Whenever you see the ruling UDP behave in an aggressive or threatening manner, you must understand that they learned from the best: they learned from the PUP. During their glory years from 1950 to 1984, there was a distinctly thuggish side to the PUP, a side which has been lost amidst the canonization of their late Maximum Leader.
The two major political parties are like gangs in many respects, except that they enjoy all the rights and privileges of the Belizean state when they are elected to office. When the UDP or the PUP are in office, they comprise a large gang which is blessed by Buckingham Palace, represented in Belize by the Governor-General.
The behavior of political parties in Belize when they are in office represents a manifest threat to those who would dissent on public matters. In office, Belizean politicians can and do make life uncomfortable for those citizens who dare to speak out openly. The politicians have their “dirty works” departments, which can hire various “specialists” in the community to harass and intimidate dissenters.
Historically, the most easily intimidated sector of our citizenry has been Belize’s academics. Most academics are more scholarly than anything else: that is why they are academics. In Belize, academics are more timid than elsewhere. In Belize, the politicians only have to use career threats or incentives as weapons to frighten or coax academics, and you will not hear a peep or a cluck out of them.
This is unfortunate, because our academics are the most informed of our citizenry. The level of Belize’s national discourse suffers from the absence of the academic voices. What makes the situation worse is that the student population of Belize, ever since the glorious days of the Belize Technical College, has been infected with the timidity of their professors. There are few learned voices in Belize’s discourse; mostly, the voices are bombastic. We have a noisy society, not a reflective one.
The most important question, we think, is what level of mental liberation have we achieved since political independence. We ask this question in the light of the recent establishment of the Rod of Correction (ROC). These people are not, strictly speaking, political agitators, nor are they professional agitators. But, ROC represents a danger to the established order, that is to say, the administrative rule of the UDP, which has been exposed as bogus during the course of the Elvin Penner matter.
The nature of Belize’s parliamentary democracy did not and does not allow for the UDP government to investigate itself without running the risk of losing power. They therefore decided to cover up the Penner passport scandal. Out of the Belizean citizenry, a group named COLA, which recently entered the ROC fold, took it upon themselves to bring Penner to justice. COLA, supported by ROC, has been assisted legally by an attorney who is the Caribbean Shores standard bearer for the Opposition PUP.
If we understand the Attorney General correctly in his Wednesday interview with the press, he was giving the finger, as we would say, on behalf of the UDP Cabinet, to COLA and its attempted Penner prosecution. The thing is, the majority of the Belizean people know that COLA, whatever its shortcomings in substance or style, is right. The Government of Belize, our highest legislative body and supreme political authority, is wrong. Meanwhile, the academics of Belize are loud in their customary silence.
So what does this mean in the streets? It means that the Government of Belize loses credibility in the streets. The situation presents opportunity for COLA, for ROC, for the PUP, or for whomever, to take the Penner case to the streets. There, the verdict has already been given, and it is guilty as charged! The history of this territory shows that it does not take a lot to spark action in the population center. Such action would encourage the government to show its thuggish side.
There is a structural fault in our system of governance which, in the first instance, does not allow the government to investigate itself, and in the second, does not have any real provision for a failed government to “wheel and come again,” or, put another way, seek a new mandate. The present government therefore feels bound to stonewall, to lie, and to “beat down” so that it can serve out its five-year term.
It would be helpful, we submit, if the educated citizens of Belize, at home and abroad, would participate in the debate on the Penner matter. Intelligent debate would not necessarily contribute to any solution in the dispute between COLA and GoB. In fact, it almost surely would not so contribute. It would, however, change the flavor of the exchange. Intelligent debate would reduce the confrontational sparks in a dispute which can, by constitutional definition, lead nowhere.