BELIZE CITY, Thurs. July 30, 2015–The Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Francis Fonseca, called a special PUP national executive and standard-bearers meeting yesterday afternoon at Independence Hall to hammer out the details of demands made on Monday by a dozen standard-bearers who wrote to him and the party chairman, Henry Charles Usher.
Among the changes the group of 12 were requesting was for the party to conform to its constitution to have a national convention, since it has been almost 5 years since the party’s last national convention. The Party’s constitution prescribes that a national convention must be held every two years on a day in November.
Additionally, the standard-bearers were calling for immediate national consultations to commence to inform the party’s policy positions, and for the party’s national executive to be restructured, arguing that the party’s leadership structure was not inspiring confidence, as evidenced by the poor showing in three elections in the last six months.
Since Sunday, the PUP hierarchy had been feverishly preparing for a showdown that was expected yesterday, Wednesday. First, there was the meeting at Hon. Dolores Balderamos-Garcia’s house, and then on Monday, the women leaders of the PUP called a press conference to express solidarity and satisfaction with Fonseca’s leadership of the party. The 12 standard-bearers had met on Friday, July 24, at Cahal Pech in San Ignacio, but it wasn’t until around 9:00 Monday morning that the letter was delivered to Usher and Fonseca.
As the hour for the Wednesday meeting drew near, two out of the twelve dissident standard bearers – namely Belize Rural North standard-bearer Major Lloyd Jones and Pickstock standard-bearer Dr. Francis Smith – were seen heading into Independence Hall, where they joined 19 others, considered as Fonseca’s loyalists and supporters.
After a three-hour meeting, during which media representatives covering the story were locked out of the Independence Hall vestibule, reporters and television crews were invited inside as party leader Fonseca read from a prepared statement.
In speaking about Monday’s letter from the dissident 12, Fonseca remarked, “We immediately convened a meeting today of the National Executive and standard bearers in order to fully and properly discuss and address the issues raised therein.
“All standard bearers and executive members were invited to this meeting and in my view, there was a particular and special obligation and duty attached to those who had signed the letter, to be present and to be fully and robustly participating in the discussion and decision making.
“The absence of any of the signatories to this letter without a legitimately documented excuse will only further erode confidence in their good faith intentions in respect to the important issues raised in their letter.”
Fonseca went on to state, “The letter from our colleagues was tabled as a priority issue and following a frank, honest and robust discussion, the following decisions were taken.
“One, a national convention which we had agreed to from our last joint meeting of standard-bearers and the national executive on March 18.
“We reaffirmed and confirmed that decision which was taken on March 18 at which we had 28 of our standard-bearers present and every single one of them signed off on that agreement and resolution for the holding of a national convention, at the earliest no later than the end of this year, and that the post of Party Leader will not be open to challenge at that national convention.”
When asked if that was not an inconsistency and an undermining of the democratic principle that anyone can lead the PUP, Party Chairman Usher answered, “None whatsoever. The Constitution of the party says that the National Executive sets policy. National Executive, the majority that was here today, voted in favor, in fact, unanimously voted in favor of the leadership position not being contested.”
Of note is that in a contested national convention almost 2,500 delegates would vote, following reform efforts the Party made in 2010 to deepen the democracy and more than quadruple the number of persons who vote at a national convention.
Today former PUP Minister Servulo Baeza took to facebook, calling the decision “a sick joke,” adding that not only is the decision “unconstitutional but a slap in the face to all those who want their voices heard.” Baeza declared that “it would appear the leadership is more worried about self-preservation than winning the election.”
For his part, Party Leader Fonseca, after the chairman had made his remarks, went up to the microphone and declared: “I want to make it absolutely clear that I did this both at the last meeting, the joint meeting of the standard bearers and the national executive, and today again. I want it to be absolutely clear. I’m not afraid of any convention. I have placed my leadership on the table; it is a matter of these bodies to then determine how best we move forward in the interest of our party.
“Not anybody else’s agenda, not Mr. Barrow’s agenda or anybody else’s agenda. I have made it absolutely clear to everyone in the party who was here today, that my leadership is on the table; they must determine what is in the best interest of the party. If they had decided that we needed to go to a convention, a contested convention, so be it – that would have been the decision of the party.”
Chairman Usher indicated that there will be no sanctions imposed against those standard bearers who signed the letter. The signatories included former PUP leader Hon. John Briceño, former three-time Lake I representative Cordel Hyde, former PUP Minister of Agriculture Dan Silva, Orange Walk South representative Jose Mai, and first time standard-bearers, Josue Carballo (Orange Walk East), Papas Garcia (Corozal Bay), David Castillo (Corozal North), Paul Thompson (Albert), Elito Arceo (Belize Rural South) and Gilroy Usher (Port Loyola).
Usher said, “The leader continues to have a good faith relationship with all of the members who signed that letter. There’s no erosion of confidence there.”
Dr. Francis Smith, one of the signatories to the letter, told 7News that he did not vote for the leadership position to be uncontested at the upcoming national convention, but he was outvoted 20 to 1 and the majority rules.
On Sunday, the PUP will head to San Ignacio with its “Power to the People Tour.”