Prime Minister and United Democratic Party (UDP) Leader, Hon. Dean Barrow, was in front of the television cameras beaming from the day before he introduced Dr. Carla Barnett as his party’s new candidate in the Freetown constituency. The day before was Tuesday, January 20, when Mr. Barrow was trying to build the hype for the UDP’s Wednesday morning press conference and at the same time distract Belize City and the nation from all the negativity surrounding the concluding circumstances of the BSI/ASR “agreement” with Belizean cane farmers. These negative concluding circumstances included emergency changes in Belize’s sugar industry legislation, introduced in the House by the UDP on Monday, passed in one sitting by the House, and ratified by the Senate on Tuesday.
The proceedings in the House on Monday, and in the Senate on Tuesday, following the general assembly submission of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) to the controversial ASR agreement on Sunday in San Roman, followed weeks of national discourse which largely accused the Barrow administration of taking sides with the foreign multinational against the hard-pressed cane farmers of Belize. Mr. Barrow’s defence was that the BSCFA had been taken over by Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) elements, in collusion with a few “radicals,” and that their delaying of the cane grinding season would absolutely not be countenanced. The cane farmers were, of course, fighting for their livelihood, immediately and into the future where ownership of their sugar cane and the by-products therefrom are concerned.
The UDP had won a huge victory in a Cayo North by-election held less than three weeks ago, but the sugar cane negotiations had ended this week with the Barrow government as the villains in the eyes of many non-partisan Belizeans. This week Mr. Barrow had a classy trophy he wanted to present to Freetown and the nation as quickly as possible. Enter Dr. Carla Barnett, a world class technocrat who, in her awesome curriculum vitae, has actually served as Financial Secretary in a PUP administration. It was impossible for the UDP Leader to present a more impressive candidate for the Freetown constituency.
The seats of Opposition Leaders are ideally supposed to be “safe” seats. After all, how embarrassing would it be for an Opposition to win a general election and not have their Leader elected to the House of Representatives! In 1998, the Opposition PUP spent a ton of money trying to unseat Mr. Barrow in his Queen’s Square stronghold. Mr. Barrow was not the UDP Leader at the time, and it was the PUP who were the Opposition, though sure of victory. The point is the PUP made an extraordinary effort to unseat Mr. Barrow. Politicians remember these things. In 1979, Opposition UDP Leader Dean Lindo lost his seat to the PUP’s Said Musa when Mr. Lindo and his party were widely expected to win and form the new government. (1979 was the only time a Leader of the Opposition has ever been defeated in his constituency.) When the PUP lost a general election for the first time in 1984, and Mr. Price was defeated in his Freetown division, Corozal Southeast’s Florencio Marin, Sr., had to become the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives. Mr. Price remained PUP Leader, however, and what he did was move from Freetown to Pickstock for the 1989 general election in order to avoid the fearsome Derek Aikman.
Anyway, the long and short of all that is to say that the great Dr. Carla Barnett has chosen an almost impossible way to commence her party political career. It is for sure she will get Opposition PUP Leader Francis Fonseca’s attention in the Freetown constituency he has represented since 2003. As a first time candidate, Mr. Fonseca defeated the UDP’s Doug Singh in 2003, defended (narrowly) against their Michael Peyrefitte in 2008, and then turned back Lee Mark Chang in 2012. Dr. Barnett is not fazed by the challenge, in fact describing Mr. Fonseca’s last two victories as “relatively marginal.” But, the smart political money will make her the 2017 underdog in Freetown. At the same time, and this has to be said, if she should ever win, there is no one as spectacular in the UDP’s leadership succession wings.
During the House meeting on Monday, the ailing Mr. Barrow referred to the PUP Orange Walk Central’s Johnny Briceño as the PUP’s “once and future king.” Mr. Barrow was playing with Mr. Fonseca’s head, because Mr. Briceño was PUP Leader from March 2008 to October 2011, having defeated Mr. Fonseca in a March 2008 leadership convention. With Julius Espat, Mike Espat, and even Arthur Saldivar offering themselves for the PUP Leadership following Mr. Briceño’s unexpected 2011 resignation, Francis Fonseca, who had been “anointed” by PUP Leader Emeritus, Rt. Hon. George Price, at the time of the 2008 leadership convention, received a “palace” appointment as PUP Leader. Four months later, Francis came within fewer than 75 votes of becoming Prime Minister when the PUP almost stunned the UDP in the March 2012 general election.
Tangentially, In the real world the developed nations of the world set agendas for us Third World natives. They use their enormous budgets and trade advantages to create incentives, or to threaten us with punishments. Europe has declared, notably, that Belize cannot execute any of its convicted murderers. Europe will punish us if we do. And Europe and the NATO countries have said to Belize, you must have more women in your House of Representatives. This is an order from abroad. So then, suddenly, after Wednesday, the ruling UDP has as many lady candidates, Dr. Barnett in Freetown and Beverly Castillo in Belize Rural Central, as the PUP – Dolores Balderamos-Garcia in the said Rural Central and Dr. Lisbeth Guerra in Cayo West.
Incidentally, at a Monday demonstration outside the House in Belmopan, there were indications that Audrey Matura-Shepherd and the PUP are becoming chummy. The UDP will snort, of course, that they already were. Hmmm.