BELIZE CITY, Mon. July 27, 2020– The disturbing escalation of tensions between the Port of Belize Limited (PBL) and 36 of the company’s employees who were abruptly terminated has led, not only to a series of unsettling events, but also a list of unanswered questions.
Now that the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of PBL by not granting an injunction that would have delayed the termination of the employees, Belizeans wait with bated breath to see what will become of the 36 employees who both the United Democratic Party (UDP) and the People’s United Party (PUP) have been publicly championing since a spotlight was put on the brutal treatment of the workers by the police’s Gang Suppression Unit (GSU) during what appeared to be a peaceful protest.
In the first instance, the United Democratic Party (UDP) issued a press release on the very day of the standoff at the Port, pledging their support of, and solidarity with, the PBL employees.
In their statement, the UDP commended Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte for protecting the rights of the workers by filing an injunction against the terminations. They continued their statement by calling out the investors of the PBL for terminating their employees while seeking a $400 million expansion – an act they deem to be “heartless.”
The remaining half of the statement, however, focused on the PUP and their supposed role in the ill-treatment of the former Port staff:
“This attack on the Port workers is only possible because of the People’s United Party’s pillaging of public resources …the Port was part of a package swindled to cronies of the Musa-Briceño administration …We also note with no surprise the PUP’s silence as the stevedores face-off with a company controlled by their financier, the British billionaire, that continues to haunt Belize …We see that once again, the people’s United Party is prioritizing the interest of the billionaire over the interest of the Belizean people for the promise of campaign financing at the expense of Belize’s sovereignty, fiscal wellbeing, and the plight of taxpaying Belizeans,” stated the UDP in its release.
The PUP opted to respond, not with a statement of their own, but with a slideshow posted to their social media page, displaying the horrors of last Wednesday’s events, while a narrator cast the blame upon the UDP. The transcribed script of the narrator was as follows:
“The UDP said they would support the workers. They said they would help. Then hours after, they sent the police with rubber bullets and tear gas. That’s cold and inhumane, Mr. UDP – even for you with a history of abusing the people. These are people with families to support. They need their jobs. They have rights. But you don’t care, do you, Mr. UDP? The people won’t forgive or forget. Don’t grieve, just leave. It is time for all of you to go.”
At the last House meeting on Friday, July 24, both the Leader of the Opposition, Hon. John Briceño, and the Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Barrow, weighed in on the matter. Briceño made note of the injustice the 36 Belizeans faced and called upon the Port to reinstate them:
“…this multi-million dollar company decides that they are going to fire these 36 workers, of which the great majority are members of the Christian Workers Union. This cannot be allowed to happen, not now, not ever. You can’t go around this country and say you love Belize and then you decide that you will go and fire people just like that — can’t do that,” he remarked.
“Today, despite that they have won in court, I call on the receiver and the receivership to do the right thing and immediately reinstate these workers. In the scope of things, we are not talking about a lot of money; reinstate them,” he further said.
Prime Minister Barrow responded by pledging to fight for the former employees, but he also cast blame on the PUP:
“Well, of course, we lost the application for the injunction this morning, but that’s not the end of it. Government will pursue all avenues, including legal avenues, to do absolutely what is necessary to try to get these people reinstated.
“I notice that the Leader of the Opposition, unlike this administration, has not said that if the Port of Belize does not cooperate, does not restore these people to their rights, that if he and his party were to become the government, God forbid, that he would ensure that that MOU, which is languishing with the Port, which this administration has declared absolutely, unshakably that it will not sign, and to hear the Leader of the Opposition say that it is the same position taken by their side of the House … that is what the Belizean people want to hear.”
While both political parties continue to jostle over who is more to blame and who is handling the situation more appropriately, the 36 Belizeans remain unemployed, and seven of them are ailing from bodily harm, brought upon them by the police’s GSU.