Next month will mark 40 years since Assad Shoman and Said Musa began the meetings in Belize City which led directly to the formation of the “Ad Hoc Committee for the truth about Vietnam.” (This group began a demonstration outside the Eden Cinema on New Year’s night, January 1, 1969, against the American war propaganda film called Green Berets.)
It was at one of those meetings that I met Michael Finnegan (then “Michael Myvett”) for the first time. He was 17 years old, and had not been to high school. I was 21, and a recent Ivy League graduate. At that point, in other words, I had been more fortunate in life than he.
Over the years between that first meeting and late in 1972, Finnegan and I were friends. He is very intelligent, and he is highly gifted with words and phrases. Michael was a member of the organization which I led – the United Black Association for Development (UBAD). He marched and demonstrated with us several times, most prominently on May 29, 1972.
In the latter part of 1972, I saw where Finnegan had switched his loyalty from myself to Norman Fairweather, who had become a UBAD hero on that aforementioned May 29, 1972. Between that latter part of 1972 and 1973, there were UBAD officers and members who were persuaded to become a part of what would officially become the United Democratic Party (UDP) in September of 1973.
With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that those UBAD officers and members, which included Rufus X and Michael Finnegan, were making what was a logical and sensible move. UBAD had been in bitter fighting (both electoral and street fighting), with the PUP between late 1971 and the first half of 1972, and the new UDP promised to be a much more powerful vehicle than the UBAD to fight the PUP.
As president of UBAD, I could not specifically tell my people at that time where we were going, and when I attempted to negotiate a better deal for UBAD with the Unity Congress (the precursor of the UDP), the pro-UDP section of UBAD was in a hurry – they rebelled. So it was that UBAD was broken in two in early 1973, to be formally dissolved in November of 1974.
To an extent, Rufus X, Finnegan and all those who embraced the UDP were correct. Michael Finnegan found a permanent home in the UDP. Finnegan is a people person and an organization person. The story of his rise in the UDP, over a period of 35 years, to the point today where he is an unbeatable area representative, a Cabinet Minister, and an intra-party powerhouse, is a long and remarkable one.
For me, the main thing is and has always been that Finnegan is no johnny-come-lately. He paid his dues. For real. For many years, especially between 1973 and 1979, a lot of Finnegan’s fame came from ridiculing me, both privately and on the public rostrum. There was a large audience within the UDP, including high ranking leaders, who wanted to hear this kind of anti-X material. They could not themselves do what Finnegan did, but they benefited from it.
There were many times I became irritated by Finnegan’s abuse, of course, but I never held it against him in a personal way. I knew that he was fulfilling a need within his party, and that this was as some high ranking UDP leaders wanted it. Amongst those leaders, I always believed, was Dean Oliver Barrow. This is the way politics is.
The rift between Prime Minister Dean Barrow and Housing Minister Michael Finnegan which has been exposed recently, is a serious matter. Indeed, these are two of the most powerful ruling politicians in our country. Over the last thirty plus years, I always knew that, essentially, Finnegan was “doing work,” as they say in the streets, and Barrow was benefiting from it. I always respected Finnegan’s political ability, in real terms.
About six or seven years ago, Finnegan wrote me a couple times. I was surprised. One of the purposes for his letters was to tell me that he was no longer what he had been. In other words, he was not anybody’s instrument and no one could push him around. I would say that I took the letters lightly, too lightly. Before, it had always been the case that Finnegan worked for Mr. Barrow, before that for Mr. Ken Tillett and Mr. Dean Lindo. Hon. Michael Finnegan of the Mesopotamia constituency was saying, in those letters, that he was his own man, and I found it hard to believe. I will not apologize for my skepticism.
Today, there is an amount of evidence to suggest that what Finnegan wrote years ago, is true. The implications of his political power are not only huge, those implications make for unpredictability. What I mean is, I don’t know where this is going. I knew the old Finnegan a lot better than I know the new one.
I believe that Mr. Barrow is trying to do the best thing as Prime Minister, and therefore, as a Belizean and a nationalist, I support him. But I could never fight for Mr. Barrow against Mr. Finnegan. Mr. Finnegan and I have been enemies for so long, it is impossible for us not to be friends. If Mr. Barrow and Mr. Finnegan fight, I would have to declare my neutrality. There is a history here, and plus, I am not a young man anymore. This is by way of saying that I am not an innocent.
Power to the people.