Seen from a certain perspective, electoral politics is an investment of time and money in order to achieve power. Power is the reward for that investment, and when one achieves power in the form of government formation in Belmopan, one then proceeds to recoup one’s investment. Most of our politicians recoup more than their campaign investment when they are elected to office, and if they personally do not wish to grab in excess because of personal reasons or because they want to protect a political image of cleanliness, then their relatives and cronies will gladly do it for them. The people of Belize now know that politics in Belize is a “grab tub” business.
The people of Belize are not fooled any more by this “I want to serve” foolishness.” Politicians and those around them want access to the public funds of Belize. That is what the game is all about. The real estate of Belize is also a great prize. That real estate includes pristine land and jungle, and wonderful coral isles. Tiny Belize, must we say it one more time, owns the largest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere. Then there are the petroleum realities and possibilities. How about collecting protection money for the movement of narcotics from South America to the United States? Yes, you can get rich when you are in political power in Belize.
What exactly do you think two grown men were screaming at each other about on a sidewalk in Port Loyola yesterday? Were they arguing about who wanted to serve more? Fiddlesticks. They were fighting for power, and they know not the hour. (Credit, Robert Nesta). The intensity of that screaming was unbecoming. One wondered how two men could scream at each other for so long without throwing blows. Just saying.
Port Loyola is a depressed Southside constituency in Belize City. The interesting thing about Port Loyola is that it includes some of the most valuable seafront property one can imagine, seafront property which can only become more and more valuable. The problem with Port Loyola, where the mega developers are concerned, is all the poor Belizeans who live there, who live there and don’t want to move.
The story of Luke Espat is relevant to any examination of the Port Loyola reality. Luke was the quintessential political crony, and he became a personal favorite of Mr. Price’s during the turbulent early 1980s. In March of 1981, following the announcement of the Belize government’s signing of the so-called Heads of Agreement, Belize had reached the brink of civil war before the British Governor declared a state of emergency on April 2. PUP mobilization during the period had been led by Health Minister Assad Shoman, but powerful right wing PUP Cabinet Ministers were very hostile to Shoman. PUP Leader, the Rt. Hon. George Price, felt the need to maintain ideological balance in the party. Luke Espat was a loud and fearless right winger. An intra-party clash between the Shoman/Musa left and the Sylvester/Hunter right took place at a PUP national convention in late May of 1983. The left lost. Luke Espat was one of the triumphant right.
The PUP was defeated for the first time in national elections in December of 1984. Shoman abandoned electoral politics. Thus, the PUP that returned to office in September of 1989 was a heavily right wing party. Luke Espat’s star began to rise in brilliant fashion. The PUP lost office in July of 1993, but returned to power in August of 1998 with a globalist, neo-liberal agenda. This was Luke Espat’s cup of tea. He had become a sidekick of the British billionaire investor, Lord Michael Ashcroft. He continued to be a special favorite of the now Leader Emeritus, Mr. Price, who remained iconic in the party.
During the PUP’s double term of office, from 1998 to 2008, Luke Espat was involved with at least $200 million worth of investments. The trademark of Lord Ashcroft’s business dealings is confusingly complex legal and financial maneuverings. The money Luke Espat was playing with was Lord Ashcroft’s money, but, some insiders say, Luke thought he was the Lord’s partner. A bombastic individual, Espat never saw himself as Ashcroft’s tool.
The Luke/Ashcroft takeover of the Port of Belize in the Port Loyola constituency, and their subsequent $100 million initiative for a cruise ship docking facility next to the “deep water” port, had major implications for Port Loyola and its residents. Neither Luke or the Lord gave much of a damn about the people of Port Loyola. The UDP’s Anthony Martinez had defeated the PUP incumbent, Dolores Balderamos-Garcia, to claim the Port Loyola seat in 2003. But, the PUP had won the 2003 general election by a substantial margin. Martinez began to negotiate with Luke Espat and Ralph Fonseca, the PUP Minister of Finance, for “goods and services” for himself and his constituency. The scuttlebutt in PUP circles was that Martinez was a good guy: he was willing to do business.
Luke Espat spent a lot of Michael Ashcroft’s money dredging the Port Loyola area and driving piles for his new Carnival Cruise port. The landfill from that dredging was dumped on the south side of Port Loyola, and there is little doubt that landfill worsened Port Loyola’s drainage crisis. But, Luke had the area representative in his pocket. Everybody was dreaming dreams in those days. Luke was the super mover and shaker. Remember, this was “growth economics.”
Well, what it really was, was neoliberal games and speculation. Ultimately, everything depended on a government willing to use public finances to bail our private gambling. After the people of Belize began wising up to these “rip-offs” in mid-2004, the Lucas comet began to fade. The Supreme Court ruled that he personally owed Lord Ashcroft’s bank almost $30 million, and then the Court of Appeal confirmed the verdict. Luke had been Ashcroft’s employee all the while, because of Espat’s privileged PUP crony status.
In desperation, Luke Espat decided to “serve the people” of Cayo Central. The Carnival dock’s piles were and are still sticking out of the Port Loyola sea. The massive landfill clogged and still clogs Port Loyola’s drainage. The people of Cayo Central were no fools. Now UDP Cabinet Minister, Anthony Martinez, and the PUP hopeful, Gilroy Usher, Sr., scream at each other on a sidewalk in Port Loyola. See them fighting for power, but they know not the hour. It is written.