“They [the UDP] are shaking inside [the House] because they are hearing the power of the people …” – Hon. Francis Fonseca
Today, there was an added attraction to the customary “antics” that usually take place whenever the House of Representatives convenes in Belmopan.
While the representatives of both major political parties ostensibly debated current national issues inside the House, a small crowd of vocal, energetic and displeased PUP supporters gathered at the steps of Independence Plaza – just outside the National Assembly – to express their discontentment with the current state of affairs as it relates to the recent corruption scandals that have surfaced within the Barrow administration, specifically the passport and visa scandals in which Hon. Elvin Penner and Hon. Edmond Castro have been named.
A conservative estimate has put the demonstrators at between 500 and 600 at the height of the show of public dissent, which marked a buildup of the initial turnout, and constituted roughly half of the 1,000 supporters the party had aimed to bring out. The demonstrators chanted for almost five hours in front of the House, with blue and white flags and numerous placards, while the sounds of beating Garifuna drums could be heard in the background. The PUP supporters demanded the recall of Hon. Elvin Penner and Hon. Edmond Castro, in addition to voicing their position on other relevant public issues currently on the “front burner.”
Late last week, the Opposition PUP announced that they would be conducting the protest at the National Assembly, and it was big news because the Party had not held a true mass party protest for more than 15 years.
Why recall only two? Recall all and be finished with it, declared Opposition Leader Hon. Francis Fonseca as he went outside to meet the throng of supporters, who got even more animated as they saw their PUP representatives approaching.
Fonseca said, “I want you all to know today that this is just the beginning. The PUP, our great party, has always led the fight for Belize. It is the PUP that has always taken the lead in making Belize a better place. So, my friends, we have a lot of work to do together. But we will stand shoulder to shoulder, we will stand head to head, we will stand heart to heart, we will stand together united in bringing down this UDP government that has been so bad for Belize.”
The protesters, who sang and danced throughout the course of the rainy morning, had some choice words for the scandal-wracked UDP Government. With this in mind, Fonseca said, “Dean Barrow and the UDP Government – they can hear you; they are shaking inside because they are hearing the power of the people of Belize. My friends, we thank you for coming out. Today, we say to the United Democratic Party, today we say to Dean Barrow and the UDP – it is time to recall the UDP, recall, resign, retire whatever you have to do – get out!”
The protest was organized by the PUP’s Western Caucus; therefore, most of the demonstrators came from that area. The crowd expanded after the House meeting got underway, although the turnout was not what the Party had expected.
However, PUP Deputy Leader Hon. Julius Espat, the Cayo South area representative who heads the Western Caucus, told the media – just before the House Meeting got underway – that while the crowd might have been slightly off the mark, the objective was to launch a serious protest to send a stern message to the Government. He even assured scrutinizers that they were capable of reaching their target of 1,000 protesters, and that the group of PUP supporters was not a rent-a-crowd.
He said: “Most of the people out here are from the west; coming out from Cayo South, Cayo North East. The buses from Cayo Central, only half have reached, and we are getting a bus from Succotz also. The Belmopan people are on their way, so you’ll see more crowds.”
When questioned as to why the PUP was only aiming for one thousand people, especially since they promised to bring supporters from across the country, Espat said, “For us, it’s a test. We need to know who is serious. We hear people are saying that PUP is not doing anything – well, we need to know who is here and who brought out people to know who is serious or not. The difference is that we are not paying any single person out here. They are coming out here as volunteers. We are only providing transportation.”
In explaining why there were not as yet a thousand protesters outside the House, Espat commented that there is a difference between a diesel engine and a gasoline engine, and that they are “warming up” the diesel engine; it is a slow process, he said, but when the “engine” cranks up and gains momentum, nothing can stop it.
As the day progressed, the PUP aspirants for the Belmopan constituency brought out their supporters and took the chance to rally for themselves by having their supporters wear shirts on which their pictures were imprinted. Amandala managed to speak with one of the aspirants – Jason Patrick Andrews, who on Sunday won the convention. He said, “Right now we have a government that has gone rogue – people want accountability, people want justice, people want answers, and we can’t just continue to push the issues under the rug. So, there is pressure that is being brought to bear today, and this is just the beginning, because this movement that is taking place out here is an awakening of conscience that is taking place within this country, where the leaders must give account to the people of this country.”
While the people stood even in the rain to get their message across, the relatively small size of the crowd became a source of amusement for some members of the ruling UDP.
Hon. Julius Espat commented that what was funny is that there are Cabinet Ministers who are dodging the media in order to avoid answering allegations of corruption while in office. He said, “UDP uses your money to be able to bring out people; that’s a major difference. They can laugh as long as they want to, but when we get in there I want to hear what they have to explain to the Belizean people as to what they have been doing, because our country is in crisis, and if they think it’s a joke, then we have a serious problem.”
Party Leader Francis Fonseca also chipped in on the matter. He told us, “I think it’s disgraceful how things have changed. The people who claimed to be so accountable are now running from the media, running from the people, bringing out thugs to intimidate the media and to keep themselves away from the media – it’s very disgraceful. We should never reach that point, but it is indicative of the times you are in.”
The demonstrators disbanded a little after midday.