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National disgrace

(Ed. NOTE: The essay reproduced below was originally published in the Amandala issue dated Sunday, September 18, 2016.)

As far as we know, the Belizean people showed little concern about the weak performance of those athletes Belize sent to the 2016 Olympic Games last month in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A few weeks before the games, this newspaper had tried to motivate the public to investigate and condemn the injustice perpetrated upon our best athlete, the sprinter Kaina Martinez, by the local sports power structure. Disgrace in regional and international sports events weakens our morale and national dignity as a young nation-state. That is why sports matters have always concerned us at this newspaper.

Many years ago, when Belize was still the colony of British Honduras, during the time when we began to think of self-rule and agitate for same, there was a Belizean who fought with great honor in Madison Square Garden in New York City. This was during the mid-1950s, even before we achieved self-government in 1964. But Ludwig Lightburn’s exploits in the United States, even as those of Hankin Barrow and Roy “Slim Terror” Cadle in Panama a few years earlier, gave roots Belizeans pride and confidence in our Belizean selves.

On Tuesday night this week, just days before we celebrate the 35th anniversary of our independence, the Police football team, Belize’s representative in a regional CONCACAF football tournament, suffered a catastrophic 11-0 defeat by the Mexican representative in the tournament, the team Pachuca.

In the case of the Kaina Martinez travesty, this newspaper provided some background where the power brokers of Belizean sports are concerned. We hoped that at some level, interested Belizean parties would pursue the matter. There were, of course, matters of more pressing national significance on the table – the sinking Belizean economy, our staggering public finances, the Section 53 homosexuality uproar, crime and violence, the gang wars, greed and corruption in public office, and so on. Still, what struck us about the Kaina Martinez story was the serious symbolism of a humble but talented young lady from Seine Bight reaching for the Olympic stars and being unfairly disenfranchised by the “land of the free.” Surely, of all the leaders in the various sectors of our country, someone would speak out in protest. No one did.

The Police football team which disgraced itself and Belize on Tuesday night was John Saldivar’s team. It is reasonable to assume, and we do so assume, that something went horribly wrong with the finances and management of the semi-pro Police team (we will not discuss the politicization of the coaching) when the Police Department section of Saldivar’s Ministry of National Security portfolio was removed from him and turned over to the reformer, Senator Godwin Hulse.

A few months ago, the said John Saldivar was riding so high that he challenged for the United Democratic Party (UDP) Deputy Leader/Deputy Prime Minister position, a post which, had he won it in convention, would have had him become UDP Leader and Prime Minister in time to prepare the ruling party for the general elections scheduled for 2020. It was remarkable how many of the UDP’s Cabinet Ministers supported Mr. Saldivar. Of the Ministers, if we remember correctly, only San Pedro Ambergris Caye’s Manuel Heredia, Orange Walk’s Elodio Aragon, and Belize City’s Michael Finnegan openly supported Mr. Saldivar’s opponent in that Deputy Leader/Deputy Prime Minister convention – that opponent being Belize City’s Patrick Faber, then Minister of Education. Mr. Faber won somewhat of a surprise victory in the convention, by going to the UDP “base,” as he explained his strategy.

Just weeks after that convention, the William Danny Mason scandal, involving the beheading of Pastor Llewellyn Lucas, broke. John Saldivar, the Cabinet Minister responsible for law-and-order and national defence in the nation, had been very close to William Danny Mason, too close as it turned out. His previously spectacular political career has been shipwrecked.

About twenty years ago, John Saldivar received the full backing of the ruling UDP to take over semi-pro basketball, which had staggered after the back-to-back champions, Kremandala Raiders, withdrew from the league after their 1995 championship. (If you go back and read the 1994 and 1995 issues of the UDP newspaper, you will understand why the Raiders, at the top of their game, withdrew from the sport.) But the 1996 season, without the three-peat champions, was having trouble getting off the ground, so the Raiders decided to return, for the good of the industry. In early 1996 at the then Ramada Hotel, John Saldivar, in loyal service to the Prime Minister, Hon. Dr. Manuel Esquivel, insulted the Raiders’ owner in front of the other team representatives. It was all good for John those days. Two years later, he was given an unlimited, unaudited budget to run the 1998 CARICOM basketball tournament in Belize, and Belize won a glorious victory.

The thing to remember about John Saldivar, as we look around today, is that he was always playing with house money, which is to say, Belizean taxpayers’ money. Using his public office, he gained access to William Mason’s money. There are many politicians like John Saldivar in both the red and blue camp. Give them access to public funds, and they can work magic for you, and for themselves, of course. (Ralph Salinas immediately comes to mind.)

Well, electoral politics is always making a mockery of us Belizeans. The latest joke is that Hon. Patrick Faber has been named the head of a “church-state commission on public morality.” Even though we think what “they” really mean is “morality in public,” instead of “public morality,” the fact of the matter is that Hon. Faber has been in too many scrapes involving alcohol and the opposite sex for him to enjoy any credibility in “public morality.”

When John Saldivar was riding high in sports and politics and was the darling of Belmopan sports fans, he was not spending money he had earned in any kind of personal, private sector initiative. If you have some talent, as John and Patrick do, and you play the party political game faithfully and well, you can gain access to public funds. Once you control public funds, you can build yourself a reputation as some kind of stud. The problem is, if you ever lose access to those funds, as John did, then the result will be as it was on Tuesday night: 11-0, Pachuca. A national disgrace, if not a national tragedy.

Power to the people. Remember Danny.

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