If we are to judge from their propaganda organs, the leadership of the Opposition PUP is somewhat frustrated by the fact that the workers’ unions of Belize have not entered a militant, marching mode. There are many numbers of issues which have embarrassed the ruling UDP lately. These include teachers’ raise of pay, rosewood, Noh Mul, the Hernandez contracts, the gender policy controversy, the KHMH infant mortalities, repeated immigration scandals, and the list goes on. The level of confusion and corruption in the Barrow government has not been matched by agitation outburst in the trade unions.
Some recent history is important here. Early in 2004, the Opposition UDP had marched in Belize City against various abuses, primarily financial, taking place in the second-term PUP Musa government, which was less than a year old at the time. The response from the Belizean people was lukewarm.
About five months later, in late July of 2004, however, a serious scandal broke in the Social Security Board, involving the abuse of many millions in social security funds. This was Ralph Fonseca’s Finance Ministry, and the man in the eye of the storm was then the PUP’s highest ranking “crony” – Glenn Godfrey, who had been the PUP Belize Rural South area representative between 1989 and 1998, and a PUP Cabinet Minister from 1989 to 1993.
This scandal involving their social security subscriptions caught the eye of Belizean workers. So did the challenge of 7 PUP Cabinet Ministers in early August, a couple weeks later, to the Musa administration’s financial policies. When the UDP decided to march again a couple weeks later, the unions were center stage. The street response of the outraged Belizean people was massive and dramatic.
By early February of 2005, the Belizean trade unions had the Musa government on the brink of collapse. It was only because Belize’s first-past-the-post political system contributes to extraordinary strong governments, and because of the timely intervention of Cuba-based Assad Shoman on behalf of his old comrade, Prime Minister Said Musa, that the PUP government survived, after making major concessions to the unions, perhaps the most historic being the commission of inquiry into the Development Finance Corporation (DFC).
Why have the trade unions not been more agitated by UDP government confusion and corruption? PUP propaganda organs have blamed union leadership, and accused them of inadequacies ranging from pusillanimity to outright sellout. We do not think this situation is quite so straightforward where the laying of blame is concerned.
Let us consider two recent Francis Fonseca decisions. In the first instance, he has categorically and repeatedly condemned the national bank concept introduced by the UDP administration. As introduced by the late Dr. Leroy Taegar almost twenty years ago, the bank was a national WORKERS bank. Such a bank would be collateralized by Belizean national lands and social security funds, and could offer loans to Belizean works at rates which were lower than the rates of Belize’s foreign-owned commercial banks. Leroy Taegar was the son of a Belize City waterfront worker, an original supporter of the PUP, and a hard core PUP until the early 1980s. What was there about the national workers bank idea which should have caused the trade unions of Belize to condemn it? Absolutely nothing. The national bank, theoretically, was all good for the working class.
The PUP Leader, therefore, needed to spend extra time explaining why the original trade union-based political party of Belize, the PUP, had come to the point in 2013 where it was rejecting the proposition of a national workers bank.
Another Francis Fonseca decision which was a little puzzling was his decision to give only token support to last Thursday’s COLA (Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action) demonstration against the infant mortalities at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital. The only PUP luminaries who participated in the demonstration were their Port Loyola standard bearer, Gilroy Usher, Sr., and their former Lake Independence standard bearer, Yolanda Schakron. How come PUP Deputy Leader, Dolores Balderamos-Garcia, facing a critical village council election in Ladyville this weekend, did not make a cameo appearance Thursday in front of the KHMH?
In the case of COLA, the PUP may be a victim of their own propaganda. In one of their newspapers following a January 2010 COLA demonstration against Sedi Elrington’s “artificial border” statement, the PUP had condemned COLA and their demonstration as productions of Evan X Hyde and the Zinc Fence. At that time, similarly to now, the Opposition PUP, then led by Johnny Briceño, had ignored the COLA effort.
Whether it was true or not in January of 2010 that COLA was Zinc Fence, it is plain to be seen in June of 2013 that COLA has taken on a life of its own.
The point is that in the cases of the national workers bank and of COLA, the PUP has not played its politics well lately. This is merely a newspaper opinion, but there must be some explanation, other than the PUP propaganda, why a bulk of the Belizean people, specifically the working class in these parts, appear to be skeptical about things PUP.