Editorial — 13 February 2019
The PUDP and the ICJ matter

What Belize enjoys of parliamentary democracy is built on the organizational foundations of our two major political parties – the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) and the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP).

It has been said that Belize’s parliamentary democracy has been seriously compromised by both the PUP and the UDP ever since Belize’s present Ministerial system was introduced in 1961, three years before self-government in 1964 and twenty years before independence in 1981. All governments formed by the PUDP since 1961 have appointed a majority of their elected area representatives to be Cabinet Ministers, so that all decisions which come out of Cabinet automatically become the law in the House of Representatives without the possibility of government backbenchers teaming up with Opposition area representatives to defeat a Cabinet bill. Belize’s parliamentary democracy is therefore flawed; it is compromised.

But, Belizeans are grateful for what we enjoy of parliamentary democracy, and therefore we have given respect to the two national organizations which dominate our political system – the UDP and the PUP.

At this newspaper, we think the two political parties are effectively controlled, where their policies and programs are concerned, by the Christian churches which run the vast majority of Belize’s schools, and we believe these churches, in turn, are run from Europe and the United States, so we Belizeans are not as free thinking politically as we may sometimes need to be.

Whatever the case, the reality is that the UDP and the PUP dominate our political system: the UDP and the PUP are the two most important Belizean factors in our decision making when it comes to how we govern ourselves.

The April 10, 2019 referendum decision on whether we submit Guatemala’s claim to Belize to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for final and binding arbitration, is a decision unlike any other in Belize’s history. At some level, apparently, some very powerful regional and international forces decided that the best way to secure a “yes” vote on Belize’s part was to have the UDP and the PUP be the proposers and advocates of “yes” to the ICJ.

Two significant development have taken place over the last few weeks, separately, in the UDP and in the PUP. In the UDP, there was a move to express a Cabinet “yes” unanimity publicly, and that was done, but that was followed by an initiative at the highest national council of the UDP, outside of Cabinet as such, to have a public announcement of full and complete party support for the “yes” vote.  The upshot of this is that the UDP is projecting the impression that there is not a single dissident voice amongst the perhaps twenty-five or thirty thousands of their members and hard line supporters nationwide. Surely there must be dissident votes in a democratic organization in Belize.

More than that, remember that the UDP was organized in 1973 around the party of Philip Goldson, the National Independence Party (NIP), which was Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition at the time, Mr. Goldson holding the only Opposition seat in the House in 1973. Goldson’s NIP was the largest, by far, of the three political parties which came together to establish the UDP in September of 1973. The record shows that Mr. Goldson broke away from the UDP to form the National Alliance for Belizean Rights (NABR) in 1991, because of the Maritime Areas Act, and although he entered a general election coalition with the UDP in 1993, Mr. Goldson never gave up leadership of NABR.

There has been an attempt to convince Belizeans that Mr. Goldson would have supported ICJ arbitration, and therefore would have supported the “yes” vote in April. We’re not so sure about that, because the specific nature of the Special Agreement on which the ICJ arbitration will be based has become more and more and more controversial. Whether Goldson would have voted “yes” or not is not so much the point, as how can it be possible in 2019 for an open organization like the UDP with a long history of healthy internal debate to become so incredibly monolithic on the intimidatingly existential matter of the ICJ referendum?

On the PUP side, the PUP Leader, John Briceño, had broadcast an early “yes” opinion, from many months ago. What was he thinking? Who were his advisers? Where was the pressure coming from?  Briceño had basically done what Prime Minister/UDP Leader, Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow had done, that is, announced a personal “yes” preference in an almost casual manner. You see where Mr. Barrow has ended up, however. Mr. Barrow has ended up turning the screws on his Cabinet and his party, forcing them into line. It may be said that in Mr. Briceño’s case, his party has ended up turning the screws on him. A groundswell of “no,” beginning in the south and spreading to the west, engulfed the PUP and forced Mr. Briceño into a tricky spot. He is leading “no” while having declared “yes.”

You see what these very powerful regional and international forces have done to us in Belize? They have beat our two most important democratic institutions, the UDP and the PUP, out of shape with their ICJ pressure. The UDP is living a lie: the UDP cannot possibly be 100 percent “yes.” The PUP, for its part, has reeled in its Leader, because he was headed in a different direction from the party.

At a time like this, the newspaper wants to emphasize that we Belizeans appreciate the UDP and the PUP, and respect their duly elected leadership. In times of general election, exchanges sometimes become careless, contentious, even vicious. This is not where we are today with the ICJ referendum matter.  Mr. Barrow and Mr. Briceño have pressure upon them.  In the case of the PUP Leader, the pressure is visible. Where the Prime Minister/UDP Leader is concerned, it may be that he is savoring the relaxation of his lame duck status: this is his last of three terms. But while this is Mr. Barrow’s last of three terms, he may be well advised to consider that April 10, 2019, is likely the most critical decision in Belize’s history, and it is he who will take history’s rap if things do not work out well at The Hague.

Power to the people.

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Deshawn Swasey

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