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PUDP politics

“The Belizean people think that we need more foreign investment in Belize and certainly we can’t afford to have a fight with any investor that comes to Belize to invest their money and employs hundreds of Belizeans. They have no fight with Lord Ashcroft or any of his investments.”

“Michael Ashcroft is a bonafide investor that has lived in Belize for a portion of his boyhood years and then returned to Belize to invest his wealth and assist in the development of the Belizean economy.”

– pg. 2 editorial, THE NATIONAL PERSPECTIVE, Sunday, February 7, 2010

There is a reason why, previous to 2003, none of Belize’s two major parties had won consecutive general elections in the post-independence era. For the record, the United Democratic Party (UDP) won in 1984, the People’s United Party (PUP) in 1989, the UDP in 1993, and the PUP in 1998. The Belizeans who made the changes were independent voters.

The two major parties share the traditional allegiance of perhaps 60 to 70 percent of the voting electorate, while perhaps 30 to 35 percent of Belize’s voters are independent of the PUDP. Neither of the two parties was able to create sustainable economic development for Belize in the post-independence era. It is true that it is difficult to accomplish anything of systemic change in a single five-year term. But Belize’s independent voters had become impatient with the politicians.

The 1984-89 UDP administration had impressive growth figures, but the development was not sustainable: much of it was based on the sale of passports, the sale of Belizean lands, and the introduction of tourism. (Mr. Price’s PUP had been skeptical of tourism.)

The 1989–93 PUP continued the UDP’s neoliberal programs, and also produced good growth figures, but their figures were even more unsustainable, because they included the early business activity of the predator business mogul, Lord Michael Ashcroft.

The 1993–98 UDP government began life as a coalition between the UDP and Hon. Philip Godson’s National Alliance for Belizean Rights (NABR), and that Manuel Esquivel administration was one of the most confused and bitter in the modern history of Belize. Economic growth slowed.

The 1998–2003 PUP gave us explosive growth statistics, but the “growth” was steroidal: it was the result of rapid, massive borrowing at commercial rates from the same flawed investment banking system which collapsed between 2007 and 2008. The 2003 PUP threw some of their high interest (“welcome to the party”) money at the electorate during the Said Musa 2003 re-election campaign, and won a second consecutive term, unprecedented in the post-independence era. Their financial chickens, however, began coming home to roost with the Social Security Board scandal in July of 2004, and that Said Musa administration tried too hard to save Ralph Fonseca, their self-anointed financial guru. The PUP was replaced by the UDP in 2008, with the superbond debt hanging over the Belizean economy like a Damocles sword.

The independent voters of Belize, following political independence in 1981, clearly became more informed and more impatient, hence the four consecutive changes of government between 1984 and 1998. Said Musa won the unprecedented second term in 2003 because not only was Belize still enjoying superbond liquidity, Mr. Musa himself was still benefiting from some roots credibility earned during his period of alliance with Assad Shoman in the 1970s and early 1980s. It was Mr. Musa’s reaction to the G-7’s (7 Cabinet Ministers) challenge to Ralph Fonseca in August of 2004 which lost him whatever credibility he had left with the unions and independent voters. Since then, the problem for the PUP has been that Mr. Musa, supported by his 1996 leadership rival, Florencio Marin, Sr., has retained enormous internal power at Independence Hall.

When Dean Barrow sought to win a second consecutive term for the UDP in March of 2012, Barrow and the UDP were heavily favored. On election night, the PUP came within a mere 60, 70 votes (the Cayo Central and Cayo Northeast seats) of winning. But, the PUP lost narrowly, and had to lick their wounds for almost four more years.

The single individual most responsible for the PUP defeat and the second consecutive UDP term in 2012 was Said Musa, because he remained the most powerful individual in the PUP. He it was who had driven John Briceño out of leadership in late 2011 and replaced him with Francis Fonseca. Musa it was who had created and used The National Perspective to undermine Briceño. And Musa it was who had decided, after installing Francis Fonseca as PUP Leader, to purge the PUP in November of 2011 and in so doing lost two sure PUP seats for the party – Albert and Lake Independence. With Albert and Lake I, the PUP win, 16-15, in 2012. (Old timers felt that Said was only completing a return to his National Party roots. You’d have to check the national election results of 1957.)

Onwards to November 2015. Said Musa, supported by Florencio and Ralph Fonseca, had run the PUP from 2012 to 2015. He must accept the blame for all the PUP defeats between 2012 and 2015. When the PUP went to a leadership convention early this year, three months after its third consecutive general election defeat, the man Said Musa had driven out of PUP leadership, John Briceño, defeated Francis Fonseca, the Said/Ralph loyalist, by a greater margin than he had done in March of 2008.

As things stand today in the major party politics of Belize, the ruling UDP is on a PUP–induced high and trying to get the Belizean people excited about a “six of one and half-a-dozen of the other” race for their First Deputy Leader post. The convention to replace Gapi Vega as First Deputy Leader and Deputy Prime Minister, and thus become the logical successor to the outgoing Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow as Party Leader, and aspirant Prime Minister, is important because of the stakes involved. In non-UDP circles, however, the mood is: give us a break. Arguably, Faber and Saldivar are two sides of the same coin.

All the same, the Opposition PUP continues to sputter. It is not that the UDP is that great, beloved: it is that the PUP got hijacked in late 2011 and is still trying to recover. The Belizean economy is in a frightening tailspin at the base of the socio-economic pyramid. Independent voters have been paying attention to Guatemalan aggression since February of last year, and we have seen the new Briceño-led PUP bring in Dr. Assad Shoman to strengthen the Belize team in talks with the Guatemalans. We believe we see some benefits of Shoman’s presence already. But, for the time being, the economy remains more important, though surely less dramatic, than Guatemalan aggression: every day the state of the economy affects how Belizean people eat, dress, sleep, educate their children, and attend to their health care. It is vital that the Opposition provide the Belizean people with some kind of option, some kind of vision, some kind of hope.

Mr. Briceño has defeated the Said Musa/Ralph Fonseca candidate in two different leadership conventions eight years apart. It is important that Said get the sense. If not, we’ll be looking at Saldivar or Faber as Prime Minister. That would be four in a row for the red, and counting, and that would be not much of anything for the ages. Let us repeat: six of one and half-a-dozen of the other.

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