The political rage in Belize for weeks has been the 9th Amendment, which is an attempt by the Dean Barrow UDP administration to nationalize Belize’s public utilities inside a constitutional amendment which will make it next to impossible for the privatization lawyers to return water, electricity and telecommunications to private ownership.
The Opposition PUP, supported by the private companies, have been attacking the 9th Amendment as investing excessive powers in the elected government and reducing the rights of the private sector and Belizean citizenry in general.
The arguments about the 9th Amendment are mostly legal, with a generous helping of party politics, and the legal arguments, we submit, are above the heads of the masses of the Belizean people.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow has been painted by his political opponents as dictatorial and heavy-handed, which is the way political leaders in poor countries like Belize are described in the Western press when they try to protect their people from the rapacities of the financial predators who roam the Third World in search of profitable investments, cheap labor and corrupt governments.
We think Mr. Barrow’s position on the 9th Amendment is not as important for him, where regional politics is concerned, as his position on oil, where he has supported the drilling for petroleum in offshore and protected areas of Belize. This part of the world was declared by the United States about two hundred years ago, in the Monroe Doctrine, to be their backyard. There was a special relationship between the United States and Great Britain where British Honduras was concerned, because the Americans and the British are cousins and have been friends more often than not on major issues since the Americans declared their independence from the British in 1776.
The Americans began to take responsibility for Belize in practical terms after Hurricane Hattie in 1961, and when British Honduras became self-governing in 1964, stepped up their foreign aid and involvement in Belizean affairs. Note, above all, the New York City lawyer Bethuel Webster’s historic Seventeen Proposals of 1968.
In order to enjoy their high-flying standard of living, the most expensive in the world, the Americans require a lot of petroleum and petroleum–related products, more and more of which over the last several decades they have had to be importing from foreign countries, thereby weakening the American dollar and the American economy on a whole. The matter of Belize’s oil fields is much more important to American policy makers in Washington than the 9th Amendment. In other words, they don’t mind all that much if Mr. Barrow behaves in a nationalistic, or even socialistic manner, where Belize’s water, electricity and telecommunications are concerned. Sure, Cascal cared about Belize’s water, Fortis is focused on Belize’s electricity industry, and Ashcroft is obsessed with telecommunications. None of them is an American. The American government cares about oil, and they care about it day and night.
Mr. Barrow will not get himself into any of the dangerous problems of leaders like Hugo Chavez of Venezuela or Moammar Gaddafy of Libya as long as his Belizean petroleum policy is a policy that is in line with the wishes of the United States of America.
While the Opposition PUP’s Johnny Briceño has been leading his party in support of the environmentalist positions of Oceana and other non-governmental groups opposed to oil drilling in offshore and protected areas of Belize, the chances are that this is political opportunism. As Minister of Natural Resources (can you say petroleum?) for most of the PUP’s two terms of office between 1998 and 2008, there was nothing Mr. Briceño did which suggested that he was an opponent of the various oil companies seeking to drill Belize for oil and extract what petroleum they find.
Both Mr. Barrow and Mr. Briceño understand that Washington is the powerhouse around these parts, and they know that it is petroleum which is the Americans’ major interest. When they are in power, there is no difference between the PUP and the UDP where petroleum policy is concerned – same tune, different singers.
This newspaper is not trying to distract you from the 9th Amendment. But, we consider that a legal issue, ultimately, and the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is in Trinidad, not on Partridge Street. Yes, the 9th Amendment is also very much a political issue, and it is an Ashcroft issue. Kremandala is not in a position to support Lord Ashcroft in anything, because there are daggers drawn between us. For that reason, we would have to support the 9th Amendment. If Lord Ashcroft regained control of Telemedia, KREM TV and KREM Radio would be immediately marked for victimization. It is as simple as that. We confess self-interest.
For what it’s worth, however, the people of Belize must make sure to keep their eyes on the oil. That, beloved, is the prize of prizes.