Around August of 2003, a few months after the PUP had won a second consecutive term of office under Said Musa, a powerful faction of the ruling party infiltrated the gang which controls the Partridge Street area where Kremandala is located. As a result of that infiltration, I came under personal threats.
As a Belizean citizen, my first response was to seek assistance from the police, but I soon realized that the seemingly casual attitude of the police meant that the people behind the threats also had power at the highest levels in the Police Department. This is not something which I could prove in a court of law, mind you, but when I’m in trouble I go with my gut instincts. That usually works for me.
A similar episode, though less frightening, had happened to me around 1977, 1978, when I was supposed to be in an alliance with the ruling PUP. A PUP-friendly muscle man was behaving in a very hostile manner to me. When I complained to the very big man in the government, he was sympathetic to me. As time went along, however, I realized that the chances were great that he was the very person who had given the intimidator his instructions.
This is how dangerous our political system can become for citizens who are outspoken but not within the mainstream of the ruling party. The politicians who control the police also have big influence in the underworld. If a mainstream politician wants to lean on you, he can recruit underworld elements, and then have the police behave as if they don’t understand what you are complaining about.
In fact, in 2003 the senior police officer who heard my complaint made fun of me, saying there was a time when I would have taken care of the problem myself. His casual attitude tipped me off that his superiors, the two highest of whom were “unavailable,” were probably responsible, at the end of the day, for my emergency.
During its glory days under Mr. Price, the PUP liked to pretend that theirs was a seamless unity. They could brag about their unity because it was on record that the Opposition UDP was comprised of three distinct parties – the PDM, the NIP, and the Liberal Party. But, at its very foundation in 1950, the PUP itself was comprised of two very different elements – the General Workers Union led by Clifford Betson and Henry Middleton, and the Robert Sydney Turton multimillionaire business group. There was also the St. John’s College alumni faction, which ended up taking over the PUP in the party’s first decade of life.
I am not saying that the PUP was not more unified under Mr. Price than was the UDP, but I am saying that it is in the nature of the two dominant mass parties we have, that there exist within them, factions with distinct, often opposing viewpoints and philosophies. These factions come together in order to win general elections, but when the power is to be shared, all these factions are not equal. And, in fact, it is normal for specific factions, especially right after general election victories, to seek to dominate the administration of power.
This newspaper first participated as a faction in a general election campaign for the 1979 election. Fully conscious of ourselves as only a small faction in campaigns, we would return to our newspaper publishing immediately after governments had been formed. This was the case in 1979 (PUP) and in 1984 (UDP), but the situation was somewhat different in 1998, in that the new PUP government included my second son as a Cabinet Minister.
As soon as the PUP were returned to office in March of 2003, my second son was demoted in Cabinet, and the University of Belize, of whose board I was chairman, suffered a major slash in its budget allocations. A few months later, I came under the aforementioned attacks in the streets.
This is history. The column today has a specific purpose. I wish to say to certain individuals, they know who they are, who find themselves hiring out their skills to the big men who run political parties, that they compromise themselves in certain ways. They should focus on trying to regain their independence and salvage their dignity. If they wish to consult with myself on an equal footing, then they must prove to me that they are no longer compromised in any material way.
I have also discussed what happened in August of 2003 to give you an example of what a serious business an independent roots newspaper is. An independent roots newspaper has to fight for its life from week to week, and sometimes your supposed political friends, the very ones whom you assisted to gain office, become your worst enemies. This is because the elected politician, under Belize’s system of governance, becomes massively powerful for his term of office, and often such a politician is tempted to put troublesome entities like independent roots newspapers in their place.
In concluding, let me say that when I referred to “equal footing” in the paragraph before last, I was referring to credibility with the masses of the Belizean people. You can be compromised and yet be on a higher footing than I am where your bank account, material assets, and social standing are concerned. I can see and respect that, where that is the case, but those were never the criteria by which I lived my life. I pretty much know my place and I know how to hold my corner, as it is said in the streets.
Jesus said like this, that if you are invited to any place and function, you should place yourself at the foot of the table. It may then be that the host decides to bring you up a few places. But if you immediately walk yourself to the head of the table, you may find yourself being asked to step down for people who are larger than you are. In this respect, as in many others, I am a follower of the Christ: I place myself at the foot of the table.
Power to the people.