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Politics and money

The individuals and corporations who finance political parties in Belize, as indeed all over the world wherever there is electoral “democracy,” may be referred to as “smart money.” These are calculating people who know what they are doing, and they don’t make mistakes.

In Belize, the smart money finances politicians in order to get returns on their investments. In the United States, planet earth’s superpower, by contrast, a lot of the financing of the political parties is done by citizens and companies who have a certain agenda or socio-political philosophy which they want to push. This is not to say that when the party they are financing wins, the financiers of American politics do not expect to get back their money, and then some. They do. But, it is to say that in Belize the return on the investment is the primary, and often only, concern for the financiers of the major political parties. And, this is the case in Belize because there is very little difference in socio-political philosophy between the People’s United Party (PUP) and the United Democratic Party (UDP).

In the beginning of party politics in British Honduras in 1950 and 1951, there was a clear difference between the young PUP and the National Party (NP), which was the precursor of the National Independence Party (NIP), which later became one of the three foundation blocks of the UDP in 1973. Because of that original and clear difference between the two major Belizean political parties, there are families which are PUP today because they were PUP back in the 1950s, and there are families which are UDP today because they were NP and NIP back in the 1950s. But, to repeat, there is not that much difference between the PUP and the UDP in 2014, as there was between the PUP and the NP in 1951.

No matter how we may criticize the two major political parties from time to time in this newspaper, the PUP and the UDP are very, very important Belizean institutions, in the first instance because they are truly national institutions. And, they are authentic. The PUP and the UDP are functional organizations in every city, every town, every village, every caye, everywhere there are Belizeans. The PUP and the UDP comprise the two-party essentials for the political system we call parliamentary democracy. One forms the government; the other opposes that government, and considers itself a government-in-waiting, as it is said. (In line with this, we would say, a little tangentially, that until one or more of Belize’s third parties becomes truly national in composition and character, then it is impossible for us to take them seriously.)

Because of the huge stakes involved, Belize has become an extremely politicized society in this third millennium. There was a time when, after one of the parties lost a general election, that party would be almost moribund for the next two or three years. It appears nowadays, however, that propaganda politics in Belize, with social media prowling and with each of the major parties sporting expensive newspapers, and expensive radio and television stations, is a daily, year-round, permanent fixture on our social landscape.

The political party officials who approach citizens and companies for financing have to be in a position to assure those they approach that the government they form will be “responsible,” and that they are in control of the party, specifically, the candidates who are running for political office. The political parties of today are totally professional organizations. There are so many important, skilled jobs and assignments which are part of campaigning and for which people must be paid, that a party will spend as much as $40 million on a general election campaign. (The $40 million figure is a “guesstimate.” “Only her hairdresser knows for sure.”) The major parties have to raise such sums of money in order to be viable in the streets, and the “smart money” has to be convinced that their money is safe.

It is because of the all-important financiers that the leaderships of political parties sometimes feel the need to interfere in the choosing of candidates. Leadership interferes when they are afraid that the will of the people with respect to a candidate, the enthusiastic and unrestrained will of the people, may be contrary to the cynical preferences and dictates of the financiers. We remember, for instance, that the UDP leadership interfered in at least five different candidate conventions leading up to the 1989 general election. The UDP had, for the first time, swept the PUP out of office, by a landslide, in 1984, and they were expected to win a second term. They lost the 1989 general election by a two-seat margin. In the PUP candidate convention for the Collet constituency before the 2003 general election, party leadership showed bias in favor of one of the three candidates. This caused resentment amongst some PUP faithful. Collet proceeded to go UDP in 2003, and it has remained that way ever since.

This essay has been by way of giving you a sense of the realities inside of the PUP and the UDP. The masses of the Belizean people have lost the power they once appeared to have over these parties. The power in the PUDP belongs to the big money, the smart money. Matters are organized and orchestrated at the top in the major parties. The money they are playing with is too big. They can’t afford to “make mistakes.” The will of the people no longer counts that much. It is much more important to please those who sign the checks and run the money.

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