Editorial — 20 August 2013

The Opposition PUP is upset by the PUDP model, but where the biggest news of the day is concerned – the US$ 50 million Norwegian Cruise Lines’ investment at Harvest Caye, their four Toledo and Stann Creek area representatives are supportive of the investment, and the PUP on a whole seems unable to mount serious criticism of same.

Neoliberalism is an extreme form of capitalism, and at this newspaper recently we have been trying to give you a sense of what it is by publishing excerpts from a book by Naomi Klein. We have described the PUP government years from 1998 to 2004 as a neoliberal era in Belize. What we mean is that there was a lot of privatization, large government loans taken out abroad at commercial rates, excessively concessionary arrangements for big foreign investment deals, and a mood of supply-side economics. Supply-side economics believes that if the wealthy people are doing well and don’t have to pay a lot of taxes, their prosperity will trickle down to the poor masses and everyone will be happy.

Belize’s 1998-2004 version of neoliberalism cannot be compared with the classic Chicago School period in Chile under Pinochet. Consider the National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme introduced by the Said Musa government. PUP insiders built their own hospital in order to take advantage of the NHI plan, which would provide cheap health care for growing numbers of Belizeans. Government funds would pay for the health care, and party insiders would make a killing. This is not classic neoliberalism, but traditional Belizean crony party politics. One could neither describe the $30 million Novelos’ bus deal or the $40 million dredging of the Belize City port as classic neoliberalsim. Neither was Intelco.

Classic neoliberalism seeks to demolish all state programs which seek to comfort the masses, and to create a “pure” form of capitalism where raw competition rules and only the strong (and connected) survive. The Musa/Fonseca PUP of 1998 to 2004 did not demolish state welfare programs: in fact, it created one such – NHI. But the Musa/Fonseca PUP was neoliberal in that rapacious capitalists at the top of the pyramid got away with hundreds of millions, their private debt became Belize’s public debt, and the masses of the Belizean people ended up owing those aforementioned hundreds of millions to foreign banks and investment bankers.

The daring move by 7 PUP Cabinet Ministers to change the neoliberal conversation in August of 2004 has not been sufficiently or properly analyzed, especially in light of the international financial crash which followed three years later. The result of the rebellion by the so-called G-7 was that Prime Minister Musa made some adjustments in Belize’s fiscal policies and the power of Ralph Fonseca was essentially diminished. Were the changes which were caused by G-7 not good for Belize? We think so, although we are not economists.

The UDP have no political reason to give any respect or credit to G-7, because the highest ranking Cabinet Minister in G-7 – Deputy Prime Minister/Natural Resources Minister John Briceño, became the PUP Leader between 2008 and 2011, and therefore a direct threat to the new UDP government elected in early 2008. On the PUP side, the Musa/Fonseca faction which returned to power in the PUP in November of 2011, has blamed the G-7 for upsetting the 1998-2004 applecart which was enriching PUP insiders.

Historically, the G-7 has been caught between a UDP rock and a PUP hard place. Except for Mark Espat, all of them are still PUP, and no UDP in good standing will acknowledge the courage of their August 2004 stand. And on the other hand, the mainstream PUP propaganda of 2013 remains that the 2004 economy was going great guns and that what Belize really needs is a return to the 1998-2004 era.

The clear facts of the matter are that out of G-7 and the uprising of the trade unions which resulted, we got the Social Security Board (SSB) investigation and the Development Finance Corporation (DFC) commission of inquiry. These were extremely important initiatives which have now been swept under the national rug. The reason the SSB and DFC inquiries have been swept under the rug is because neither the UDP or the PUP want to think about the extraordinary popular nature of those initiatives: they prefer to govern without having to consider the future possibility of such.

So then, both Belize’s major political parties are explicitly committed to large foreign direct investments. What will be created at Harvest Caye will be an enclave and a state within a state. This was what Pomona Valley was all about. It is what Spanish Lookout and Consejo Shores are all about. Such enclaves add to the production and revenue statistics which the multilateral financial institutions like to see, but they do not materially improve the welfare of the masses of the Belizean people. The rich get richer, and the poor dream on. Where are we, Belize?

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