In Dean Barrow’s first run as leader of the United Democratic Party (UDP) in March of 2003 (he had replaced the late Manuel Esquivel following the UDP’s 1998 general election defeat), the UDP was badly beaten by Said Musa’s ruling People’s United Party (PUP).
By late 2003/early2004, the UDP was still on its hands and knees, figuratively speaking. When Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition is in shambles, the English parliamentary system, which we inherited from our former colonial masters, does not work well. The government is given free rein (so to speak) when the Opposition is quarreling within itself, and institutions like the media come in for special criticism and attacks by the incumbent administration.
As publisher of the nation’s leading newspaper, I made it my business to offer some advice to Mr. Barrow’s UDP. For such daring, I was publicly censured by Mr. Barrow’s right-hand man, Hon. Michael Finnegan, then the area representative for the Mesopotamia division, and told, in no uncertain terms, that the UDP didn’t need any advice from me, and could take care of its business very well.
I think in early 2004, February if I remember correctly, the UDP tried to demonstrate against the financial excesses of the PUP administration, where people like Ralph Fonseca and Glenn Godfrey were running wild in financial institutions like the Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and the Social Security Board (SSB). That UDP demonstration, it appeared to me, was a bust.
So it was that things stumbled along until late July of 2004 when a major scandal broke in the SSB. It was for a group of PUP Cabinet ministers to take it upon themselves in early August to confront Prime Minister Musa. In effect, that so-called G-7 had to do the work of the Opposition. For this, there were Ministers like Mark Espat and Cordel Hyde who ended up as scapegoats, and Fonseca/Godfrey loyalists branded them disloyal to the blue.
Younger Belizeans who have heard talk about a so-called “Superbond” should be informed that the Superbond was the product of wild borrowing at commercial rates by Ralph Fonseca, and loose spending.
The upshot of the stand taken by the G-7 in early August was that the general public, led by the various trade unions as organized by the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB), began to agitate on behalf of the working people of Belize. Barrow’s UDP piggybacked on that popular agitation, and by late January/early February of 2005, the Musa government was in danger of collapsing when the unions organized a demonstration/march in Belize City, the nation’s population center.
The coronavirus pandemic created a scenario in Belize where the PUP government elected in November of 2020 benefited from the fact that for a long time there was no public activity in the streets with reference to politics. Meanwhile, the UDP was organizing to choose a new leader, because Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow’s career had reached its end, successfully one would say, because he had won three straight general elections for the UDP, in 2008, 2012, and 2015.
Hon. Patrick Faber, as UDP deputy leader, was supposed to succeed Mr. Barrow as UDP leader, but, for different reasons, Mr. Barrow had not facilitated that succession as energetically as he could have. One of those reasons was that the very powerful and wealthy Gaspar Vega, who had been forced to withdraw from the UDP Cabinet in late 2015 but retained his Orange Walk seat, disliked Faber with a passion.
Well, I don’t know how the UDP’s constitution works and all that, but what we saw was that the UDP held a leadership convention, and John Saldivar of Belmopan, supported by Vega no doubt, defeated Patrick to become UDP leader. Days later, Saldivar was forced to resign because of the Lev Dermen scandal. Since then, there has been a disunity in the UDP which is practically shocking.
I’m not sure how Hon. Moses Shyne Barrow, Dean Barrow’s older son and Michael Finnegan’s nephew, first became UDP leader. I’m not sure if he defeated Faber in a convention, or Faber simply had to step down because of repeated domestic disputes. I know for sure that Shyne defeated Hon. Tracy Taegar Panton, the area representative for Albert, in a UDP leadership convention a few months ago.
Faber was sniping in television ads from the side all the while, however, and eventually he was disqualified from offering himself as the UDP’s candidate in the Collet constituency, where he had won five straight general elections for the party.
Then the superpower United States of America “designated” John Saldivar and branded him as a corrupt politician, which forced the Shyne leadership to disqualify Saldivar from offering himself as the UDP’s candidate for the Belmopan constituency, where Saldivar had won general elections in 2008, 2012, and 2015. (But, Saldivar had won the Belmopan seat before that, in 2003 or 2004, I’m not sure, in a bye-election following the death of the PUP incumbent, Agripino Cawich.)
Saldivar challenged the disqualification from Belmopan candidacy at the UDP’s National Party Council (NPC) level, and recently he won the support of the NPC. This is another major complication for the Shyne Barrow leadership, following on Patrick Faber’s announcement that he will run as an independent in the next general election.
Now, my opinion is that if the ruling PUP suddenly called a general election, all these feuding UDP politicians would quickly find a way to come together. We saw it happen in November of 1969 with the NIPDM coalition, and we saw it happen in June of 1993 with the UDP/NABR alliance.
In the meantime, however, Belize is without a strong opposition to the ruling PUP, and so more and more pressure will come on the trade unions, the media, and other interested parties, to challenge the ruling PUP executive on specific issues. The classic case recently involved the mobilization of the evangelical churches to derail the PUP Cabinet’s legalization of marijuana initiative. This situation was confused by the fact that the UDP Leader supported legalization.
And, to repeat, UDP Leader Shyne followed the U.S. State Department’s line in disqualifying Saldivar from the Belmopan candidate convention.
To top it all off, so to speak, UDP Leader Shyne is increasingly appearing to be a
Lord Michael Ashcroft crony. In 2003, it was his father’s decision not to criticize Ashcroft’s cruel telephone fees at BTL which led to the UDP’s massive defeat.
These are personal opinions, you know. I am not a UDP hater, even though Dean Barrow victimized Kremandala from 2013 to 2020 because of our stance on the Elvin Penner/Citizen Kim matter. But the nature of the parliamentary system is such that every now and then, people like us in the media need a strong opposition to protect us from a Cabinet gone wild. This was the case in 2003/2004. The history is there for Belize’s younger generations to examine.