Mike and Luke Espat are distant relatives of mine through their mother, who is a Garbutt, and the Garbutts from the Placencia area are relatives of the Hydes. I did not know of the family connection until maybe ten or fifteen years ago.
What I know is that I have never seen a Belizean control (and fail with) so many massive projects as Luke Espat. If someone like me or you had failed in any one of such projects, we would have never gotten another shot at glory.
First in line, I believe, where these giant failures are concerned, are all the collapsing ferro-concrete homes on the western side of the Philip Goldson Highway, about three miles outside of Belize City. Then there is the collapsed Iguana Creek Bridge (in the Valley of Peace area), the shameful BelChina Bridge, the Crocland investment (in the Biscayne area), and who knows what else. The Renaissance Hotel?
This Luke Espat is the man who became the owner of the Port of Belize around 2004 when the Said Musa/Ralph Fonseca government privatized the port and began a series of events which amounted to disaster after disaster for the stevedores of Belize City and, in effect, the people of Belize.
The Belize Communications Authority (BTA) had been privatized in June of 1993, the day before the ruling People’s United Party (PUP) lost power to a United Democratic Party (UDP)/ National Alliance for Belizean Rights (NABR) coalition in the June 30, 1993 general election. Thus it was that Lord Michael Ashcroft became a living BTL nightmare for Belizeans for more than a decade.
Now this privatization business had become the fashion all over the region and the so-called “free world” when the Berlin Wall collapsed in 1989, and the Soviet Union collapsed, and it seemed that the United States had won the Cold War outright, thus proving that laissez-faire capitalism was superior to communism, socialism, and the like.
Countries like Belize began to place their public assets/utilities into the hands of private business interests, for a pittance, using the argument that private sector management was more efficient, superior to government management in every possible respect.
The Port of Belize fell into the predator hands of Lord Michael Ashcroft because Luke Espat, for whatever the reason(s), could not pay the monster loans he had gotten from Ashcroft’s Belize Bank. The port became Lord Ashcroft’s to control as the receiver whom Luke Espat owed. Ashcroft’s receiver/managers began to turn the screws on the stevedores, as represented by the Christian Workers Union (CWU).
When I was a child/youth growing up in Belize City, the waterfront workers were an elite among manual workers in the old capital. Those were the days of loose cargo, before containers, so workers, in addition to their hefty salaries, were able to “privatize” a few goods now and then. Containers limited waterfront heists to a great extent, and then came Luke Espat, followed by absolute disaster — Lord Ashcroft.
Luke Espat had actually begun a cruise terminal project in the Port area just before the Waterloo boys took over. In addition, he had wreaked havoc on the bird sanctuary area which lay between the port and the Esso Oil Terminal, north of it. Ask the “Man At Work.”
In my senior years, I often hesitate to go all out in attack on these big boys (they are also called “political cronies”), who attempt or encourage projects which blow up in the faces of the Belizean people, because it is always we who end up paying the bills. Meanwhile, some attorneys have become crazy wealthy, and some people who appear to be culprits guilty of massive incompetence are never really punished.
I see that a professional basketball league is being formed which will be comprised of eight franchises. In 1992, I invested almost all my assets in a new semi-pro basketball league, because I felt sure that the investment could not possibly fail, and the beloved Southside would benefit.
Well, back then a very high-ranking politician in the ruling PUP blew that first league to smithereens, along with the UDP elected in 1993, which had a personal beef with me. I wasn’t big enough to survive. I wasn’t Luke Espat. He always fails, or appears to do so, and yet he never fails. It is a great mystery to me.
I seldom go after the politician who ruined my investment, because he experienced a personal disaster which demanded my human sympathy. I suppose I am not tough enough. Lord Michael is about the bottom line, always. There is no sympathy in his game. That is why I said in my Tuesday column (which was supposed to have been printed last Friday, but was not), it is not the PUP or the UDP, per se, which calls the shots here: it is a high-flying cartel which is linked internationally. This political independence has not really worked the way it was supposed to do. What say you?