… and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be feared, and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life
Were brass impregnable, and humored thus
Comes at the last and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and farewell King!
– RICHARD II, Act III, scene ii, lines 162-170
Prime Minister of Belize, the Right Hon. Dean O. Barrow, has not been doing a good job of running the country of Belize for some years now, and the situation keeps getting worse and worse where the collapse of law and order is concerned and where our failing economy is concerned.
To make matters, Mr. Barrow has been suffering from back problems and is looking for a way to make a triumphant exit sometime before the campaign for the 2020 general election begins. Precedent is not on Mr. Barrow’s side, however. None of the three Prime Ministers of Belize before him was able to make a triumphant exit. All three resigned leadership after their parties were defeated in general elections. Mr. Barrow’s United Democratic Party (UDP) will not be defeated in a general election under his leadership (except for 2003), but the indications are growing that he can’t find a suitable UDP Leader/Prime Minister to replace him.
Mr. Barrow became Prime Minister, almost by default, in February of 2008, simply because his UDP was the only alternative and Belizeans had decided that Musa/Fonseca had to go. Mr. Barrow’s assignment was simple: run an honest financial ship and start paying the bills. Ten years later, Mr. Barrow’s government has incurred huge new bills, unveiled crushing taxes, and earned a well-deserved reputation for corruption from Cabinet through cronies down to apparatchiks.
There is a reason why our Prime Ministers so far have failed. It is because we started at the very bottom as an impoverished British colony. Trying to lift Belizeans up from where we were in 1950, or even 1981, was truly a task for giants. Our political system was structured in such a way that the power of the Prime Minister was enormous, almost monarchical. The problem was that the political party which had elevated the Prime Minister to status knew exactly how powerful he was, and the people around the PM, those who had “made” him, were not about to accept any excuses from him. So what happened after a while, in the case of all our four Prime Ministers, has been that the Prime Minister becomes enslaved by his party. Prime Ministers eventually take the easy way out: let the party have its way. In so doing, Prime Ministers abdicate responsibility for the nation-state of Belize. The party does well, but the country struggles, and the Prime Ministers start looking for scapegoats.
The Barrow case was classic, because his party foil became larger than life. By “party foil,” we’re referring to the former Deputy Prime Minister, Hon. Gaspar Vega of Orange Walk North. There were things going on around Gapi which kept UDP people happy. Gapi was spreading the sugar, but there were dirty games being played. It appears to us that a primary consideration for the UDP Prime Minister was that he, Mr. Barrow, was not personally involved. “It wasn’t he.”
Eventually, the Ministry of Natural Resources became so out of control that PM Barrow could no longer pretend he could not see. And so, he actually tried to clean up the Gapi mess after the UDP won its third consecutive term of office in November of 2015. But, by then the situation had become impossible, or so it seems.
As stability and unity began to unravel inside the UDP, and the two leadership aspirants, Patrick Faber and John Saldivar, experienced personal problems, the masses of Belizeans began to grumble more and more loudly. PM Barrow went searching for scapegoats. He tried Kremandala on for size.
In the beginning, it was hard to believe what was happening to us on Partridge. When we realized that we were being targeted by the most powerful office in the land, it was not a hypothesis or theory that we could easily prove to the Belizean people. We decided to fight back in late 2017, and focused on defeating the ruling UDP in the Belize City Council election of March 7, 2018.
It was a good thing that our strategy worked, because the PUP victory enraged the PM to the point where he attacked Kremandala openly and massively: he withdrew the BTL advertising budget from Partridge Street. Mr. Barrow has essentially proved our hypothesis. He inflicted a painful blow, no doubt, but he cannot justify it. There are Belizeans who, all things being equal, would be supporters of Mr. Barrow, but they cannot cheer for him in this matter. His arguments don’t hold water.
Consider the previous scenarios involving the political exits of our Prime Ministers. In June of 1993, Rt. Hon. Prime Minister George Price called general elections fifteen months early. The Opposition UDP was in disarray. It did not seem possible for Mr. Price’s People’s United Party (PUP) to lose, but they did. The following year, the PUP experienced major infighting, and in 1996 the iconic Mr. Price was forced out as PUP Leader.
The UDP’s Rt. Hon. Manuel Esquivel became Prime Minister when the UDP won that shocking upset of 1993. But, it wasn’t so much that his UDP/NABR had won: it was the PUP which had lost. By 1996, Dr. Esquivel’s administration was staggering. They were blown out in August of 1998. Dr. Esquivel immediately resigned as UDP Leader.
It was the PUP’s Rt. Hon. Said Musa who won that 1998 landslide and became Prime Minister. By August of 2004,however, early in his second term of office, financial scandals at the Social Security Board (SSB) and the Development Finance Corporation (DFC) spelled doom for the PUP. When his party was defeated in a landslide by Mr. Barrow’s UDP in February of 2008, Mr. Musa immediately resigned.
It is impossible for Mr. Barrow now to make a triumphant exit. The country is in ruins. And he is the one who has had maximum power for ten years, and counting. He can’t blame Gapi, or Penner, or Faber and Saldivar. For sure, he can’t blame Partridge Street. Mr. Barrow has to deal with the man in the mirror. This is the way of all flesh.
Power to the people.