The Hon. Michael Finnegan, United Democratic Party (UDP) Mesopotamia area representative and Housing Minister in the Dean Barrow government, of late has been claiming that he began his political career in 1965. If that is so, no one knew of him, so he must be referring to accompanying his mother, who was a political campaigner for Hon. Philip Goldson’s National Independence Party (NIP) in the original Collet constituency, which up until 1984 included most of what are now the Lake Independence, Collet, and Queen’s Square constituencies.
We know that Hon. Finnegan, who was a member of the United Black Association for Development (UBAD) in 1971 and 1972, was one of the people who helped to found the UDP in September of 1973, the young Finnegan having attached himself to the attorney Dean Russell Lindo, who would be named, by internal decree, the first UDP Leader.
Finnegan worked very hard for the UDP for twenty years before he become the UDP’s Mesopotamia standard bearer in 1993, succeeding the late Curl Thompson, and since then he has become an electoral powerhouse, winning the Mesopotamia seat a total of seven consecutive times up to the present, by increasing margins.
The Hon. Finnegan does not have a lot of formal education, but he is highly intelligent, and he loves electoral politics. In the larger scheme of things, his importance to the UDP is that he brings a lot of authentic roots credibility to the UDP table. The UDP fundamentally came from the NIP, which had come from the National Party (NP), and the original National Party was a pro-British, “royal Creole” party which would not have embraced a person of Mr. Finnegan’s socio-economic background.
The point we want to make is that Mr. Finnegan has achieved great personal success in electoral politics, having served in four different UDP Cabinets, but it is doubtful whether conditions on the ground have improved during the time of his personal success for the masses of the people in his Southside Belize City constituency, and for the masses of the people in the larger Southside matrix itself. It is generally agreed that there has been a socio-economic meltdown in the Southside over the last forty years, say, and the situation began to become violent and bloody more than a quarter century ago, just before Mr. Finnegan became the Mesopotamia area representative.
We have looked at Mr. Finnegan, because his long-time friend and more powerful Cabinet colleague, Prime Minister, the Right Honorable Dean Barrow, while he tried to establish a roots image for himself on returning from UWI law school in 1974, has never given any indication of having any kind of revolutionary love for ghetto youth. But there was a time in his youth when Mr. Finnegan, as opposed to Mr. Barrow, gave off love-for-ghetto-youth vibes.
The Southside has been experiencing civil war levels of violence with black youth as the combatants for more than a quarter century. A couple weeks ago, Southside Belizeans cautiously welcomed the news that a truce amongst the warring gangs had been negotiated by senior cop and attorney, Chester Williams; social activist Mrs. Diane Finnegan (who happens to be the wife of the Hon. Michael Finnegan); the experienced social activist Nuri Muhammad; and a special guest, a former gang personality from the United States. To the best of our knowledge, as we write on Monday morning, April 24, 2017, the truce has been basically holding.
In this essay, we want to consider the electoral success of Mr. Finnegan as a UDP leader in order to give our readers a sense of the reality that major political party operations in the community do not really contribute to socio-economic upliftment in the community. The nature of the two-party political system is such that it creates and encourages a fundamental division in the community, besides the fact that the individual political parties are spontaneously hostile to any activist initiatives and personalities which the political party does not control.
This is the dilemma Mr. Finnegan faces, and it is very much doubtful whether he saw or foresaw that dilemma when he began his political career, whether in 1965, 1973 or 1993. Mr. Finnegan has operated from a limited data base, and while he is phenomenal at “getting out the vote” on election day, there is a limit to his analytical capacity in the broader socio-economic sense. The major political parties, and the institutionalized rivalry between them, are tools which are used by the power structure, both domestic and international, to preserve the status quo. And just what is that status quo? The status quo in Belize is an oppression of the descendants of those who were first shackled slaves, who later became freed “British subjects,” and who are now mental slaves in a consumerist make believe of self-rule.
We have listened over the last few months to the attacks made by the Hon. Finnegan against the teachers of the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU), and he makes these attacks because the Hon. Finnegan has identified those teachers as enemies of the political agenda of his ruling UDP. At this juncture in Belize’s history, the newspaper submits that the BNTU is more important than the UDP. But, to repeat, the Hon. Finnegan operates from a limited data base and he cannot see the larger picture. There are certain points at which loyalty to political party can threaten loyalty to nation-state. At this juncture in Belize’s history, the BNTU is more important than the UDP because the nation-state of Belize is now at stake, existentially speaking, and it is the nation-state to which the teachers of Belize are loyal. At least, that is what we submit.
In conclusion, let us look more closely at the truce amongst our youth. Listen, there are elements in the power structure, both the domestic and international power structure, who actually prefer for our youth to be murdering each other. That is a fact. There are elements of international white supremacy who do not consider our Belize City youth to be human beings. That is a fact. And remember, you cannot achieve political power in Belize without convincing the power structure, here and abroad, that you are not a threat to their power. Chew on that for a while, Hon. One.
The people of Belize are keenly interested in the gang truce, but we are, to repeat, only cautiously optimistic. Our lives have been hellish in the old capital for more than a quarter century. There is no night life in the old capital. This is a tragedy. Much greater tragedies, of course, have to do with the violence, murders, incarcerations, and related family traumas. But these only affect a minority of families. It is the whole community which has seen our quality of life reduced to the point where all we do is stay locked up in our homes, watch television, and converse on the phone. This is why we flee to Chetumal every chance we get: we flee to be free.
Our own people, people who look like us, control all the political power they need, all the self-rule political power Belizeans fought for as a people, and yet we are not able to live as human beings should. This is the challenge which Mr. Finnegan and his colleagues in power should face. How successful is your success?