From the Hondo to the Sarstoon and from Half Moon Caye to Benque Viejo del Carmen, the two gripping stories right now are a coronavirus that is spreading in China and the upcoming United Democratic Party (UDP) convention to determine who will lead that party into the next general elections. Belizeans have not forgotten the painful, unending violence in our society, or the very difficult economic times, but just for a moment those have been pushed off center stage.
There’s great concern in the world and in our country that the new strain of virus that recently appeared in Wuhan, China could blow up into a pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the virus a global health emergency, mainly due to fear that the disease could overwhelm countries that don’t have very effective health services.
The latest coronavirus is not the worst strain the world has seen in the last 20 years, but it is already costing China in lives and dollars. If China can’t contain the virus, the economic toll will accelerate as more and more businesses and people start avoiding that country. Already there are leaders in the wealthy West who are licking their chops in anticipation of more businesses landing their way if the disease prolongs in the East.
Apart from the serious health concerns for us, the disease could be big financial trouble, particularly because many of our investments are in tourism. If there is any kind of pandemic, countries will go on lockdown to contain the disease, and that means travel will greatly decrease.
This battle for leadership of the UDP has been building up over the last few years, and now, unless the world stops turning, the matter will be settled this coming Sunday, February 9. There was a hiccup a couple weeks ago when an allegation surfaced that at least one of the candidates, Hon. John Saldivar, had accepted bribes from a man who stands charged with bilking the US government out of more than half a billion dollars in taxes, but most pundits who have observed the UDP knew that a “little thing” like a serious allegation of corruption could never postpone the party’s plans for their convention.
We got the official word, the full speed ahead for February 9th, in the latest edition of the UDP newspaper, Guardian. We sincerely doubt that anyone was staggered by the announcement. If the UDP were who they said they were, “allegations” of corruption would faze them. They are not who they said they were. The party came to power on a mandate to wipe out corruption and during three consecutive terms in office they tolerated it, then embraced it, and then entrenched the vice so deeply that it is now endemic.
Saldivar, the National Security Minister, has vigorously defended his integrity, on his Facebook page. On Friday the media converged on Price Barracks for the passing out ceremonies for new Belize Defence Force (BDF) recruits, and for an opportunity to interview him about the disturbing allegations, but he was a no-show.
The other candidate for the position of leader of the UDP is Hon. Patrick Faber, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education, Youth, Sports and Culture. Faber came under attacks about his management of his portfolios, his integrity, and other aspects of his character almost immediately after the allegations surfaced about his rival. The latest charges against Saldivar emanated from a US court, while the charges against Faber for the most part came from within, from the camp of his rival for UDP leadership, and from a recently released audit report of the portfolios he managed.
The eyes of all who have concern about the political process in Belize are focused on the two men, one of whom will get a chance to take the ultimate crown, leader of our nation. At around sundown on Sunday, we should know which one of them will have climbed the next step toward realizing their glorious ambition.
Both men were altar-boy types in their youth, an upbringing that should definitely have given them a good appreciation for doing the right thing and have taught them to love their fellow human beings. We have no record of either of them doing anything especially noteworthy or heroic. These two men, from their youth, have done nothing other than persevere to further their political careers.
Faber’s name has not been associated with any financial scandal, not until very recently. Saldivar has been named in a number of scandals.
Faber is an economist, but he hasn’t held a portfolio related to that field in any of the three UDP governments he has served. From 2008, he has been Minister of Education; there have been no radical changes in the delivery of education under his leadership. He has carried on the status quo in Belize and we have harvested accordingly – with Faber at the helm there has been no improvement in the performance of marginal schools. He did not introduce African and Mayan history to any school.
Faber has not articulated the kind of economic model he has in mind for Belize if he becomes Prime Minister, but if we follow the trail behind his management of the education system, and what we have seen of him otherwise, the only conclusion we can arrive at is that Faber at the helm of the country will be more status quo – neoliberal.
Saldivar is an economist, but in the three UDP governments he served, his portfolios have been public service management, immigration, and national security. The immigration department is still recovering from a major scandal that occurred under his watch. On the matter of crime control, the best that can be said for his stewardship is that he hasn’t been more incompetent than any Minister of Police in our country of these last three decades, and that includes his present boss, Hon. Dean Barrow, who served in the capacity in an Esquivel government.
Saldivar has dropped snippets on the economic model he would pursue if he becomes Prime Minister, and it is consistent with what we have seen of him in the management of his portfolios and his private business. Saldivar is, like Faber, a neoliberal.
So, here we are on Tuesday, February 4th, 2020, with a coronavirus in China on our minds, and a convention on Sunday that could impact our future in a major way.