General — 04 July 2014 — by Audrey Matura-Shepherd

“A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.” LUKE 6:45 NLT

One of the most used phrases by our Prime Minister Dean Oliver Barrow is “…I make no apologies…” He says this when he knows that morally and ethically he may be viewed as wrong or may be wrong, but preempts that backlash and so up front to cut off his critics, he makes it clear he will not apologize for the wrong, questionable or unpopular position he is taking on an issue. I believe we should all act deliberately and think well before we act, because our actions and decisions may have more far reaching effects than just on us. Thus nothing done in haste is ever good. However, if we then come to terms with the error of our ways we must be willing to apologize, because we are not perfect. To err is human; to forgive is divine. I am sure like my friend Mose Hyde always says, “Belizeans are very forgiving…”. Thus I believe no matter what the error, the national heart position of our people has always been a forgiving one.

Now, as part of our culture we also like to feel we solve problems by going on big, loud and bad…. But it is just a matter of putting on a show, getting quick attention, but no long term solution. What we need in this country is long-term solutions and they must come quickly. Thus it is not helpful in one bit for our leaders to lead by bad example and one such example has been this new trend that we have further divided our people along political lines and that we do not have a government of the people but a government of a political party.

It is a really horrible trend and the repercussions will be with us for a long time, but the national political culture and psyche it is creating is one we should fight against in the most vehement way since such division can only lead to counter-development, tribalism and political violence. This is how it started in countries such as Guyana and Jamaica and so many of our Central American neighbors. We can surely learn from history and not fall into this pit of evil.

In Guyana the political parties are not only divided along political ideology but along race and the parties are dependent on such divisions to remain in power, and in Jamaica the gangs who enforce the political party’s mandate have their garrison communities, and the level of political tribalism to the point of intimidation and violence has left the country with the reputation of being run by criminal elements.

The first signs…

I was for a few years a very active member of the United Democratic Party… I went in with the idea that there can be a political party that does the right thing and based on that can remain in office. I further believed that for there to be checks and balances and a true democracy there was need to have one or more Opposition parties, known as Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. UDP had just experienced a massive landslide defeat and Prime Minister Manuel Esquivel had handed over the leadership of the party to the now Prime Minister Dean Oliver Barrow. The party wanted to rebuild, I was told, and I was cajoled into becoming part of that renaissance. I felt this was an opportunity to contribute to the national development of my country and while I had never wanted to enter the political arena, I eventually relented and accepted an appointment as Senator, Leader of Opposition Business.

One of the first tasks was to re-do the Party’s Constitution to reflect the reformed, refocused new image we wanted to project and to do away with the really bad image the party had resulting in its defeat. [This is pretty much the same phase the PUP is going through now]. Thus we were faced with many issues to decide; issues such as from whom to accept campaign financing, or can we win an election without making a deal with the campaign-financing-devil; do we do as the PUP – started and registered immigrants for votes so as to have the numbers; do we channel all resources to only our party faithful so that even when out of office we are still in power, because our people hold the jobs, businesses, and positions in society… this is pretty much the trend the PUP had instituted; and do we continue to find ways to give handouts without depleting our limited party resources amongst so many issues.

However, I name these because they were critical to the country’s national development and because the way the party chose to answer these would determine the history of this country. I can write many books on my short time in party politics, but for now will suffice to say that I had seen indeed where the PUP under the stern hand of George Cadle Price had created a class structure, where his people were rewarded and those who were professed or suspected non-PUP would have to be second-class citizens. It was wrong then and it is wrong now.

I remember as a child my dad being threatened to have his cane quota taken away or his land lease cancelled because he showed some association with his own family then running for NIP in Corozal… it was that bad. It is because of many examples of what I saw under the PUP’s reign from childhood that I took courage and affiliated with the UDP… Did I say I never wanted to be a party politics person? So it took a lot out of me to make this decision as I always wanted to be independent and able to hold any government accountable.

First seeds were planted

Sadly, as the debate raged about how the UDP becomes a government for all the people and not just party loyalists, those party faithful who had sacrificed and endured so much discrimination at the hand of the PUP could not be forgiving and could not agree that it should not be UDP-first. I understood their pain but tried to impress why we were beyond that as a party since if we continued the same PUP trend, we would not be any better than the PUP and we would not help the country develop because we would alienate people because we suspected or knew their affiliation to the PUP. To me that did not mean they voted PUP and to me it did not matter since it was their right. I felt outnumbered too often in these debates, and from the leadership to the rank and file it was not uncommon to hear that resounding theme – that UDP would have to be first… the hurt for some was too personal and the stories of Belizeans having to migrate for lack of opportunity because of their political affiliation and sometimes race were just too deep… And thus to forgive is divine!

One big lament was always how the most lawyers were PUP’s and that the UDP once in office must do all it can to ensure that they give scholarships to only UDP’s, their children and supporters… since the UDP was always hard-pressed to get good representation and did not have attorneys who were with the party, for the party and loyal to the party working in the party and ensuring that by the utility of the law the party got by.

Having been in the proverbial belly of the beast, I had seen the first signs of what is now being manifested when the UDP leadership sings from the choir book that “UDP First”!

Full manifestation of who is first

I am saddened that the UDP did not try to be totally different from the PUP and take the high moral ground and change that heinous pattern of party-faithful or loyalists first, to one of Belizeans equally. To me it was wrong then and it is wrong now and the UDP fighting back by doing the same thing done to them only amounts to tit-for-tat and will not get us anywhere since there is just so much that can be achieved before the point of diminishing returns is arrived at and then we spiral into corruption, anarchy, anti-development, and it can even escalate into violence.

From my perspective, I saw how it was done to my family when I was growing up and because I saw how debilitating and counter-productive and humiliating it was I would not wish to perpetuate it, because to do so I would have to then admit and accept that it was okay that it was done to my family.

I am still hopeful of there being a new and different Belize where a day before election we take down all political banners and people go to the polls with neutral colors and we establish strict campaign financing guidelines to ensure no political leader is beholden to any special interest that financed their campaign, like has happened with Lord Ashcroft an and could happen with some new Lord Gibson. I say, if Prime Minister Dean Oliver Barrow really wants to fight Lord Michael Ashcroft and his local promoters, he should institute these campaign financing legislation to ensure there is not a repeat… I dare him to do it and if he does not it is because everyone will know the fight is not really a fight, but a charade, where the big law firms benefit from such drama, while we the people remain divided and beholden to a political party for a piece of land, a job or a scholarship.

I denounce this new trend regardless of which party is promoting it, openly or subtly, and every right-minded Belizean should denounce it as it will only lead to disunity, discord and a vicious cycle that leads to national destruction and disruption.

The heart speaks!

The very first public pronouncement of the UDP-First agenda to my recollection, was made known by Patrick Faber when he justified the firing of Hirian Good by saying that it’s his constituents’ turn to reap now and so he had to fire her and any suspected PUP supporter to give the same jobs now to a UDP supporter… that was wrong then and it is still wrong now! But we the people condoned it. No right-thinking voter should have agreed that another get fired so he can take over that person’s job. And if they condone such conduct, it is just loyalty that they should be satisfied when there is a change of government and likewise he is fired to give it to the supporter of the party of the day. But what this trend does is cause voters to neglect their duty to hold their political leaders accountable. Being so indebted to the politician, they turn a blind eye to any wrong-doing and in some instances even go out and defend the corruption and wrongs of the government of the day. It is for reasons like this that certain people will never stand against the wrongs of Penner and the entire Cabinet that now seems unable to denounce the apparent cover-up. Worse yet, the police are not being compelled to fully carry out their work and hand over the file so Penner can be prosecuted!

However it did not end there, as the Deputy Prime Minister, in justifying mass distribution of land to his family and standing by his decisions on the distribution of lands, made it known that he and his family are not “normal Belizeans.” Simply put they were special Belizeans with special entitlements above the rest by the mere fact of being in political office and claiming to be working harder than other Belizeans.

But if we still did not get the message clearly, on May 22, 2014 Mark King, the politician for Lake I, stated it explicitly and unequivocally when he said: “…we look after all Belizeans in general, but of course with any mass political party you look after UDP first, you look after Belizeans second and you look after PUP last – I am straight up like that.” There is no misunderstanding nor misconstruing his straight up revelation of his party’s modus operandi!

However, still it did not end there and the repetition of the UDP-First theme is being heard more frequently in public by the very politicians who are now Ministers of Government and should be serving all the people. Imagine, even the once humble and unassuming Manuel Heredia has been emboldened to raise and wave the flag of political tribalism.

On June 19, 2014 in defending the appointment of the new UDP board at the Belize Airport Authority this is what he proudly said: “And speaking about cronies, I make no apologies for people that I appoint, you know, because when P.U.P. was in power, they used their people. I make sure that it is my people, but that they are honest and hardworking people; but it has to be U.D.P.s. That’s for sure; it is our government; we have to take care of our people.”

Hmmm… THAT SUMS IT UP ALL. God help them and help us!


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