Mr. Briceño’s treachery. Johnny is the highest ranking PUP Cabinet Minister in the G-7 rebellion. 7 Cabinet Ministers challenge Prime Minister Musa’s unconditional loyalty to Finance Minister Ralph Fonseca, whose handling of public funds has been reckless. Mr. Marin leads the Northern Caucus against Mr. Briceño in militant support of Mr. Musa, and the Northern Caucus proceeds to replace Mr. Briceño as their Leader with “guess who.” Dave Burgos!
I suppose we have to describe Mr. Briceño’s conversation with the Burgos/Marin loyalists who betrayed him as an error in judgment. But, as we said earlier, these types of conversations take place in political party circles every day, as people try to win party colleagues over to their points of view in the power struggles which are always occurring in politics. According to media sources, the Briceño tape lasts for an hour. That’s a lot of talking, Johnny.
The tape further damages an already seriously wounded PUP, and it disgraces Mr. Briceño inside PUP power circles.
For me, as a senior citizen, the quality of the recording is amazing. Mr. Briceño’s voice is a distinctive one. A few years ago, the UDP’s Belmopan area representative, John Saldivar, essentially told the House of Representatives that his people had “hacked” Johnny Briceno’s e-mail and gotten a copy of his reply to Prime Minister Barrow’s budget speech. Mr. Briceño, moreover, is a major shareholder in a very successful telecommunications company. He should know the political and technological world he’s living in. The “Julian” audiotape now suggests that he may not so know, or, at least, that he was very much distracted.