Editorial — 27 November 2015

“The one employer which absolutely refused to give in to the union’s demands was the Belize Estate and Produce Company. The strike at the BEC sawmill involved 268 men, and shortly after the strike was called the company declared all the men dismissed and closed down its operation. The government allowed the company the use of the radio station to appeal for scab labour, but it was not till over a month after the strike was called that three scabs appeared to work at the BEC sawmill. A large crowd outside the compound attempted to stop them, and twenty-eight persons were arrested and charged by the police. By 4th December, however, the number of strike-breakers had reached 31, most of them new workers, and by 8th December there were 47 workers at the sawmill. On that day the workers, unable to hold out any longer, decided to go back to work. The company reemployed only about 70 of the original 268 strikers.

In addressing a meeting after the strike was called off, Richardson told the strikers that this was no real defeat. Workers had showed great determination and prolonged a strike originally planned for two days to one lasting forty-nine days. Their solidarity had been marred by a few treacherous fellow-workers, but they had shown tremendous resoluteness – during the strike the workers had established a bakery which would soon be turned into a cooperative bakery, and a strike kitchen had daily fed 150 to 200 strikers. Support had come from other workers in the city and in the districts, and the workers had shown for the first time that they could make sacrifices over a long period to support the union cause. He called the return to work not a defeat but ‘merely an armed truce.’ If nothing else, the strike had attracted additional support for the union – in late November it reported that it had 8,200 members over the entire country, more than a thousand of whom had joined since l st October. And the People’s United Party, which had virtually the same leaders as the General Workers Union, was firmly established in the public mind as the champion of workers’ causes.

At the end of 1952, the leaders of the two organizations were:

- pgs. 21, 22, JOURNAL OF BELIZEAN AFFAIRS, December 1973, THE BIRTH OF THE NATIONALIST MOVEMENT IN BELIZE, 1950-1954, by Assad Shoman

“At the 1953 Party Convention held on September 30, officers elected were Leigh Richardson, Leader; William Coffin, Chairman; Jose Rivero, Vice Chairman; George Price, Secretary; Philip Goldson, Assistant Secretary; Tharine Rudon, Treasurer; and Party Councillors Albert Cattouse, Nicholas Pollard and Herman Jex.”

- pg. 242, READINGS IN BELIZEAN HISTORY (Second Edition), May 1987, A HISTORY OF POLITICAL PARTIES IN BELIZE, by Lawrence Vernon


This week we inquired, and this week we were informed, that the Hon. Cordel L. Hyde, recently re-elected area representative of the Lake Independence constituency, is preparing to launch a serious bid for the leadership of the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP).

One of the things that make Cordel Hyde’s PUP leadership bid a viable initiative is the fact that the PUP was constitutionally democratized during the leadership of the Hon. John Briceño from March of 2008 to October of 2011. At the time Hon. Briceño was elected PUP Leader in 2008, the constitution of the PUP stipulated that there would be one voting delegate at any PUP leadership convention for every 100 votes gained in the 31 electoral constituencies in the most recent general election. Today, the PUP constitution provides for there to be one voting delegate for every 25 votes polled by the PUP in the most recent general election. This means that there will be more than 2700 delegates who will be choosing the next PUP Leader on January 31, 2016.

You readers know that our editorial slogan at this newspaper for some years has been “power to the people.” As far as we are aware, this was a slogan originally used by the Black Panther Party for Self-Defence, an Oakland, California-based activist organization and political party during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Opposition PUP chose to use this slogan during their recent, unsuccessful general election campaign, but it was a strange choice: the PUP Leader, Hon. Francis Fonseca, had not been chosen in a leadership convention, nor had he ever submitted his leadership for ratification to a national convention of his party.

On the occasion of the only leadership convention to which he had ever submitted himself, in March of 2008, Mr. Fonseca had been defeated by the aforementioned John Briceño. In March of 2008, the Orange Walk Central area representative, John Briceño, who had been Deputy Prime Minister during the two PUP Said Musa administrations from August 1998 to February 2008, had been supported in the PUP leadership convention by Hon. Mark Espat and Hon. Cordel Hyde, the PUP Albert and Lake I area representatives, who then became the PUP Deputy Leaders during Mr. Briceño’s leadership.

Mr. Briceño resigned from PUP leadership in October of 2011, whereupon he was replaced, for 11 days, by an Interim Leader, Hon. Mark Espat, who was then endorsed for the Leadership position by 30 of the 31 PUP constituencies. (The one constituency which refused to endorse him was Belize Rural North, led at the time by the attorney Arthur Saldivar.) For reasons he has not explained publicly, Mr. Espat chose not to continue as PUP Leader, whereupon the aforementioned Arthur Saldivar, the PUP’s Toledo East area representative, Mike Espat, and their Cayo South area representative, Julius Espat, informed the PUP chairman that they would compete to be PUP Leader. Within a few days of the PUP being so informed, nevertheless, Hon. Francis Fonseca, the Freetown area representative, was privately appointed PUP Leader by a small group of kingmakers unknown. This would have been mid-November of 2011. On Fonseca’s ascension, Mark Espat and Cordel Hyde were almost immediately removed from the national executive of the PUP.

In its beginnings in 1950, it may be argued that PUP appeared to be functionally democratic because of its seemingly inseparable relationship with the General Workers Union (GWU). The first PUP Leader was John Smith, who was replaced in 1953 by Leigh Richardson, who was himself overthrown in 1956 by George Price in somewhat of a Riverside Hall putsch. Mr. Price was unchallenged PUP Leader until 1996, when he resigned and was replaced by Said Musa, who defeated Florencio Marin, Sr., in a PUP leadership convention.

Some of the leadership history of the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) is perhaps relevant here. The present UDP Leader, Dean O. Barrow, did not become his party’s Leader through the convention process. Mr. Barrow was Deputy Leader of the UDP when Manuel Esquivel resigned as Leader following the UDP’s landslide defeat of August 1998, and Mr. Barrow became Leader almost by default: the UDP was in shambles. Today, Mr. Barrow is, of course, unchallenged in his leadership.

Mr. Esquivel had become UDP Leader in January of 1983 when he defeated Dean Lindo and Philip Goldson in a leadership convention.

Previously, Dr. Ted Aranda had been UDP Leader from December of 1979 until late 1982, when he resigned. In the 1979 general election, the Opposition UDP Leader, Dean Lindo, had lost his Fort George seat. (He remains the only Leader of the Opposition in Belize’s political history ever to lose his seat.) the five UDP area representatives who were elected to House seats in the 1979 general election included two from Toledo (Charles Wagner and Basilio Ah), one from Stann Creek (Dr. Aranda), and two from Belize City (Philip Goldson and Curl Thompson). Wagner, Ah, and Aranda chose the Doctor to lead the UDP. The previous UDP Leader, the party’s first in fact, Dean Lindo, had not won leadership in a convention. But, that’s a long story.

Mr. Barrow has been very successful politically since 2006, and Mr. Lindo was also politically successful, except that he did not become Prime Minister. Our point is that you do not have to achieve leadership through a leadership convention to become successful. Francis Fonseca, however, never won an election, local or national, as PUP Leader, although he came close in the March 2012 general election. His executive handlers never allowed him to call a national convention. Those executive handlers were apparently afraid of the potential power of the PUP rank-and-file, a power clearly increased by the new delegate provisions.

It is reasonable to assume that the PUP will come out of their January 31 convention with a renewed unity and energy. This did not really happen after the March 2008 leadership convention. A few months after Johnny became Leader, the PUP old guard began publishing its own newspaper (National Perspective) in order to destabilize the Briceño leadership, and they only ceased to so publish once Francis Fonseca had been installed as Leader three years later.

PUP optimists may take heart from the fact that the political landscape is different today. In March of 2008 the UDP administration was fresh and clean. The PUP had a long road to trod and a high hill to climb. Today, a tarnished, sullied, ailing UDP has recently returned to power with a new, third term. Granted, the UDP have declared they will now rule for five years. But, this game would change with a new, roots PUP leadership, one suspects.

We do not believe the Belizean people were dying to give Mr. Barrow a third term. It was a case on November 4, 2015, of the Belizean people’s not being sure that they would not be getting another dose of Said and Ralph if they crowned Francis. The independent voter in Belize had reason to believe that the historically roots PUP got itself hijacked during the transition process after Mr. Price’s leadership. Belize’s independent voter had reason to believe something went wrong with the PUP’s succession process. The medicine for all this skepticism is a strong dose of intra-party democracy. No doubt, greater people participation will taste like castor oil to the PUP’s old guard, but it really is not as if the PUP can continue doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

Power to the people.


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