BELIZE CITY, Sun. July 12, 2020– Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education, Hon. Patrick Faber, is now the new leader of the United Democratic Party, winning a close election by beating his nearest rival, Hon. John Saldivar, by 19 votes – 286 to 267.
The third contender for the post, Hon. Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington, received only 10 votes.
The elections, conducted today at the Institute of Technical, Vocational and Educational Training (ITVET) compound on Freetown Road in Belize City, were determined by the 553 delegates who were in attendance at the convention, out of a reported 580 delegates who were slated to attend.
In a previous leadership convention, which had been held by the UDP on Sunday, February 9, 2020, in Belize City at the Belize Civic Center, Saldivar initially gained hold of the coveted post of leader of the party by outdistancing Faber by 115 votes and triumphing in what many saw as a blowout victory, with a final tally of 342 votes (Saldivar) to 227 votes (Faber).
Even as he was being elected, however, Saldivar was facing serious allegations in a US court in connection with the US$1 billion-plus fraud case against Americans Lev Dermen and Jacob Kingston.
Jacob Kingston, a co-defendant who pleaded guilty to a number of charges in the Washakie Renewable Energy fraud case, and who is cooperating with prosecutors, gave damning evidence which implicated Minister of National Security, John Saldivar.
Kingston testified that he had witnessed Dermen giving Saldivar “stacks of cash” in US $10,000 bundles when the two men visited Belize in pursuit of business opportunities. Kingston’s testimony became much more damning to Saldivar when he provided text messages that were shown to the jury which was hearing the evidence in the case.
In text messages that Kingston and Saldivar exchanged, Saldivar told Kingston that he was worried because he had not heard from Dermen, who had promised him US$25,000 per month to assist him and four unnamed colleagues in their re-election campaign. Saldivar then asked Kingston for the money, according to the text messages that the two exchanged.
Prime Minister Barrow had earlier told the media that his Cabinet ministers “had sworn” that none of them had taken any money from Dermen and his associates.
“I said in Cabinet at the time, and later at a press conference,” said PM Barrow, “that any Minister subsequently proven indeed to have taken money, and therefore to have lied to Cabinet, would have to leave the Cabinet.”
“That time for leaving, in view of what happened Monday and Tuesday in Salt Lake City, Utah, has unfortunately come. I, therefore, today asked Minister Saldivar to submit to me his resignation as Leader- Elect of the United Democratic Party. He has agreed to do” said Barrow, when the evidence was presented in the Utah court trial just days after Saldivar had been elected as UDP party leader.
“In addition to the resignation, I have decided to put the Minister on indefinite suspension from the Cabinet. This will do two things: It will give the Minister a chance to prove the innocence which he strongly maintains; it will also give time for the Government to obtain official transcripts from the trial and direct the police to launch and complete a thorough investigation into all the allegations made in the court of that Dermen trial,” Barrow had said.
“The UDP will in due time choose a new leader,” PM Barrow had said at the end of his statement.
Saldivar, too, issued a press statement.
“In a Special Cabinet meeting today, I informed the Prime Minister and colleagues of my decision to resign as the Leader-Elect of the United Democratic Party. I have come to this decision after careful consideration and consultation with colleagues. While I maintain my innocence of any wrongdoing, bribery, or corruption and the testimony in Utah has confirmed that there was no bribery, I feel that the negative attention being generated by this trial is overtaking my Party and can hurt our chances in the upcoming general elections.
“I have therefore stepped aside to allow a new leader to be chosen … once my name is properly cleared I will resume the work that I love so dearly. I will continue to work with colleagues to ensure victory for our UDP later this year. I will also be happy to continue serving as Minister of National Security once this matter is settled,” said the release.
On Monday, March 16, 2020, a federal jury convicted Lev Aslan Dermen, 53, the only defendant to go to trial for a Utah fraud scheme that sought $1.1 billion from a government biofuel program, on all 10 felony counts of conspiracy and money laundering.
Saldivar was subsequently also removed from Cabinet. He was, however, allowed to contest the second leadership convention slated for yesterday, Sunday. This time, however, the tables were turned – his 115 vote margin of victory against Faber shrunk to a deficit of 19 votes.
In his acceptance speech to the crowd of supporters, Faber said that Prime Minister Barrow will remain in his position until the conclusion of his term in November, and he will be leading the country through this difficult time brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, while he, Faber, will be responsible for uniting and organizing the party so that they can win the upcoming general elections whenever it is called.
The problem that the government faces, however, is not only the COVID-19 pandemic. The country is beset by social upheaval brought about by what seems to be an uncontrollable, violent crime wave; an increase in poverty and a downturn in economic activity; one political scandal after the other; increased hustling by the ruling politicians and their minions, and a general feeling by the public that we have had enough of a hard life, and better must come.
Faber, in speaking with his supporters and Saldivar’s supporters, said that he will mend fences with John Saldivar.