Generally speaking, I am a human rights advocate, I would say, but if there is one thing you will learn in the streets, especially if you do any kind of gambling, it’s that there are people who are losers. You can’t do anything to help them. Mother Teresa would not be able to help them. Losers are human beings who are almost addicted to losing. They feel that their losing was intended to be, I guess, and that somehow the world is against them. Even when they are winning, they are half expecting to start losing, and when that losing occurs, they exude strange vibes, frustration for sure, but it is more than frustration: it is as if losing is what they know best, and it brings them to a comfort zone which almost seems sometimes like happiness. I ain’t kidding.
The Hustler is one of the greatest gambling movies ever, featuring Paul Newman as Fast Eddie Felson, a young pool shark. (For those of you with cloistered virtue, pool is pocket billiards.) There is a classic scene with classic dialogue when Newman finally arrives in the big city, where he challenges the veteran pool kingpin, Jackie Gleason (Minnesota Fats), to a high stakes pool contest – game after game after game … Fast Eddie is a brilliant pool player, and after a while he begins to establish technical superiority over Fats.
But, the young Fast Eddie is drinking while he’s shooting, and he becomes overconfident. “I’m the best, Fats. Even if you beat me, I’m still the best.” This is what he says to Fats while he’s on top.
In the movie, George C. Scott plays the role of a cynical, cold-blooded gambler, and on hearing these words from Newman, he says to Gleason, “Stick with this guy, Fats. He’s a loser.”
The gambler’s read was right. As night wears on into the morning hours, Minnesota Fats begins to get the upper hand. Fast Eddie had been savoring victory prematurely. No doubt, also, alcohol began to have a negative effect on him. He who had been winning, ends up losing.
Gambling is, most importantly, a test of nerves. In the world of gamblers, men (and women) become legends when they can absorb devastating blows, keep their cool, and recover, or at least cut their losses. If a gambler has a losing personality, he cannot recover from a losing streak, because he loses his nerve and panics when the losses mount up.
In an editorial last week, we pointed out to you that Belize’s political leaders, from both the two major political parties, have been playing games with “house money,” the people’s money, so that all they have lost in the $90 million UHS catastrophe is a little of their bravado. Their personal bank accounts, stashed mostly offshore for maximum safety, are as safe as could be. We, the people, have lost massively, and yet we, the people, never rolled any dice. The PUDP leaders were rolling the dice for us, enjoying the stage in the House of Representatives, daring us to complain or resist, and pontificating all the while.
These have been the strangest games of all – BTL games, UHS games, Belize Bank games, with the billionaire Britisher as our opponent, and we always lose. I would say the people of Belize are dazed. We are in concussion protocol. It was all so unfair. We, the people of Belize, have been made to look like big time losers, and our PUDP leaders, who made all the mistaken decisions for us, continue to live their rich and famous lives.
My experiences in electoral politics have given me a personal insight into how these mass political parties operate and how their leaders emerge. There are individuals in the House of Representatives who have no real record of accomplishment. These are individuals who would not be able to stand on their own in the streets. But they are mightily successful in the world of electoral politics because, first and foremost, they are team players. They will always cover for a member of their team, even if they have incontestable proof that that team member is a scalawag, a rapscallion, and/or a bandit. Team players cover for each other publicly, even when they know they are participating in a charade. If you wanted to be critical, you would liken these political teams to gangs.
The process of electoral politics as it is participated in by the two major political parties, is a process built on dishonesty. The truth is of no importance: team loyalty is the foundation, the mandate, and the sine qua non.
Our educated Belizeans often say that these mass political parties are the indispensable building blocks of our parliamentary democracy. Belize’s electoral politics has been monopolized by the People’s United Party (PUP), which was founded in 1950, and by the United Democratic Party (UDP), which was founded in 1973 to incorporate and succeed the National Independence Party (NIP), the People’s Development Movement (PDM), and the Liberal Party.
Tangentially, I have come to realize recently that an element in the Belize Progressive Party (BPP), a party with which I sympathize where its ideological beliefs are concerned, has reached a point where they look at me with disfavor. I understand why. As a sort of gambler, my personal belief is that the BPP has not put itself in a position where the party can be considered a winning general election option. I’m an honest man. I am not a politician. The only way the BPP can be relevant is if we could change our first-past-the post system to proportional representation. I don’t have to be right. I am only giving my opinion. I get paid to do that – give my opinion.
Between 1970 and 1974, I led a third party called the UBAD Party. I would say categorically that the UBAD Party was stronger than the BPP. In fact, I would say, substantially stronger. One reason for UBAD’s strength was that the Opposition Party at the time, the NIP, was beginning to fade at the same time the United Black Association for Development (UBAD), a cultural movement, converted itself into a political party in August of 1970 after the sedition trial of two UBAD leaders. As time went along, desperate NIP supporters began to look to the UBAD as their only hope to fight the ruling PUP, a desperate hope to be sure. This was so much the case that in late 1971, the NIP approached the UBAD Party for us to join with them in a coalition for the December 1971 Belize City Council elections. That election, in retrospect, proved to be the NIP’s swan song, but it provided a kind of springboard for the UBAD’s successful street militancy in early and middle 1972.
The fact of the matter is that the attorney who became the first Leader of the UDP, Dean Russell Lindo, defended UBAD leaders in several Magistrate’s Court cases, pro bono, in early and middle 1972, and in one major Supreme Court case in October of 1972. Mr. Lindo knew what he was doing, and he knew why he was doing it. He earned the gratitude and loyalty of some UBADers.
My point here is that I am not a rookie. Been there and done that. I paid my dues in the streets of Belize City. I don’t know what advice I would give the BPP, but I respect their work. The BPP leaders are serious and sincere.
The UBAD Party had huge support amongst Belize City youth. The party was not electorally viable because the minimum age for voter eligibility was still 21. The voting age was not reduced to 18 until 1978, when UBAD had already been dissolved. There were other problems which definitely made UBAD unviable as a national political option. So that, one has to appreciate the 1973 context in which some UBAD leaders decided to go with Dean Lindo’s UDP.
In conclusion, let me point out that a BPP affiliate recently made a personal Facebook attack on me, going to great lengths to link me publicly with a third cousin of mine, Prime Minister/UDP Leader/Dean Barrow. I considered the attack ignorant, perhaps even scurvy, because anybody who knew the history would know that the bodies of work of the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister, on the one hand, and that of myself, on the other, are very much different, and very much unrelated. Mr. Barrow is Baymen’s Clan. By comparison, I am roots ragga. The Rt.Hon. Prime Minister has to be considered a winner, of course, but I have absolutely no desire to be linked with him. In fact, I resent such linkage. You can check with Pen Cayetano on that.
Power to the people.