I write about your Editorial in the Tuesday, 23rd June Amandala which was reprinted on Friday, 26th June entitled “Submission or resistance”. In this Editorial, you said that: “In 2003, for instance, the then Opposition UDP could not galvanize Belizeans at the roots masses level, because the UDP leadership refused to get out of bed with Lord Michael Ashcroft, who owned the Belizean telecommunications monopoly at that time and had the law firm of the UDP Leader on his payroll. Even though there were PUP financial scandals already available for the UDP to exploit, the UDP were unable to do so, and they were badly beaten in the March 2003 general election.”
Those statements are so wrong on so many levels that it is an amazing rewrite of history or just living in a fantasy world! First of all in 2003, it was the PUP that was floating in Ashcroft-type campaign contributions – remember the “caliente girls” and “welcome to the party”? However, just for a little background history, you may recall that it was in the 1989–1993 PUP term that the PUP allowed Ashcroft to buy the 25% of shares that the Social Security Board owned and therefore gave him more than 50% ownership when that was added to the other shares (25% from MCI plus a few others) that he already owned. 1989–1993 was the PUP term when Rt. Hon. George Price served in his last term as Prime Minister, but Ralph Fonseca was pulling the financial strings behind the scenes as the Budget Management Minister, appointed via the Senate.
At that time, the most BTL shares that any one individual or entity could own was 25%. Unfortunately for Ashcroft, the PUP were so confident that they would have won the 1993 elections that they did nothing to correct that limitation on BTL ownership prior to the elections. By the time the elections were over and the UDP narrowly beat the PUP, it was too late. For the entire UDP term 1993–1998, Prime Minister Manuel Esquivel, with Dean Barrow as Deputy Prime Minister, refused to allow the Ashcroft interests to become a “permitted person/entity” and thus prevented him from gaining control of BTL.
It was not until the PUP returned in 1998, allegedly awash in and with the aid of Ashcroft campaign financing, that they immediately made the changes to permit the Ashcroft interests to gain control of BTL, thereby handing over lock, stock and barrel including BTL’s “golden share” which was previously held by the government to ensure that the best interests of the country and the small shareholders were respected.
Besides permitting Ashcroft to take over BTL, the PUP was responsible for accommodating Ashcroft in so many other things including the subsequent purchase of BTL from him at a high price and later resale to him at a cheaper almost fire sale price, the infamous accommodation agreement, the writing off of millions of dollars in taxes, etc. Considering the foregoing, it is definitely hard to make the case that the UDP leadership was in bed with Ashcroft. It is more the reverse – that the PUP was in bed with Ashcroft and facilitated his every request.
You mention that the Prime Minister’s law firm was on the payroll of Ashcroft in 2003. Well, perhaps that may have been the case but it is typical for banks to have attorneys on retainer to handle their routine banking business and other matters. Clearly this professional relationship, as you seem to try and imply, did not cause the UDP leadership to do any questionable favors or accommodations for Ashcroft against the best interests of Belize and Belizeans. In fact, it was more the contrary, with the UDP refusing to facilitate his gaining majority BTL control during 1993–1998, the UDP taking back control of BTL from him since 2009 and the UDP insisting that all his companies pay their due share of taxes.
Probably the real reason the UDP lost that 2003 election was that it ran too much of a negative campaign, trying to exploit the already exposed PUP financial scandals. In that election campaign, the UDP had almost weekly press conferences exposing PUP scandals – you might recall that there was even a press conference that was famously crashed by Ralph Fonseca when he showed up and tried to disrupt it when allegations were made against him. However, these attempts to exploit the PUP scandals did not gain traction because that negative aspect of the campaign was not adequately balanced by highlighting positive things the UDP would do if elected.