Editorial, Amandala

If the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) had gotten a few more votes on March 7, perhaps just 60 in all, in the Cayo Northeast and Cayo Central constituencies, they would have formed a 16-15 government, even though they polled 3,000 fewer votes nationwide than the United Democratic Party (UDP) did. The PUP would have been, in the sense of overall voter support, a minority government, which is precisely what the UDP was between 1993 and 1998. In the June 1993 general elections, the UDP polled 2,000 fewer votes than the PUP did, but won 16-13 in seats.

The Esquivel administration of 1993–98 was a bitter and unimaginative government. They were bitter, because they could not get over their narrow loss to the PUP in 1989, and they were unimaginative, because they had done everything they knew how to do between 1984 and 1989 - real estate sales, passport sales, commitment to tourism, paraquat spraying of the marijuana plants in obedience to Washington’s orders, etc. The UDP had grown the economy substantially between 1984 and 1989, but it was this period that produced the crack cocaine epidemic and spawned the violent gang culture in Belize. Upon coming to power in 1993, the UDP didn’t know what to do. The PUP between 1989 and 1993 had taken neoliberal/globalization/privatization policies to new levels. Between 1993 and 1998, then, most of what the UDP did was tax.

It’s rough out there for Third World countries like Belize in today’s world, because everything we produce and sell and offer, some other country in our same boat is producing and selling and offering cheaper, and with more incentives.

We are not economists at this newspaper, but even street people know when our political leaders are stealing from us. This is fundamental. If our leaders ask us to sacrifice and bear the pain, then it is mandatory that they set a good example. This is where everything begins – with trust and credibility. Belizeans know that essentially we do not have the science, technology, skills and training which the First World countries possess.

There was a time when the masses of the Belizean people would have done anything for Mr. Price, George Cadle. This was during the 1950s and 1960s. Things began to change during the 1970’s, and then the PUP were overthrown in 1984. But in the 1950s and 1960s, the masses of the Belizean people believed in Mr. Price and his PUP leaders. Mr. Price had confidence in himself, and that confidence was justified. Mr. Price was willing to take chances.

After Mr. Esquivel had done everything he was told to do between 1984 and 1989, he had nothing left during his 1993–98 minority government. That second Esquivel administration was a disaster. Then, they became vicious and venomous. Once they realized they would be voted out, they decided to go as far past the five-year limit as they could. It was almost childish, their attitude.

A minority PUP government in 2012 would have also been a disaster. We believe this because we believe certain things about the nature of the present PUP leadership, and that certain individuals would have surfaced to take charge once the power was seized and assured. Nevertheless, we can’t prove what we believe: there’s no getting away from that.

The fact is we have a skin-of-the-teeth UDP government which has to find a way to seize the time. We have pointed out in an editorial last month that it is difficult to govern Belize, a big reason being that we have important decisions to make, and there are options among which it is difficult to choose, and choose in a determined manner.

So far, Prime Minister Dean Barrow, who is a multimillionaire attorney, has gotten away with asking the Belizean people to sacrifice. He has gotten away with this because he has cultivated an image of personal honesty. Mr. Barrow, for whatever the reason, does not consider what the rest of us see as nepotism, as constituting corruption, but when he is compared to the era before him, Mr. Barrow can get away with things.

Seeing Barrow’s faults and the corruption of some of his Ministers, the Opposition PUP, frustrated by the closeness of their March 7 defeat, have some spokesmen who are calling for militancy and action. In 1993, although they tried to bribe two UDP area representatives to change sides, there was no PUP call for militancy and action when that conspiracy was exposed. One of the reasons for that was that by the time general election campaigns are finished, the masses of the Belizean people have become sick of politics and politicians, and only want to get on with their lives. Another reason is that our present political system bestows extraordinary power on the Prime Minister and his party, no matter how narrow their victory.

The 2012 UDP government appears indecisive. There is, however, no dangerous groundswell of anger and frustration evident amongst the masses of the Belizean people. But, there is suffering and there is pain, and there is cynicism. We can’t tell the government what to do, but we can say this: there is no safety first, no sure, risk–free way. The UDP have to roll the dice, and it has to come up “luck.” It is not the PUP they have to worry about: it is the people of Belize.

Power to the people.