Sir Manuel and Lady Kathy Esquivel’s decision to resign simultaneously from their respective posts in the administration of the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) was an attempt to embarrass the Dean Barrow administration while registering massive protest at the forced resignation of their daughter, Laura Esquivel–Frampton, as head of the Belize Tourism Board (BTB). Their public protestations to the contrary, it is impossible not to believe that Laura Esquivel’s parents expected some kind of noisy mobilization of their loyalists to take place once they resigned so dramatically from their various posts.
Such a noisy mobilization of Esquivel loyalists did not take place, and the question has to be where exactly is the Esquivel power base. To respond to this question, there is a need to examine Sir Manuel’s political history.
A physics teacher at St. John’s College and St. John’s College Sixth Form, Esquivel was a nobody when he entered local politics as an official of the Liberal Party in late 1972/early 1973. Sir Manuel was already married to the former Kathleen Levy, who had come to serve in Belize from Britain as a Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO) volunteer.
The other leaders of the Liberal party were Nestor “Net” Vasquez, an accountant linked with the Santiago Castillo group of companies; Paul Rodriguez, a former Jesuit seminarian; Harry Lawrence, the owner/editor of The Reporter newspaper; and Curl Thompson, a public officer who was prominent in the Public Service Union (PSU).
The Liberal Party was financed by Santiago Castillo, Sr., Ismail Gomez, and, presumably, other members of the British Honduras Chamber of Commerce. The Liberals were all about supporting business interests, fighting against communism, and cheering on the Roman Catholic Church. (The 1970/1971 entry of Assad Shoman and Said Musa into the ruling People’s United Party [PUP] had been viewed by the business community and the Church as the arrival of communism here.) The Liberal Party had absolutely no popular base in Belize City as far as anyone could see. Perhaps they had a base outside of the population center, but we have never heard of it.
The invisible “rise” of the Liberal Party coincided with a devastating division inside the leadership of the roots youth UBAD Party, which had run as a coalition partner with Philip Goldson’s National Independence Party (NIP) in the Belize City Council election of December 1971. Dean Lindo’s People’s Development Movement (PDM), which Mr. Lindo established in mid-1969 after his challenge to Goldson’s NIP leadership failed, had boycotted the 1971 CitCo election, in which NIP/UBAD received almost 40 percent of the vote. (Belize’s voting age was 21 years at the time.)
Without having contested any kind of election, and without any visible popular base, the Liberal Party became the third party (along with the PDM and the NIP) in the Opposition coalition which established the UDP in September of 1973. The UBAD Party had far more popular support in Belize City, especially amongst young people, than the Liberal Party did. But the Liberal Party had big money people supporting it.
In the UDP’s first general election in October of 1974, Lawrence (Belize Rural South), Rodriguez (Pickstock) and Thompson (Mesopotamia) ran as UDP candidates (all were beaten), and then they, along with Esquivel, ran as UDP City Council candidates in the December 1974 CitCo election, which the UDP won, 6-3. Paul Rodriguez was elected Mayor. It was the first election the ruling People’s United Party (PUP) had ever lost in Belize City.
In the December 1977 CitCo election, the Liberal Party candidates of the UDP all won in a UDP landslide, and Mr. Rodriguez was again elected Mayor.
In the pivotal 1979 general election, however, after the 18-year-old vote had been introduced in 1978, Paul Rodriguez was defeated in Pickstock by Mrs. Jane Usher and Manuel Esquivel, in his first general election, was defeated in Freetown by her older brother, Premier George Price. Curl Thompson won the first “Liberal Party” seat in Mesopotamia. The central leadership of the UDP collapsed after the 1979 election even though they had won five seats – Goldson in Albert, Thompson in Mesopotamia, Dr. Ted Aranda in Dangriga, Charles Wagner in Toledo East, and Basilio Ah in Toledo West. A vote for UDP Leader then took place among the five UDP area representatives, and the district area reps voted 3-2 in favor of Dr. Aranda as Leader. He replaced Dean Lindo.
The Aranda leadership did not prove successful, even though the UDP won Town Board elections held in December of 1981, just three months after Belize achieved independence. Aranda was forced out as UDP Leader in late 1982, and a leadership convention was held at Bird’s Isle in January of 1983.
There were three leadership candidates. Those were Mr. Goldson, who was experiencing serious vision problems; Mr. Lindo, the first UDP Leader, who had abandoned ship after the 1979 general election; and Mr. Esquivel. This newspaper, locked in a bitter and dangerous battle with the leadership of the ruling PUP, felt that our best chance to win in 1984 lay with the unknown Esquivel, so we supported him for the leadership.
At some point, Mr. Lindo compromised and accepted the UDP chairmanship. Mr. Esquivel was chosen Leader. The UDP won a landslide victory in the December 1983 Belize City Council election, and then a landslide victory in the December 1984 general election. Mr. Esquivel, who had never sat in the House of Representatives before 1984, became Prime Minister.
The fact of the matter is that the Liberal Party never had any popular base in Belize City. And Sir Manuel himself never had a real power base in the population center. If he did, there would have been an outcry when he and his wife resigned last week. The financiers of the UDP are not interested in Sir Manuel’s family politics: all they care about is negotiating whatever business deals they can with the Barrow government.
This here is “big boys’ game.” It’s all about muscle. Sentiment doesn’t count. We are minded of what the Russian dictator Josef Stalin asked when advised that he should help Catholics in Russia in order to curry favor with Pope Pius XII: “The Pope? How many divisions has he got?”
According to Moisés Naím in his book, The End of Power, Pope Pius rebutted: “You can tell my son Josef that he will meet my divisions in heaven.” The question in Belize today is, where are Sir Manuel’s divisions. They are not in Belize City, and heaven only counts in the hereafter.
Power to the people.