The decision by the LOVE FM management not to broadcast the afternoon session of Tuesday’s House meeting in Belmopan was an interesting one. LOVE FM enjoys a national signal monopoly in the radio business. KREM Radio has not been broadcasting House meetings for years, so when LOVE returned to their Belize City main studio to stay on Tuesday afternoon, this meant that only WAVE Radio and WAVE Television, broadcast media which are owned by the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP), were broadcasting the November 18 House session which had the Petrocaribe moneys as its primary subject matter.
With national municipal elections scheduled for nine city and town councils in less than four months time, this particular House meeting could have been considered the opening of the campaign for the March 4, 2015 municipals. With LOVE FM being a station guided almost exclusively by business considerations, one question which has to be asked is whether one of the major political parties or a wealthy special interest made it profitable for LOVE not to broadcast. A second question we need to ask is whether the WAVE radio signal has become a national signal. It is for sure that the UDP has pumped a lot of money into the station. Technically, the WAVE Television signal is a national one, because it can be seen on cable television in all six Districts of Belize.
So then, it was the UDP radio and television stations which made the House speeches of Orange Walk Central’s John Briceño and Cayo South’s Julius Espat available for the national audience. Both Briceño and Espat are considered potential challengers to Francis Fonseca’s leadership of the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP), depending on how the municipal elections go in March. The fact that LOVE did not broadcast the House session in the afternoon was to Francis’ favor, since his speech had been aired in the morning for LOVE’s national audience, in addition to the speech of his foremost party supporter, Fort George’s Said Musa, the former PUP Leader.
The UDP is more monolithic in nature than the PUP presently is, with Prime Minister Dean Barrow being securely seated in the position of Maximum Leader, with Deputy Leader Gapi Vega of Orange Walk North positioning himself even more closely to Mr. Barrow, because of his need for political protection after all the murder accusations against Vega aired on the aforementioned LOVE FM recently by Mr. Vega’s PUP opponent, Ramon “Monchi” Cervantes.
Back in the latter part of the 1970s, a Northern Caucus emerged inside the PUP which featured Corozal’s Florencio Marin, Sr. and Valdemar Castillo, and Orange Walk’s Joe Briceño and Guadalupe Pech. A battle for leadership of the powerful Northern Caucus began in 1996 between Florencio Marin, Sr., and Joe Briceño’s son, John, who replaced Florencio Marin as Deputy Leader of the PUP and Northern Caucus kingpin when Said Musa, supported by John Briceño, defeated Florencio for PUP leadership in 1996. Florencio ousted Briceño from Northern Caucus leadership and replaced him with Orange Walk East’s Dave Burgos at the time of the PUP’s G-7 crisis in August of 2004. Although Florencio, Sr., has been replaced by Florencio, Jr., in Corozal Southeast, that contest for Northern Caucus dominance is an ongoing one between the Corozal Marins and the Orange Walk Briceños.
After the March 2012 general election when the PUP swept all of the four seats in the Toledo and Stann Creek Districts, a real PUP Southern Caucus emerged for the very first time. It featured Toledo’s Mike Espat and Oscar Requeña, and Stann Creek’s Rodwell Ferguson and Ivan Ramos. That Southern Caucus has held together and become tight-knit. The UDP will seek to splinter the confidence of the PUP’s Southern Caucus by targeting the Dangriga Town Council in next March’s municipal elections.
After the March 2012 generals, again, it quickly became clear that Cayo South’s Julius Espat, who ran and was elected to the House for the first time in 2012, had only minimally disguised PUP leadership ambitions, and that his immediate springboard was the PUP’s Western Caucus, of which he became leader. The return of Dan Silva to Cayo Central has weakened Espat’s Western Caucus influence, because, while it was he, Julius, who shoehorned Jason Patrick Andrews into the PUP’s Belmopan standard bearer position, Andrews is friendly with Silva. Instability was introduced into the PUP’s Western Caucus with the recent decision of Cayo North’s Joseph Mahmoud, elected, like Espat, for the first time in 2012, not to run in 2017.
The PUP’s Eastern Caucus is led by Dr. Francis Smith, whose younger brother, Godfrey, became the party’s national campaign manager earlier this year. Clearly, the fact that Francis Fonseca’s Freetown constituency and Said Musa’s Fort George both lie inside the Eastern Caucus makes Dr. Smith’s Eastern Caucus leadership one of a paper nature. It is in Belize City that the UDP expect to demoralize the PUP in the upcoming campaign and elections, but so far there has not been much PUP Eastern Caucus mobilization.
In conclusion, let us say that it appears to us that the credibility of Belize’s PUDP politicians is at an all-time low. They have to bring money when they wish to speak to the electorate. On Tuesday, the ruling UDP brought money, and the Opposition PUP did not. The result was plain to be seen. Tuesday was the beginning of the election campaign, but it was not election day. Mayhap Santa Claus will bring some money for the Opposition for Christmas. The PUP needs some of that. They well know, after all is said and done, that the Sparrow’s words are more relevant than ever – no money, no love.