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PUP 2013 – hard or soft?

EditorialPUP 2013 – hard or soft?

I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself
And falls on the other.
– MACBETH, Act I, sc. vii, 25-29.

The announcement on Wednesday by PUP Cayo South area representative and Deputy Leader, Hon. Julius Espat, that the Opposition political party would be demonstrating in front of the National Assembly building before and during Friday’s House meeting, was a move the PUP probably had to make. Insofar as dissatisfaction with the Barrow administration is concerned, had Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition waited much longer, they may have run the risk of watching the tail wag the dog, so to speak.

It was interesting that it should be Mr. Espat, one of five PUP Deputy Leaders, who was chosen to make the announcement to the media, as opposed to the Party Leader, Hon. Francis Fonseca (Freetown). The PUP has five Deputy Leaders. These are the aforementioned Julius, Toledo East’s Mike Espat, Corozal Southeast’s Florencio Marin, Jr., Belize Rural Central’s Dolores Balderamos-Garcia, and Carolyn Trench-Sandiford, who is the only one of the five who does not own a seat in the House.

Julius Espat, a relative newcomer to electoral politics, was the National Campaign Manager for the PUP in the March 2012 general elections, and he came out of that campaign with an excess of energy. The huge Cayo South victory in his first ever run for national office, coupled with the fact that the underdog PUP had come so close to winning, filled Hon. Espat with zeal to the point where he became like a whirling dervish: for almost eighteen months, he was here, there, and everywhere. It was not until his proposals for a reconstructed Public Accounts Committee (PAC) ran into legislative technicalities a couple months ago, that Hon. Julius appeared to slow down a bit.

The Elvin Penner passport scandal, however, which broke in mid-September, re-energized the young Mr. Espat almost as soon as it seemed that he was slowing down. It helped that the constituency controversy which arose in the aftermath of the Hon. Penner’s possibly criminal actions was taking place in Cayo Northeast, as Hon. Julius apparently considers Cayo, and its six House seats, to constitute his operational base. (UDP Cayo Northeast area representative, Hon. Elvin Penner, was Minister of State in the Ministry of Immigration before his expulsion from Cabinet by the Prime Minister and his seat’s becoming the target of a recall campaign by the Opposition PUP.) The reports are that it was he, Julius, who had been doing the pushing for the Jason Patrick Andrews candidacy in Belmopan, a candidacy whose early announcement was originally supposed to amount to a PUP endorsement, but which is now being challenged on three different party fronts.

In his interview Wednesday with Channel 5, Hon. Julius refers to “volunteerism” in connection with Friday morning’s demonstration, and somewhere else in the media he is quoted as saying that he expects at least a thousand people to show up for it. Well, a thousand people at the National Assembly Friday morning would be the equivalent of what Madison Avenue calls a “soft launch.” There are 31 electoral constituencies in the nation of Belize: 1000 people would mean that each PUP constituency would only deliver thirty plus demonstrators to Belmopan on Friday. ???

This soft approach may well be a tactic designed to lull the ruling UDP into complacency. But, if last Friday afternoon’s response to the threat of a Rufus X demonstration at the international airport is anything to judge by, the UDP’s present mode is anything but complacent. This is a party and government which has been under stress for months. Try the rosewood scandals, Noh Mul, land scandals, work contract scandals, and then the Social Investment Fund craziness. Penner’s passports and Castro’s visas have upgraded stress to duress. The UDP’s back is against the wall, and it is at times like these in political parties that the pit bulls start taking over from the Chihuahuas. And remember, the UDP is a party which boasts that they are flush with cash. This, in a Belizean political landscape where there are a thousand times more mercenaries than there are volunteers.

In a battle of cash, the PUP problem now is that for two decades the formula of their big financiers was simple: they gave their money to Ralph Fonseca, just about anything he requested, because they were absolutely confident they would be reimbursed, and then some. In the 2013 PUP, the status of Ralph Fonseca, who lost his Belize Rural Central seat in 2008 and did not run in 2012, is an Independence Hall secret. The PUP’s traditional big money backers, however, are not interested in trying to unravel any party secrets. For them, it’s still Ralph, or kiss me goodbye. Hon. Julius has his personal liquidity, and it is believed there is one very large person who has his financial back, but in a contest of money on Friday, the PUP would most likely be the underdog against the Barrow people.

So then, what about the unhappy trade unions? If they chose to come out on Friday, Belmopan would be rocking. The thing is, the unions know they can rock Belmopan on their very own, as they proved earlier this year, so they don’t have any powerful incentive, as far as we know, to support a PUP-sponsored action. Here is where the crux of the matter lies, if we consider the present situation by comparison with late 2004/early 2005.

When marchers shook up Belize City a few weeks after the August 2004 G-7 challenge to the Said Musa government, it was the Opposition UDP which sponsored that march. But the UDP had been like, dead in the water, as late as February that year. In August 2004, the UDP essentially “piggybacked” on the trade unions, the churches, civil society, et alii, who had been scandalized by the abuse of public funds under the PUP Musa administration.

The point is that the PUP would probably have to go cap in hand to the unions, the churches, civil society, et alii, if they really wanted to rock Belmopan on Friday. But, the big boys who support Ralph are uncomfortable with populist energies. They are oligarchs, you see, whose priority business concern is cheap labor and whose priority political concern is public funds for private investments. Philosophically, they are at odds with the trade unions, the churches, civil society, et alii.

So then, the challenge for the PUP is reconciling their right wing with their left one. Mr. Price’s political personality was overpowering, and none of the two wings could stand up to him: he made them lie together as one. Mr. Francis is young and does not have this kind of prestige. Mr. Said was able to reconcile the PUP’s right wing with its left between 1996 and 2004. But after that, it became clear that his flight was a one-sided one: it was neoliberal right.

To repeat, Friday morning’s demonstration is a move the PUP probably had to make. It is a move to which the UDP probably has to respond. So that, the ultimate challenge on Friday will be the challenge to the Police Department. They will be challenged to keep the National Assembly steps calm when and while inside the House itself, the usual crazy circus is taking place.

Power to the people.

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