“It was in the Queen’s Coronation year that I first set eyes on the country that was later to become my adopted homeland. My father, an administrator in the Colonial Service, had been posted to what was then British Honduras – now Belize – following a spell in the African outpost of Nyasaland (now Malawi). The Ashcroft family arrived in late 1953 just as postage stamps from this remote part of the Commonwealth were beginning to display the image of Queen Elizabeth II.”
“These were carefree days and I recall them fondly. I attended St. Catherine’s Academy, a mixed day school. I had an abundance of new friends, the children of local Belizeans and of the expatriate community.”
“Despite the diversity of facial types, skin colours and surnames, the country was largely united by the fact that most of us spoke English and the Queen was, as she remains to this day, our head of state. Much of my personality was formed in these early years, making me cosmopolitan, proud of my essentially British roots and possessed of a passion for Belize that has never faltered.”
– pgs. 1, 2, DIRTY POLITICS: DIRTY TIMES, by Michael Ashcroft, MAA Publishing Limited, 2006
In 1981, the celebrations for Belize’s independence were one-sided, so to speak. Political independence for the country once known as British Honduras had been the Holy Grail for the ruling People’s United Party (PUP) from the party’s foundation in September of 1950. The circumstances of Belize’s independence in September of 1981 had been such, however, that it was really only the PUP section of Belize (and the chronic bacchanals) that celebrated.
Three years later, however, the United Democratic Party (UDP) section of our population got the chance to celebrate when the PUP was defeated for the first time in a general election, and Belize experienced its first change of government in our modern political era, since adult suffrage in 1954.
The national economy of British Honduras had been dominated by the Belize Estate and Produce Company (BEC), a British corporation which owned most of the colony’s lands. The business energy which had supported the anti-colonial movement here had come from a Creole native by the name of Robert Sydney Turton, whose various businesses, including mahogany, chicle, and import commission, had come into direct competition with BEC’s interests. Turton was doing most of his business with American companies, and he had found that the colonial tariff laws in B.H. favored BEC where its interaction with Great Britain and British interests were concerned, while these same laws penalized him because his business partners were American instead of British. Turton wanted the country to become independent so that he could compete on a level playing field with BEC.
At the base of the colony’s socio-economic pyramid, there were thousands of black and brown Belizean workers who had travelled to Panama to work in the United States Canal Zone, before and during World War II (1939-1945), and when these workers returned to British Honduras they came back with anti-British sentiments. They readily supported the PUP because their interaction with the American system in Panama had been much more positive for them than British colonialism. (Belizeans knew little about the virulent anti-black racism in the continental United States.)
The opposition to the early, militant PUP came from social interests in the colony who felt comfortable with British rule, for different reasons. In general, those who worked in the public service under British administrators were apprehensive about self-rule in Belize; they were nervous about the massive political power which the masses of the people were giving the PUP. Some of these clerical, middle class Belizeans began to migrate to the United States, especially to New York City, Chicago, and New Orleans.
What we have been doing in the beginning of this essay is to set the stage for the entry of Lord Michael Ashcroft, a British billionaire with international connections, into Belize’s economy and politics, beginning in 1985, almost as soon as the PUP had been replaced in government by the UDP.
It is this newspaper’s considered opinion that Lord Ashcroft would have had a more difficult time penetrating Belize’s financial and political world had Rt. Hon. George Price, PUP Leader, not lost power in 1984. That is because Mr. Price did not welcome excessively wealthy investors into Belize, and secondly, like his mentor and patron, Robert Sydney Turton, he was not particularly fond of Englishmen.
Give Ashcroft credit for cunning and patience. He spent years studying the financial and political landscape in Belize before he began to make decisive moves. Early on, he chose Dean Lindo’s law firm as his first local attorneys, and then he took over what had been the Royal Bank of Canada branch here, renaming it the Belize Bank. Lindo had been the first UDP Leader. In 1985, he was a powerful UDP Cabinet Minister, and very influential in the party and the government. The most promising of the young UDP Cabinet Ministers, Hon. Dean Barrow, was inside the Lindo law firm. Lindo was Barrow’s maternal uncle, and his early mentor.
It is clear, in retrospect, that in the latter part of the 1980s Lord Ashcroft was meticulously identifying and studying the major players in Belize’s business and politics. The first daring and dramatic move Lord Ashcroft made, we suggest, was when he enabled the bankrupting of Hon. Derek Aikman in 1992, Ashcroft serving as the financial bridge between the conspiring heavyweights in both the then ruling PUP and the Opposition UDP who wanted Aikman’s head.
Remember, when Hon. Dean Barrow left Uncle Dean’s law firm, immediately after the UDP’s general election defeat in September of 1989, he had taken the Ashcroft/Belize Bank portfolios along with him to his new Barrow & Williams law firm.
Remember again, that in 1992, the PUP Attorney General, Hon. Glenn Godfrey, was a spectacular player in the PUP government. Ashcroft helped Godfrey to guillotine Aikman in 1992, and, in return, the following year Godfrey facilitated everything that Lord Ashcroft wanted to have done with the charter of the gold mine of the day, Belize Telecommunications Limited, and then accepted all of the Lord’s suggestions for adjustments to Belize’s tax laws, for the specific benefit of the Ashcroft business group. Lord Ashcroft, the richest man in Belize, has not paid any taxies here since then.
In this stressful year of 2018, we Belizeans owe our collective financial soul to Lord Ashcroft. He has been merciless where raiding the Belizean barn is concerned. Between 1998 and today, both PUP and UDP governments, led by Said Musa and Dean Barrow, respectively, have been shelled by the Englishman and his army of attorneys and accountants. Yet, he has been so smooth and his public relations have been so slick, not to mention the fact that Belize’s political leaders have been so gullible (dare we say corrupt?), that it is seldom that we Belizeans focus on Lord Ashcroft as the octopus which has strangled and is continuing to strangle us.
As Belize moves closer and closer to the ominous referendum to decide whether we take the Guatemalan claim to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for final and binding arbitration, it would behoove us as a people to keep a close eye on Lord Michael Ashcroft. This is a man who moves in the highest of financial and political circles in both the United States and the United Kingdom. The U.S. and the U.K. lead the group called “Friends of Belize.” How many of us Belizeans would consider Lord Ashcroft a friend of Belize?
In Belize, we came out of colonialism with this Brer Anancy culture, where we felt in The Jewel that we were clever enough and deceptive enough to trick masterpieces like Lord Ashcroft, big people whom we depicted as Brer Tiger. Because of the Bret Anancy culture, we submit, our leaders were not humble enough in their dealings with the Lord. He has mutilated Belize financially. Yet many of our finest talents continue in his employ. We Belizeans were schooled in the ways of the post-colonial world by Lord Ashcroft. Money talks.
Despite Lord Ashcroft’s harmless and humble physical appearance, when he introduced himself to us in 1993 on a visit to Partridge Street, we were careful not to take him at face value. This was because we were students of the Nation of Islam. When Lord Ashcroft managed to booby trap KREM Radio in 1994 with his Sagis Investments Limited, it was because two PUP attorneys, who were supposed to be friends of KREM Radio, facilitated Ashcroft/Sagis. Remember, in 1994 Sagis was completely anonymous. When KREM Radio defeated Lord Ashcroft in Supreme Court, the Lord brought his battery of attorneys and accountants from England for his appeal, which he won.
Belizeans should study that Sagis case file in Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals closely. In addition, you must investigate the curricula vitae of such as Arron Banks, Nigel Farage, and Andy Wigmore. The trail even leads to the one Paul Manafort. We’re talking big time operators here. The question you must now ask the Lord of Lords is this: where do you stand on the ICJ, sir?
Power to the people.