As part of their honoring of the January 15 birthday of Rt. Hon. George Price, the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) last week unveiled a l0-point program which was intended to move the grand old party back to its social justice roots.
This newspaper welcomes the PUP social justice program, if only in its symbolism, because we have been accusing the PUP of having gone so far to the right over the last two decades, that they have become more neoliberal than the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) itself, the political party which introduced neoliberal capitalism in Belize when the UDP was founded in 1973.
Some history is relevant here. We consider ourselves on Partridge Street as having campaigned for a political party of our choosing in three different general elections. These were for the PUP in 1979, for the UDP in 1984, and for the PUP in 1998. In all the aforementioned national elections, the party we campaigned for won a landslide victory. On these three occasions, this newspaper had felt, whether rightly or wrongly, that a victory for the “other” side would have threatened our very existence.
45 years ago, three young university graduates made a splash in Belizean public affairs when they went to the streets. These were Assad Shoman, Said Musa, and Evan X Hyde. Assad Shoman admired and loved Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution so much, he eventually abandoned Belize and went to live in Havana. Shoman became a top flight academic. After Shoman resigned electoral politics here in 1984, his closest friend, Said Musa, apparently began a move to the right, so much so that his two consecutive terms as Prime Minister of Belize were marked by doctrinaire neoliberal capitalism. Evan X Hyde, for most of his public life, has been representing what we will refer to as an independent minority on Belize’s socio-political spectrum. When this independent minority takes sides with any of the two major political parties, as it did in 1979, 1984, and 1998, it tips the scales in that party’s favor.
Partridge Street has grown from Amandala into Kremandala, an institution which added a radio station (1989) and a television station (2003) to the foundation newspaper (1969). Kremandala is an institution which has become plainly pluralistic, with the various managers and editors exercising their own judgment and discretion on a daily basis. In fact, Russell Vellos, the editor-in-chief of Amandala, which has been Belize’s leading newspaper since 1981, makes important decisions on his own, although he consults regularly with the publisher.
As a pluralistic institution, Kremandala is not aligned with any of the two major political parties; Kremandala’s socio-economic-political views are diverse. It is fair to say that Evan X Hyde remains the most powerful single individual at Kremandala, and his views may be described as consistently roots, and functionally pragmatic. “Roots” views place the masses of the Belizean people at the center of the discourse, and definitely have to be considered more in the direction of social justice than along the lines of neoliberal capitalism.
So how did Kremandala find itself campaigning so hard for the PUP in 1998, only to have that party, in power from 1998 to 2008, implement such a neoliberal platform? This is a fairly long story. The PUP had changed from its social justice roots, but that was not clear either to the PUP rank-and-file or to the general public of Belize.
Let us go back, for history’s sake, to the opening of the year 1993. The PUP had narrowly won the general election of September 1989, and Mr. Price became Prime Minister again. But in 1989, Mr. Price was already in his late sixties, and the world had speeded up a lot. At some point during that 1989 to 1993 PUP term, Ralph Fonseca, brought into Cabinet through the Senate, effectively became Belize’s Minister of Finance, although the laws of Belize declare quite categorically that the Minister of Finance must be an elected member of the House of Representatives.
Soon after winning by a mere 15-13 margin in 1989, the PUP increased that margin to 16-12 by bringing over a UDP Toledo area representative, Stanley Usher. Now, in January of 1993, the PUP increased their margin even further when their Jorge Espat easily won a bye-election over the UDP’s Howell Longsworth to claim the Freetown seat which the ousted Derek Aikman had won for the UDP in 1989.
The UDP had been divided by the Maritime Areas Act in 1991. Philip Goldson had broken away from the Manuel Esquivel-led UDP to form the National Alliance for Belizean Rights (NABR), and Derek Aikman had gone with him. Aikman became the sacrifice, and lost his seat in 1992 when both PUP and UDP lawyers collaborated to have him declared a bankrupt.
In March of 1993, the PUP destroyed the separate Belize City Council slates presented by the UDP and NABR, and then all that was left was for some way to be found to have Ralph duly elected so that he could be legally in charge of the money. (In the December 1984 general election, Fonseca had been badly beaten in Queen’s Square by the UDP’s Dean Barrow.) The PUP had decided to form a new Belize Rural Central constituency so as to increase the number of seats from 28 to 29 and prevent the dangerous future possibility of an election tie in number of seats. The proposed Rural Central candidate for the PUP, Dolores Balderamos-Garcia, was pushed aside and replaced with Ralph.
The economy was roaring, albeit in an unsustainable fashion, and the PUP leadership was able to convince enough of their people to call general elections FIFTEEN MONTHS EARLY. At the time, the PUP had two Deputy Leaders – Corozal Southeast’s Florencio Marin, Sr., and Fort George’s Said Musa. With Mr. Price fading fast, Marin and Musa were the real powerhouses in the party. It became clear afterwards that the early election had been Musa’s call instead of Marin’s. Ralph won Rural Central in a landslide, but the PUP, despite polling 2,000 more popular votes than the UDP/NABR coalition, lost in a stunning upset in seats by a 16-13 margin. This was June 30, 1993.
Florencio Marin, Sr., whose political career had been characterized by absolute devotion to Mr. Price, led a kind of uprising against the Musa-Fonseca –Glenn Godfrey troika in May of 1994. Marin was supported by Caribbean Shores’ Joe Coye, Cayo’s Dan Silva, Dangriga’s Dr. Ted Aranda, Dolores Balderamos-Garcia, and others. But Mr. Price, who was still the Leader of the party, was supportive of Musa-Fonseca-Godfrey. When the matter was supposedly settled in the PUP national convention of November 1994, nothing had really been accomplished by the Marin initiative.
After Mr. Price was forced out as PUP Leader in 1996, Said Musa defeated Florencio Marin to become PUP Leader, and after Musa became Prime Minister in 1998, Ralph Fonseca became so powerful Flo Marin decided to pay his respects.
A little over ten years after Flo Marin’s May 15, 1994 dissent, 7 PUP Cabinet Ministers in August of 2004 challenged Ralph’s omnipotence where public finances were concerned. There is a history, then, of opposition to Ralph Fonseca’s power inside the PUP, and this history goes way back to 1994. But, when it really matters, inside the PUP itself it seems that Ralph always wins. So let it be written, so let it be done.