Publisher — 24 August 2012

When the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) decided to blame Mark Espat (and Cordel Hyde, perhaps to a lesser extent) for their defeat in the March 2012 general elections, PUP propagandists went into a virtual anti-Mark frenzy on their radio station and in their newspaper.

Personally, I was immediately reminded of how vicious were the attacks upon myself when the United Democratic Party (UDP) chose, quite cynically, to make yours truly the scapegoat for their defeat in the October 1974 general elections. As a matter of fact, I believe that it was in the aftermath of those elections and those attacks that this column originated in late 1974: it was a desperate attempt to plead my case to the people of Belize.

I’ve watched Mark refuse to respond to the PUP attacks, though these attacks have to take their toll. His position is substantially different from mine was 38 years ago, because Mark Espat had been a major success story as a Ramada Hotel chief executive at a very young age, and had followed that up by winning three consecutive general elections as PUP standard bearer in the Albert constituency. He won those elections in spectacular fashion and was considered a dominant force in that previously NIP/UDP division. He was, by extension, a star in the PUP, so much so that in late October of 2011 Mark Espat became the Interim Leader of the PUP and saw his brief leadership publicly endorsed by 30 of the PUP’s 31 electoral constituencies.

Just 11 days after becoming Interim Leader, Mark Espat, who had previously been a Deputy Leader of the PUP, announced that he would not accept the leadership on a permanent basis. The PUP began to prepare for a national convention to choose a new Leader. Belize Rural North’s Arthur Saldivar was already a leadership candidate; this was why there was the one division, the said Belize Rural North, which had not supported Mark Espat. Toledo East standard bearer Mike Espat and Cayo South standard bearer Julius Espat quickly threw their hats into the PUP leadership ring.

At the eleventh hour, so to speak, big people in the PUP decided there would be no leadership convention, and installed Freetown area representative Francis Fonseca, who had been defeated by Johnny Briceño in the PUP’s March 2008 national leadership convention, as PUP Leader. The three nominated leadership candidates immediately “salaamed.”

The decision by the PUP two weeks ago to close down the print edition of The Belize Times (they say temporarily), and fire some longtime and faithful employees in a messy and controversial manner, did not catch me by complete surprise, because, as far as I understand it, Mark Espat had declined leadership of the PUP precisely because the party’s financials were in very bad shape, and he believed that the party was financially compromised where its relationship with Lord Michael Ashcroft was concerned.

Johnny Briceño had resigned as PUP Leader earlier that October of 2011 after an outburst at Independence Hall, an outburst inadvertently broadcast on the party’s radio station, an outburst in which he made an emotional call for various “fat cats” to bring back some of the millions they had accumulated while the PUP was in power between 1998 and 2008. How Briceño had reached that level of frustration between March 2008 and October 2011 is a most interesting story, but it is private party business. There are things I think I know which I prefer not to divulge.

Yes, I am the publisher of a newspaper, but people do talk to me off the record, and I respect requests for confidentiality. For sure there are conflicts of interest which arise, as a consequence, from time to time, but then compartmentalization has been an aspect of my life for a very long time.

In any case, I wish to point out, in closing, that when the UDP went after me in their newspaper and on their public rostrum after the 1974 generals, I was, by contrast with Mark Espat in 2012, at the absolutely lowest ebb of my life in Belize. There was no real political need for the UDP to do what they did, and, more than that, I had never been an official or a member of their party, and did not owe them anything. And, finally and, I think, most importantly, I was being blamed unfairly.

Fairness, however, is not a primary, or indeed any kind of, concern for the leaderships of mass political parties. Their organizations are big enough to make their own convenient decisions, big enough to enforce these decisions, whether these decisions have regard to the facts or not. The PUP leadership decided that Mark Espat (and Cordel Hyde, to a perhaps lesser extent) was to blame for their defeat in the 2012 generals, and they chose to ignore, sweep under the rug even, some monumentally flawed and manifestly malicious decisions made by their sacred cows.

Mark Espat decided that he would not respond to the slander. In 1974, however, I was in a much less secure situation, and decided, under duress, that I had to retaliate. It was what it was, and it is what it is.

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