One of the interesting aspects of party politics in Belize is how developments in one constituency or area can impact on the political landscape in another constituency or area. The major political parties are national organizations. They field candidates in every one of the 31 electoral constituencies. Interpersonal or professional relationships between and among these candidates are often sub-surface, but highly significant.
Take the UDP situation in Belize Rural North before the 2012 general election, for example. The UDP area representative, Edmond Castro, had been removed from Cabinet and made a backbencher by Party Leader/Prime Minister Dean Barrow some time before the election. A Belizean in California had made an allegation against Mr. Castro. It appeared that Mr. Barrow would actually have preferred to have Castro replaced as the party’s standard bearer. Castro was even challenged at the constituency convention level before the election, but he survived, easily.
Behind the scenes, Castro was being supported by Deputy Prime Minister, Gaspar Vega, of Orange Walk North. In 2012, Castro delivered the Belize Rural North seat for the UDP by several hundred votes, defeating the PUP’s garrulous candidate, attorney Arthur Saldivar, by a wide margin. This was one of the two seats, the other being Hugo Patt’s seat in Corozal, which saved the UDP in the late hours of counting on election night.
With all the negatives surrounding Castro, and the visible displeasure the UDP Leader felt with respect to the Castro candidacy, his big 2012 victory came as a surprise to most Belizeans. The evidence suggests that Castro is a Vega loyalist. And Vega is a big man in the UDP.
So now, the return of Cordel Hyde to the PUP Lake Independence chairmanship is big news for the PUP in the Southside City, where his rising tide will lift all PUP boats. The Southside PUP boats are stuck in the mud since 2012, when the UDP won all six Southside seats, plus the semi-Southside Pickstock division. Plus, the UDP have been blowing out the PUP in Belize City Council elections from 2006 onwards.
The non-Southside area where the PUP will benefit from Cordel Hyde is Belize Rural Central, which has a Southside component in its two largest communities – Hattieville and Ladyville/Lord’s Bank. The PUP Rural Central area representative, Dolores Balderamos-Garcia, lost Hattieville in the last village council elections, a loss which would have seemed totally impossible back in the 1960s, when the Opposition National Independence Party (NIP) did not even dare to hold a public meeting in Hattieville, a community originally built hastily after Hurricane Hattie in 1961 to take in Belize City refugees.
Not only that, the UDP has unveiled a flashy new candidate, Beverly Castillo, to challenge Dolores in Rural Central. Coincidentally, Castillo is also a favorite and ally of Gaspar Vega’s, so she is guaranteed to enjoy campaign resources from now until 2017.
A history of Belize Rural Central is relevant. Following the 15-13 PUP victory in 1989, when there were still only 28 seats, the PUP decided to go to the odd number of seats – 29, to rule out any future possibility of ties in the number of House seats. It was originally Dolores who was supposed to be the PUP candidate in 1993. Her uncle, Rt. Hon. George C. Price, however, asked her to step aside so that Ralph Fonseca, who had lost badly to Dean Barrow in Queen’s Square in 1984, could be the Rural Central candidate for the PUP. Really, it was more an instruction than a request.
Ralph then entered Rural Central determined not to lose. His 1993 campaign was an unprecedented display of campaign goodies, and this was repeated for the 1998 and 2003 general election campaigns. There were so many gifts pouring into Rural Central that Ralph eventually did not feel the need to visit his constituents. The voters would go to see Mr. Fonseca’s son, Ralph, Jr., who was killed in a tragic traffic accident in 2007.
In arguably the most astounding general election result in Belize’s political history, a complete political unknown and perhaps nonentity, Michael Hutchinson, beat Ralph in 2008, The loss of Ralphie had hurt badly, but this result was also one more crazy example of how the “swing” can bring in candidates from the surging party who would not otherwise have had a ghost of a chance.
Dolores, as a result of the PUP catastrophe, got her opportunity to take over Belize Rural Central, and she succeeded in defeating Hutchinson in 2012. (Dolores had won for the PUP in Port Loyola in 1998, then lost the same seat in 2003.)
Beverly Castillo, however, is no Michael Hutchinson. The PUP malaise in Belize City’s Southside would have made Dolores’ attempt to defend her seat even more difficult. Cordel Hyde will be a problem for the UDP juggernaut on the Southside, but also in Belize Rural Central. This is how national campaign politics works.