“One idiot is one idiot. Two idiots are two idiots. Ten thousand idiots are a political party.”
—Franz Kafka (1883-1924)
“CABINET CONFRONTATION ENDS IN COMPROMISE” — headline story by Adele Ramos in AMANDALA No. 1887, of Sunday, August 15, 2004
In my midweek column, I said that neither the People’s United Party (PUP) or the United Democratic Party (UDP), Belize’s two major political parties, want to talk about the G-7 episode in August of 2004. Needless to say, the two political parties have different reasons for not wanting to discuss the historical episode.
The UDP do not want to discuss the G-7 matter, because the UDP has never shown the ability, in its 48-year history, to make an attempt to clean up itself in the face of overwhelming evidence of financial irregularities. G-7, on the other hand, represented an extraordinary and unprecedented attempt by a Cabinet element in the PUP to right their financial ship of state. At the time, the PUP was 54-years old, Belize had been independent for 23 years, and the PUP held 26 of the 31 seats in the House of Representatives. The PUP had won a landslide victory (28-3) over Dr. Manuel Esquivel’s UDP in August of 1998 and then won big again, over Dean Barrow’s UDP, in March of 2003.
There are experts on the Constitution of Belize and on the system of governance in our parliamentary democracy whom I respect, such as Senator Henry Gordon. I do not possess such expertise, so all I offer in my column, from time to time, is carefully considered opinion. The UDP should have had a G-7 moment, I submit, when the Elvin Penner/Citizen Kim passport scandal broke in late 2013, and the then Commissioner of Police defied the Chief Justice when Justice Benjamin ordered him to investigate the matter. The then Commissioner of Police did not so do, ignored the Chief Justice, and the only conclusion we in the streets could come to was that the ComPol was being supported by our Prime Minister at the time, Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow. The executive was overruling the judiciary, or so it seemed.
The reality was that the UDP, which had won overwhelmingly in February of 2008, only held a 17-14 margin over the PUP in 2013, after the 2012 general election. So that, had the UDP lost the Penner seat in Cayo following a police investigation, their margin would have been a razor-thin 16-15.
Mr. Barrow, one assumes, was not about to risk losing power. We Belizeans can all see that UDP politicians and cronies did very, very well for themselves during Mr. Barrow’s three terms of office, from 2008 to 2020. Mr. Barrow ruled like an absolute monarch within the UDP, because he allowed his minions to be happy, to do whatever benefited them. My personal feeling is that the Barrow reign was a corrupt one, but there was never even the hint of a challenge to that corruption from within.
The evidence is there — it surfaced in the Social Security Board (SSB) and Development Finance Corporation (DFC) investigations after G-7 — that there was corruption inside the Said Musa administration of 1998 to 2008. There are powerful PUP personalities who still seriously despise what the G-7 did, because the G-7 attempt to control Ralph Fonseca and Glenn Godfrey led to division inside the PUP, and its defeat in the 2008 general election. (Check the Franz Kafka quote at the top of the page.) Until the UDP can find it within themselves to address felonies inside their own party, however, the PUP will go down in Belize’s history as the only one of the two parties to attempt the correction of corruption.
The members of G-7 were John Briceño, Deputy Prime Minister at the time (who was in Chicago for most of the four days of crisis); Joe Coye; Cordel Hyde; Mark Espat; Servulo Baeza; Eamon Courtenay; and Godfrey Smith.
These Cabinet Ministers (except for the absent Briceño) confronted Prime Minister Musa on the morning of Thursday, August 12, 2004. There is nowhere you can go in Belize to research all the intra-party details of what followed from that Thursday until the following Monday, when matters threatened to become violent. (After I wrote the previous sentence, I went into Amandala’s archives, and I realized that Adele Ramos was at her peak in those days, and wrote the relevant headline stories on G-7. Her material will go down in history.)
I will offer this personal perspective to you, however. On the Saturday afternoon of that weekend, Prime Minister Musa visited my Seashore Drive home on his way to the San Joaquin Fiesta in Corozal.
The relationship between Mr. Musa and the caudillo of the North, Hon. Florencio Marin, Sr. (El Honorable), had been strained since Mr. Musa defeated Mr. Marin in a PUP leadership convention in 1996 to succeed Rt. Hon. George Price. (Again, Mr. Marin had led a movement sometimes referred to as “May 15,” which, following the 1994 Town Board elections in which the PUP had been badly beaten by the UDP, was at odds with the mainstream PUP, wherein Musa, Ralph Fonseca and Glenn Godfrey had increased their power. The 1994 fuss had been settled in a PUP national convention later that year.) But on that G-7 weekend, all indications are that Musa and Marin cut a deal when Said went to San Joaquin. Briceño was removed from leadership of the Northern Caucus and replaced by Dave Burgos. And by the Monday morning, August 16, the rhetoric coming out of the Northern Caucus had become almost violent in its hostility to G-7 and support for the Musa administration.
There were people in the G-7, specifically Eamon Courtenay and Godfrey Smith, who have to be considered as representing the interests of Lord Michael Ashcroft. In other words, they may have been more watchdogs than pit bulls.
Servulo Baeza was a John Briceño loyalist.
Cordel Hyde and Mark Espat were/are brothers-in-law.
Joe Coye failed to stand with Espat and Hyde when Prime Minister Musa counter-attacked on December 28, 2004, firing Mark Espat from Cabinet. So it was that Coye served out his term as a Cabinet Minister until he lost his Caribbean Shores seat in the February 2008 general election.
I think I have discussed enough of the G-7 episode to give you an idea of the situation in which the teachers and the public officers found themselves recently. The two political parties, if we are to judge by the state of Belize’s public finances, are crooked and corrupt. Clearly, there is a systemic problem which has led Belize to the financial precipice on which we now find ourselves.
It should be noted, for the record, that the two highest ranking leaders of the new PUP administration, John Briceño and Cordel Hyde, were G-7 Cabinet Ministers in August of 2004.