Less than a week after being elected second vice-president of the powerful National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB), activist attorney Audrey Matura-Shepherd decided, on her own, to accept an invitation to breakfast Friday morning at the Radisson Hotel with the British billionaire, Lord Michael Ashcroft.
In this age of instant electronic communications, word of the sensational breakfast meet was quickly sent to the radio and television stations of the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) which were broadcasting their Friday morning propaganda talk show with Joe Bradley and Alfonso Noble as hosts, and UDP chairman Alberto August as their guest. Noble immediately broke the news to the WAVE Radio and TV audiences, and alerted his television viewers to look out for a photograph to follow shortly.
According to Matura-Shepherd, who appeared on KREM Radio/TV’s Sunday Morning Review to expand on the damage control she had initiated on Friday afternoon with an explanatory letter to the NTUCB leadership, the photograph of herself, Lord Ashcroft, and one of her sons which made a stunning appearance on WAVE TV was taken by Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s wife, Kim Simplis-Barrow. But on Friday morning going for 9:30, it didn’t matter to Belizeans who took the photo: the great Matura-Shepherd appeared to be in a compromising situation.
It is clear that Audrey believed her credibility to be such with the Belizean public that she could get out of any public relations hot water once she was allowed to explain herself. After all, she had appeared in a photograph all cozy with the Leader of the Opposition PUP, Hon. Francis Fonseca, on the front page of the PUP newspaper just a couple weeks ago, and the early surge of speculation that she had cut a candidate deal with the PUP for the next general election had been easily smothered once Audrey began talking to the media and writing her Amandala column.
Francis Fonseca was one thing, however: Lord Ashcroft was something else. In his thirty years operating like a one thousand pound gorilla in Belize’s business and political worlds, he had used his immense wealth to purchase the loyalty of a number of Belizeans of the highest rank. Audrey Matura-Shepherd had become the darling of the independent Belizean public, even as Dickie Bradley had been in the early 1990s and Godwin Hulse had become in 2004 and 2005. Was Ashcroft now adding her scalp to those he had already claimed? Speculation spread Friday like wildfire on social media.
The jury is still out where public opinion on Matura-Shepherd’s breakfast with Ashcroft is concerned, but our sources say that the bigger problem Audrey created was inside the team-oriented NTUCB, where her solo flight on Friday morning gives new NTUCB president, Marvin Mora, his first major headache. Matura-Shepherd did not consult any of her fellow NTUCB officers before her decision to breakfast: she consulted her two sons, and took one of them along with her.
That would have been okay, we suppose, if Audrey were still just an activist attorney, or even if she were still only the president of the Christian Workers Union (CWU). We say, “okay,” we suppose. For sure, though, the breakfast with Ashcroft without due consultation with the NUTCB leadership was not okay. That is not the way things are done in a national organization like the NTUCB. The protocol was not correct: the second vice-president cannot go off on her own like that.
There are two problems we see here. One is that Matura-Shepherd is wearing too many hats, and the new hat as second vice-president of the NTUCB is unlike any other in her collection. Another problem is that, at this level, you cannot be operating with a rookie consigliere. This is the big time.
In her appearance Sunday morning on KREM Radio/TV, Audrey explained that she wanted to ask Ashcroft what went wrong between himself and Mr. Barrow, whether he intended to litigate Belize to death, and whether there was any chance of a compromise settlement which would reduce Belize’s financial danger. In her mail to the NTUCB leadership Friday afternoon, she suggested that perhaps it would be valuable for the NUTCB leadership itself to have a meet with the Lord.
In a sense, Audrey Matura-Shepherd acted in keeping with her personality and character when she went to meet with Lord Ashcroft on Friday morning. Her confidence and courage are limitless. As impressive as Audrey is, however, the Lord is in a higher league that herself. When leaders of organizations enter into consultations with superior forces, those leaders have to go through all the available protocol before the consultations in order to ensure that their colleagues are on board.
At the level of the masses of the Belizean people, we believe Audrey Matura-Shepherd will survive to fight some more days. The focus will move, we think, to how NTUCB president, Marvin Mora, handles the situation. This may not be an actual crisis, but it is at least a very tricky spot. We wish Mr. Mora luck.
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.