For a few years now this newspaper has been using the “PUDP” acronym to refer to Belize’s two major political parties while simultaneously emphasizing the similarities between them. Our two major political parties are the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP), which was founded in 1973 and succeeded the National Independence Party (NIP), founded in 1958 as a coalition between the National Party (NP), founded in 1951, and the Honduran Independence Party (HIP), founded in 1957; and the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP), founded in 1950.
From time to time over the years, spokesmen and representatives of the PUP and the UDP have expressed their resentment at being lumped together as “PUDP.” We think that in the case of the PUP, because they need to generate righteous indignation amongst the voting public in order to unseat the well-established UDP, PUP people feel the “PUDP” thing encourages resignation and apathy, a feeling of “why bother since both of them are the same.” In the case of the UDP, this is a group which originally believed they were morally superior to the PUP, so that this is a kind of pharisaical reaction against being grouped with the “publicans,” so to speak. Power has, of course and inevitably, corrupted the UDP to the point where only their real diehards could consider themselves morally superior to anybody.
Anyway, at their core, the UDP and the PUP are not the same, because you can find some core families which give the separate parties their own distinct flavor, perspective, and character. Remember now, this is strictly an academic exercise we are undertaking today; we have no malice, aforethought or otherwise. Belize is a very small place, and some people are easily offended. Still, we felt the need to move beyond the PUDP model, because Belize has reached a place where some heavy thinking has to start becoming the order of the day. We are looking at decisions which are as critical as the decisions of 1797, and probably more so.
In seeking out and identifying seven core families for each of Belize’s two major political parties, we were perhaps focused on prominence and longevity. Some families prefer to stay in the shadows. Again, at this newspaper we don’t know as much about the Districts as we should, because we are too Belize City-based. We considered social standing and financial stability/strength as the key elements.
Intermarriage complicates analytical discussions on family issues no end. There are other unique problems in Belize. There are many powerful Espat families in Belize, for example, but several of them are not related to each other except by surname adoption after migration to Belize. Again, the Usher family of the Stann Creek District is basically UDP, whereas the Belize City Ushers, because of the historic Henry Usher-Jane Price marriage, are PUP. These are just a couple of the complications a serious student would encounter if he or she was doing a scholarly paper.
With that said, let’s name our choices of core PUP and core UDP families. For the PUP, we chose the Price, Fonseca, Cuellar, Marin, Courtenay, Musa, and Briceño families. The last three named were affiliated with either the NP or the NIP before they moved over to the PUP five and more decades ago. For the UDP, we chose the Barrow, Young, Longsworth, Fairweather, Tillett, (Santiago) Castillo, and Perdomo families, the last named of which was PUP before moving over to the UDP in 1981.
Of the seven PUP families, five are Roman Catholic and two are Anglican. Of the seven UDP families, four are Anglican, one is Methodist, and two are Roman Catholic. In the early days of party politics in British Honduras in the 1950s and 1960s, religion was massively important, but not so much today. Originally, the vast majority of Roman Catholics were PUP, but that changed when ideology entered our political landscape in 1969 and the UDP was formed in 1973.
One of the things we noted about these core families, once we had identified them, was that in the beginning we could not find a single instance of intermarriage across party political lines. After some thought, we remembered the UDP Young gentleman marriage to a PUP Marin lady. No doubt there may be other instances somewhere.
You may say, why would we include the Fairweathers, most of whom have migrated to the United States, as a core UDP family, and not include the Elringtons as such? In reply, we would say that one could just as easily have included the Elringtons and left out the Fairweathers.
Now, one of the things which must occur to one who embarks on the exercise we have just discussed, is how significant the enclaves in Belize are, enclaves about which a newspaper like ours knows practically nothing. There used to be an enclave in the Pomona Valley in colonial days which was isolated, by their own elitist choice, but very influential. Today, the segregated enclaves are the Mennonite, Chinese, and Indian communities. They are not the subject of this essay, but their existence renders our core family political exercise much less meaningful than it would have been before Belize’s independence.
We can not close without taking a look at Lord Michael Ashcroft. It is now clear that upon his return to Belize in 1985, Lord Ashcroft spent years doing his due diligence and ingratiating himself with key members of Belize’s PUDP core families. Ashcroft seduced the highest ranking Belizeans with financial packages. Ashcroft did not really strike as a predator until 1993, when he attacked Belize Telecommunications Limited (BTL).
The following year, he targeted KREM Radio, because Partridge Street had been independent of his blandishments. As a condition for a $75,000 loan to KREM Radio, Ashcroft insisted on acquiring, under a disguised company name, a strategic 10 percent of KREM. When Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh in 2008 ruled that KREM should reimburse Ashcroft the $25,000 (plus interest) which Sagis Investments had paid in 1994 for 10 percent of KREM Radio, Ashcroft refused the money and appealed to a higher court in order to get his foot inside KREM Radio, a poor, struggling radio station, but one independent of the PUDP. Figure this out for yourself.
Power to the people.