There is a theme in The Godfather movie trilogy which is repeated several times, and that is the theme of “being strong for the family.” Vito Corleone, the patriarch of the Corleone family, had been shipped to New York City from Sicily as a child by family friends. In his hometown, his father and his older brother had been killed by the Mafia chieftain, and then Vito had watched his mother murdered before his very eyes. In being “strong for the family,” Vito Corleone began a life of violent crime as a desperate young father in New York, and in this life of violent crime he was followed by his youngest son, Michael.
The most violent of crimes, then, are committed in the name of the family. The heroes murder in the name of their children, “being strong” for them. As viewers of these movies, we are seduced into being sympathetic to the stars, in this case the Corleone family, and thus we participate psychologically in the family’s crimes, which, I repeat, were originally and are continuously justified on the grounds of the family’s interests.
In the case of Belize’s political leaders, they justify their felonies and malfeasances on the grounds that their sins are committed in the service of the political parties which have enabled them to achieve power. The sins of the leaders are, of course, sanctioned by the members and supporters of the political party in whose name the sins are committed, because both leaders and followers understand that in the game they play, the game of politics, sometimes you have to do what you have to do, as it is said.
There were historic moments in England, whose political leaders were called kings, when subjects stood up to their kings as a matter of conscience. These men were executed by the kings, but, not only do their names live on in history, but the people of England have always considered them as having contributed materially to the glorious traditions of England. The most famous and high ranking of the conscientious objector/rebels are Thomas a-Becket, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Sir Thomas More.
You must understand one thing, beloved: you cannot be a political leader and be a saint at the same time. You may wish to view your particular political leader as a saint, but that is your prerogative. After 48 years in public life, I can assure you that your political leader is not a saint. To achieve political power, a leader must subscribe wholeheartedly to the precepts of the one Machiavelli, and in the world of Machiavelli, power always trumps principle. I am putting it in a genteel manner. If we were to be blunt, we would say that men do anything for power. Power is like gold. It creates a frenzy in men.
A year and some months after winning a very, very close general election in March of 2012, the Leader of the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) and Prime Minister of Belize, Right Honorable Dean O. Barrow, faced what appeared to him to be a crisis. His margin in the House of Representatives over the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) was only 17-14, and one of his UDP area representatives, the Hon. Elvin Penner, had gotten himself into a dangerous predicament involving the acquiring of an illegal passport for one “Citizen Kim.” Were Penner forced to resign and a bye-election then cost the UDP his seat, the UDP margin of power would have become only 16-15, absolutely too close for comfort.
I submit to you that Mr. Barrow then decided to be “strong for the party.” The problem is that in being strong for the party, it appears that Mr. Barrow, directly or indirectly, interfered with the administration of justice in Belize. The implications of that interference constitute what is referred to as “precedent”: it is the thin edge of the wedge.
Personally, I do not see any Thomas a-Becket or Thomas More on the UDP landscape. In fact, I think I see high ranking churchmen who are falling over themselves in order to curry favor with the Prime Minister. As a result of the landscape I see, I wonder about the public and constitutional morality we may have lost in our transition from colonialism to independence.
At the age of 23, I was tried in the Supreme Court here on a charge of seditious conspiracy. Her Majesty alleged that I had intended to bring her administration of justice into contempt by writing a satirical lead story in this newspaper in February of 1970. (All I was trying to say was that an NIPDM election petition was a waste of time, and in fact it was.) In 1970, Belize was still a colony, albeit a self-governing colony, of Great Britain. In 1970, the judges and attorneys here still wore wigs, if you understand what I mean.
After we became independent in 1981, I almost immediately experienced the deterioration of Belize’s administration of justice. I feel that I was railroaded in a libel case where the plaintiff was the Honorable Prime Minister of Belize. A Mexican magazine had published a story which we (and two other local newspapers) decided to reprint. In my mind, the purpose of reprinting the Mexican magazine’s story was to bring pressure on local authorities to investigate the charges made by that magazine.
No such investigation was ever done. The focus was completely on punishing the newspapers for daring to repeat the charges. Within a few months after this newspaper was fined an unprecedented amount for libel, evidence emerged which showed that there had been some substance to the Mexican story. There was someone placed in the Honorable Prime Minister’s political constituency committee who was involved in international drug trafficking. That individual eventually had to flee to Chetumal to avoid the law in Belize, and he died in exile in Chetumal.
We have to treat our justice system with extreme care. Every time we see what appears to be a crack in the justice system, brave and responsible citizens have to step up to the plate. The justice system must always be protected from the executive. This is what Thomas a-Becket did in the twelfth century and what Thomas More did in the sixteenth. They paid for their conviction and bravery with their lives. England is the greater for the heroism of these two.