The United States Embassy in Belize revoked Hon. Edmond Castro’s diplomatic and tourist visas less than twenty four hours before the United Democratic Party (UDP) Transportation Minister’s great nemesis, Alvarine Burgess, was scheduled to appear before the Senate Committee inquiry into the scandals and corruption at the Immigration Department.
When Alvarine did begin to answer questions late Wednesday morning, May 31, it was exactly two weeks after UDP Chairman Alberto August had led roughnecks into the National Assembly building to disrupt the Senate hearing. During the course of that fracas, the UDP-appointed mace bearer in the House of Representatives, who was one of Chairman August’s six or seven “soldiers,” had verbally and physically assaulted three members of the media – from Channel 7, PLUS TV, and KREM Radio/TV.
After the Chairman August-led sortie on Wednesday, May 17, UDP operatives, such as Senator Aldo Salazar, who is actually the Chairman of the Senate Committee inquiry, and Deputy Prime Minister Patrick Faber began to express skepticism about the usefulness of the inquiry and called for its coming to an end. The question that arose in the minds of Belize’s political observers was this: what was the ruling UDP afraid of and why were they so afraid of what they were afraid of?
On their WAVE Radio/TV talk show Wednesday morning this week, just hours before Alvarine’s scheduled appearance, the two UDP hosts began with a recital and endorsement of Minister’s Castro’s press release in which the Belize Rural North area representative had offered reasons why the American diplomatic and tourist visas were not that important to him and why it may have been only a bureaucratic process. The UDP hosts then began to slaughter Alvarine, with reference to her physical appearance, her character, and her motives, in a most disgraceful and unbecoming manner. It was probably unprecedented for grown men to talk about a woman like that on national radio and television.
(A perhaps tangential irony of the situation was that Mr. Castro’s immediate predecessor as Belize Rural North area representative, the late Maxwell Samuels of the People’s United Party (PUP), had also been embarrassed by having his U.S. visas revoked, back around 2003 when Samuels was Minister of Immigration in a PUP Cabinet.)
Well now, the fact of the matter is that Alvarine Burgess’ testimony on Wednesday, May 31, 2017 before the Senate Committee hearing into Immigration Department corruption was sensational. Much of her story had been heard before, on Channel 5 and in Supreme Court when she was being sued by Mr. Castro, unsuccessfully, for defamation of character, but on Wednesday this week Alvarine had the national media stage all to herself. Her testimony was carried live nationwide on several radio and television stations. Alvarine was, to repeat, sensational.
We Belizeans had an opportunity to judge her for ourselves, and to watch her being grilled by the two UDP Senators – the attorney Aldo Salazar and Minister of State Dr. Carla Barnett. Alvarine showed herself to be a highly intelligent and clear-thinking Belizean lady. Her motive for entering the hustle involving Belizean visas for Chinese citizens resident in mainland China, was to pay medical bills for her husband who was dying with a heart condition. Alvarine, then, was noble enough in the first instance. But, her reason for bravely coming forward to denounce the visa hustle was because she was responding to the Prime Minister’s highly publicized denunciations of the hustle in the wake of the Citizen Kim passport scandal of September 2013, and her being convinced that what she had been doing was illegal, unethical, and damaging to Belize’s best interests. And, such a reason was more than noble: it was patriotic. For those reasons, and because of her sincerity and credibility, the UDP politicians could not tolerate for Alvareine to be heard, hence the UDP’s May 17 assault on the hearing. When they were unable to prevent her appearance, partly because of the public outcry after May 17 and because of the Castro visa revocations, Alvarine had to be discredited in testimony. UDP Senators Salazar and Barnett, the newspaper submits, were not able to discredit Alvarine.
This newspaper is not known to be pro-American. In fact, of all the media houses in Belize, Kremandala would be considered the most hostile to the United States government, the main reason being that we know American foreign policy always to be, whether their administration is Democratic or Republican, totally pro-Guatemalan. The reality is that Guatemala threatens Belize’s very existence as an independent, sovereign state with all our territory intact. Washington is a bosom friend of a state which speaks and acts as an enemy to Belize.
Nevertheless, in the matter of Belize’s Senate Committee hearings into our scandals at Immigration, Washington did Belizeans a great service on Tuesday, May 30. The United States Embassy sent a message to Belize’s Dean Barrow administration that Alvarine Burgess had to be heard. The Americans did this by revoking Minister Edmond Castro’s visas, because in so doing they essentially corroborated what Alvarine Burgess had been saying for years.
It has been proven electorally that Edmond Castro is one of Belize’s most popular politicians amongst his constituents. This is because, no matter his faults, he takes care of his people. (Belizean historians think that political corruption in Belize began with a matter involving Louis Sylvestre, the PUP Belize Rural South area representative at the time, in the early 1960s. PUP Leader George Price disciplined Mr. Sylvestre. But, Mr. Sylvestre was never beaten in his constituency.)
Belize’s modern politics began with the founding of the anti-colonial PUP in 1950. The masses of the Belizean people were very poor and much oppressed in 1950. Our roots people were generally willing to turn a blind eye to political corruption. In Belize in 2017, we can see much ostentatious wealth in certain pockets of the country and certain areas of our municipalities, but there is still a great deal of poverty. And because of that poverty, there is desperation. Because of that desperation, it is difficult for us not to put edible food, where priority is concerned, above abstract concepts of national honor.
But it so happened that the people of Belize, even under our economic duress, developed national honor about the sale-of-passports matter, and we began to condemn the sale of Belizean passports a quarter century ago and more, even though our politicians, both PUP and UDP, refused to stop selling passports. Then there was a dirty permanent residency document scandal around 1995 or so. The people of Belize began to cherish Belize’s national honor before our politicians did. But, this is a complex story which demands serious research, analysis, and discussion.
On Wednesday we never saw where Alvarine had a personal beef with Mr. Castro, an old friend of hers to whom she repeatedly referred to as “Edmond.” It is time for Belizean politicians to understand that there is a national consciousness and national honor which has been growing amongst native Belizeans. We saw, vividly, our national consciousness and national honor on display last October when the teachers of Belize in their Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU) risked their salaries and careers to take a stand of conscience against the Government of Belize. It is in that warrior bracket, we think, that Alvarine Burgess will be remembered. The ruling UDP needs to wheel and come again. We’re just saying.
Power to the people.