Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) Leader, Hon. John Briceño, suddenly finds himself in a bit of a pickle. The PUP has 12 area representatives sitting in the House of Representatives, and 6 of these are now on record as advocating a “no” vote where the International Court of Justice (ICJ) referendum next April is concerned. Mr. Briceño has been on record as supporting a “yes” vote.
On the KREM Radio/TV Sunday Review on Sunday morning, August 19, PUP executive official, Bill Lindo, claimed that it was actually 8 of the 12 PUP House members who have gone “no.” If that were so, it would increase Mr. Briceño’s discomfiture immeasurably, because it would mean that he could theoretically be replaced by as Leader of the Opposition by a majority vote of the PUP representatives, which would be very embarrassing for Mr. Briceño.
Even if we discount Mr. Lindo’s claim and stick with 6 as the number of those in the “no” camp, Mr. Briceño is in an unenviable position, because 3 of the 5 PUP area representatives who are not in the “no” camp are in the Said Musa camp, which is known to be consistently unhappy with Mr. John.
The fact of the matter is that Mr. Briceño has won two PUP leadership conventions, the first by a close margin in March of 2008, and the second by a substantially larger margin in January of 2016. In October of 2011, however, he was driven to resign as PUP Leader because of various machinations by what most people believe to be the Musa faction. So that, the PUP was led between November of 2011 and November of 2015 by Hon. Francis Fonseca, the Freetown area representative who is historically loyal to Rt. Hon. Said Musa, PUP Leader between 1996 and 2008, and Prime Minister of Belize between 1998 and 2008. Mr. Fonseca led the PUP in two general elections – 2012 and 2015. Mr. John has never led the party in a general election campaign.
Mr. Briceño’s present leadership, overall, appears fairly solid. But, the thesis of this editorial is that the politics of Belize may have shifted from the red and blue (UDP and PUP) dynamic to a yes and no ICJ one. It is precisely because of the ICJ referendum, and the choice of the PUP’s Southern Caucus, which features 3 area reps, to come out publicly two weeks ago, supported by two other PUP area representatives, with their ICJ “no” position, that the mere possibility of embarrassment for Mr. Briceño with his official “Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition” title has been created. (Hon. Julius Espat of Cayo South late last week added his “no” vote to that of the 5 area representatives from the Southern Caucus meeting two weeks ago, making the total of 6.)
The impact of the ICJ vote on Belize’s politics may become even more dangerous for the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) than for Mr. Briceño, because the Barrow UDP government so far has presented a united front in favor of the “yes” vote where their area representatives and standard bearers are concerned. If this situation holds true until April 10, 2019, and the people of Belize then vote “no” to the ICJ referendum, then, all things being equal, the UDP government would lose massive credibility. Theoretically, such a UDP government should resign, but there is no guarantee that the UDP government would do the honorable thing. All we’re saying is that the implications of the ICJ referendum for the UDP leadership are actually worse than the implications for the Briceño PUP, at least as we speak.
This level of instability, whether it is only threatened or real, would not be desirable in Belize at any time, but the Belizean economy is in very bad shape presently. The ICJ referendum has been introducing increasing tension into Belize’s socio-political landscape when issues involving dollars and cents had already reached a critical stage. There is no gainsaying the last assertion with reference to the Belizean economy, because the worsening crime and violence statistics are the hard evidence of crisis.
Eight months until April 10, 2019, is a very long time. In the case of the Heads of Agreement in 1981, the socio-political crisis lasted from March until September, a total of six months. We do not have any recollection of the Belizean economy being in any kind of crisis when the Heads of Agreement drama began in mid-March of 1981.
Let’s return to the PUP Southern Caucus bombshell. It may be that Mr. Briceño hedged his bets for too long. What the Southern Caucus declaration does is catch Mr. Briceño in the ICJ yes boat with the Barrow UDP government, when his constitutional portfolio calls for him not to be in the same boat with the ruling party. The PUP Leader can rightfully argue that the ICJ referendum vote is an extraordinary matter, outside the realm, strictly speaking, of UDP and PUP politics, but that is precisely our point. For the PUP’s Southern Caucus, the ICJ referendum matter became so extraordinary that it effectively changed the politics of Belize, or the South of Belize at least, from red and blue to yes or no.