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#457486 - 02/07/13 03:59 PM From my point of view: GMike
Marty Offline

by G. Michael Reid

Aside from being published in the Belize Times, I have a few internet lists and forums to which I post my articles. I get feedback; some folks agree and some folks disagree. Such is the nature of the game. I always enjoy hearing from my readers whichever way it comes and am not one to confuse opinion with judgment.

One reader wrote to me recently and had high praises of how I wrote. It was what I wrote about that had her dander raised. She suggested that I obviously write about the things I do because I am a PUP. I gave it some thought and came to this conclusion. I do not write about the things I do because I am a PUP. On the contrary, I am a PUP because of the way things are that spur me to write about them.

Sometime aback, someone coined the term PUDP to suggest that there was no difference between Belize’s two political parties. I beg to differ! There are profound and distinct differences between these two parties.

A fundamental difference between the PUP and the UDP is attitude; the respect that elected representatives tends to show to the people who elect them. The PUP is more humble and compassionate while the UDP’s are arrogant and callous. The PUP tries to reason with the electorate while the UDP tend to bullyrag and intimidate the people in any way possible. We saw a perfect example of this difference on display this past week.

The unions have been haggling with government for the past five years for a much needed and deserved cost of living adjustment to their salaries. Inflation has been crippling and while salaries remain stagnant, prices of everything have been going sky high. Just this month, electricity went up a whopping 17 percent and while there has been no official notice of higher water rates, the bill gets bigger by the month. Gasoline prices are hovering near $13 a gallon and this has caused transportation costs to also rise. Many teachers and public offices must commute daily, and to quote Bob Marley, “who feels it knows it”!

The teachers have been feeling it and last week, decided that enough was enough. They organized a massive demonstration and took their gripe to the foot of Capitol Hill. Meanwhile, the government radio station has been lambasting and derogating the teachers because of their demands. They have been called greedy, selfish and devoid of any social conscience. Simultaneously, students have been protesting government’s decision to raise tuitions at the University of Belize but unfortunately, students do not have anything close to the cohesive and organized union that represents the teachers. Their objection was shrugged off, brushed aside and basically ignored even by the media. Pay or stay ignorant.

For the teachers now, their dismissal could not be so simple. As per normal, this government’s first resolve was intimidation. John Saldivar, not even a part of the negotiating team, first calls a meeting of teachers in Belmopan. The unions cried foul but he proceeds anyway. He then goes on national radio to warn that he would go countrywide to meet teachers and if they refuse to attend his meetings, he would go knock on their doors. It is important to note folks that John Saldivar is the Minister of National Security. He has at his beck and call, the Police, the BDF and the dread Gang Suppression Unit. (GSU) This man is totally out of order!

Government’s next move was to ensure that a key member of the union’s negotiating team was removed from the picture. Exactly what happened is still not clear but at the eleventh hour, Jose Castellanos informed the other union leaders that he could not be a part of the team. Apparently, he had been intimidated and felt that he had too much to lose. What the other union leaders should have done was to refuse to go into the meeting until a full understand was had as to why Castellanos did not feel safe enough to attend. With Dylan Reneau and other government plants leading the negotiations, it was a given that they would emerge from that meeting with as much as they went in; nothing! George Frazier did get a cake and a song however, so maybe all was not lost.

The difference between today and back in 2005 when the teachers had once before demonstrated, was that back then, they did receive a raise. Back then, it was a different government and instead of intimidating and stacking the deck, government negotiated and gave the teachers their just due. There is a big difference between these two parties.

Consider the leadership of the two parties. Francis Fonseca who leads the PUP is a humble and approachable individual. Dean Barrow is arrogant, obnoxious and aloof. Many of his ministers have adopted his style and what we have is a country run by despots. Francis Fonseca leads by inspiration while Dean Barrow rules by intimidation.

The PUP has promised a four-year term of government, while the UDP plays games. In 1998, they lingered long past their five year tenure. In 2012, they called elections early and pulled every trick in the book and still only squeaked by with a narrow majority. With all the money that was spent to buy that election, the teachers, public servants and every other government employee could have gotten a raise. Utility rates could have remained the same and the tax on fuel could have been reduced.

The PUP held a referendum to change the rubber-stamp senate to an elected body. The UDP ignored the people’s decision. The UDP, before election, promised a 13th Senator to insure that government’s will was not always the order of the day. The Prime Minister went on television and boasted that he had no intention of keeping that promise. There were many more promises, like lower cost of living, a national oil company, an oil refinery and the list goes on and on.

The cold fact is that these two parties are as different as chalk and cheese. Unfortunately, it has taken us this long to realize it and we must now grin and bear until we can run these tyrants and despots from our midst. May GOD help Belize!

Response from a friend....

Just from an outsider's point of view, but one that goes back about 22 years when I first came to Belize, I really haven't seen much difference in UDP and PUP policies over those years. Politics in Belize seems to me, again as an outsider, to be mostly personal, not ideological. I could go back and read the platforms and campaign promises of both parties over the years and doubt that I could tell much difference. Your article doesn't convince me that there is much of a difference, except for some personal ones.

I just don't see any significant differences in the two parties now as regards decriminalization of drugs, how to control crime, gay and other civil rights, the role of tourism in the economy, the role of government in the economy, how the government raises money for its operation (e.g. import duties versus income taxes versus sales taxes versus property taxes), regulation or de-regulation of business monopolies, corruption in government, the proper size of government in the economy, gun control or any other "major" issue.

In the U.S., there are some real differences between the Republicans and the Democrats, especially on the more extreme wings of both parties, on issues such as abortion, gun control, taxation, gay marriage, although at the end of the day both parties have a lot of the same core beliefs about free enterprise, capitalism, human rights, etc. and at the end of the day most of the U.S. politics is local and personal, as in Belize. A lot of Europeans and others outside the U.S. don't see much of a practical difference between the GOP and Democrats.

In my reading of Belize history, it seems to be that in the past there used to be more of a difference between the UDP and PUP, on issues such as government control of business, the role of unions, the Guatemala question, the role of tourism and foreigners in Belize, the increasing "Latinization" of Belize and so on than there is now.

#458595 - 02/22/13 10:01 AM Re: From my point of view: GMike [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

a view from a cheap seat

"If it were probable that every man would give his vote freely, and without influence of any kind, then, upon the true theory and genuine principles of liberty, every member of the community, however poor, should have a vote… But since that can hardly be expected… all popular states have been obliged to establish certain qualifications, whereby, some who are suspected to have no will of their own, are excluded from voting; in order to set other individuals, whose wills may be supposed independent, more thoroughly upon a level with each other."

From Papers of Alexander Hamilton, ed. Harold C. Syrett (New York: Columbia University Press, 1961-79), 1:106.

I’m still not certain if the old man was being facetious or if he was serious, but an elderly uncle of mine once remarked that he did not think that universal suffrage was such a good idea. At the time, I accused him of being a royal Kriol, an elitist and an aristocrat. He did not engage me in argument. As time has gone by however, and as I consider more our current situation here in Belize, I no longer view the old man’s comments in the same light. Now this has nothing to do with class, ethnicity or financial status but maybe, just maybe, everyone should not be allowed to vote.

"One man, one vote" (or more appropriately "one person, one vote") was the slogan used where campaigns for universal suffrage raged for the better part of the first half of the last century. It became particularly prevalent in less developed countries like Belize during the period of decolonization and the struggles for national sovereignty. In 1954 Belize joined the rest of the world in gaining universal suffrage and moved on to define itself as a democratic state. That universal suffrage and democracy thing might have worked back then but it is certainly not working now.

The whole process of voting has changed considerably from what it used to be. No longer do people vote for whom they think is better for the country but rather, who can pay them the most. Finnegan has not won so many elections because he is a good representative or because he has done so well for his constituency but because he pays a few light bills and hands out a few dollars every Wednesday. Sedi Elrington did not win because he was a better candidate than Francis Smith but because he had more money to spend. This is the reality of the situation and in all fairness it is the state of politics in Belize.

In the last elections held in 2012, the United Democratic Party won by a very slim margin. The difference was Belize City. Interestingly enough, the hardest workers and the greater contributors to the welfare of our nation live in the outer districts and in the rural areas of Belize. This means then, that the ones who decided the government were the least fruitful and constructive of our lot. The few seats that were won outside of Belize City were won by slim margins and primarily in the areas where new immigrants were hurried through the naturalization process and given tidy incentives to vote for the incumbent government. The UDP did not win the elections they bought the elections.

The idea of voting to elect leaders was proposed centuries ago by the philosopher Plato in his historical treatises named Republic. Plato never suggested or intended that everyone should be allowed to vote however, he had specific requirements and those requirement usually involved education more so than elitism or any other criteria.

The idea of a Democracy has come under much scrutiny as many a famous scholar has questioned its true merit. In a 1947 speech, Winston Churchill evidently quoting someone else stated that “It is said that Democracy is worse than all other forms of government”. He went on to qualify with “except every other that we have tried”. Thomas Jefferson had this to say: “a democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where 51% of the people may take away the rights of the other 49%.” It is difficult for me to find a statement that more succinctly describes our current situation here in Belize. Benjamin Franklin put it this way, “Democracy is like a sheep and 3 wolves voting on what to have for dinner.” Considering what we have and the way it works, it is not difficult to determine who are sheep and who are the wolves.

The fact of the matter is that we will have to revisit the status quo and devise a better system for selecting our leaders. I am suggesting that maybe there should be criteria as to who can and cannot vote; more than just simply age and place of birth. The problem with our system is that the vote of the crack head carries the same weight as the vote of an economics professor or a successful businessman. To rein in bad leaders, we might need to first rein in the irresponsible voters that put them there in the first place.

In many countries, there are restrictions as to who can vote. The United States for instance, does not allow anyone with a criminal record to vote. That is not the case in Belize. I have heard rumors of prisoners securing early release from prison in order to make it to the polls. There are many who sell their votes for money, a load of sand and sometimes just a tee shirt.

I am not suggesting that we return to a time when voting was restricted based on racism and elitism but just maybe, we should require citizens to be contributing to society in some way before being eligible to vote. It might in fact work as an incentive. Have a career, have a business or even just be a student working toward being a contributor. Maybe this way, they would be less inclined or in need of the handouts that now determine our elections. Folks who have nothing will too readily accept anything to vote for anyone. Our kind of democracy is simply not working!

G. Michael Reid
Citizen of the world

#460830 - 03/23/13 08:43 AM Re: From my point of view: GMike [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline
Breaking a taboo

Belize was blessed with the third visit of Minister Louis Farrakhan this past week. Farrakhan is a very popular but also very controversial fellow. Though many folks love to sit and hear him speak, there is always something to be found in his message to make one sit up and disagree. Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, we tend to most often, focus on just that area where we disagree and readily throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Louis Farrakhan has lived a very interesting life. Before converting to the Islamic faith, Farrakhan was an accomplished violinist and a promising Calypso singer. His name Farrakhan is actually the Arabic word for Charmer, which is the name he used in his Calypso singing days. Farrakhan speaks with the same rhythm, flavor and innuendos that can be found in Calypso music. Farrakhan’s lectures are usually powerful, timely and relevant. He packs auditoriums wherever he goes.

Farrakhan is usually at the center of controversy and has been labeled many things including racist, homophobic and most often, anti-Semitic. Farrakhan has categorically denied these charges and believe that this perception of him has been shaped by the American media. Those labels are not without reason however, since Farrakhan often speaks against homosexuality, condemns Jews for “stealing Palestine” and teaches that “white people were created from blacks 4,000 years ago on an Aegean island by a black scientist”.

One thing is for sure, Farrakhan has millions of supporters not only in the United States but around the world. In October 1995, Farrakhan organized and led a “Million Man March” on Washington, D.C. which was hugely successful. Black men from across America heeded the call and converged on the nation’s capital. The theme of the march was the call to black men to renew their commitments to their families and communities. Eighteen years later, not much seems to have changed and it seems that the messenger has outlasted his message.

Farrakhan considers himself a student of Elijah Muhammad who was himself a student of Wallace Fard Muhammad who appeared in Detroit in the early 1930’s, and who the Muslims believe to be God incarnate. At the core of Muhammad’s teaching is the general perspective that the present world society is broken down into three distinct categories. The first group is 85% of all races and faiths, who are supposedly deaf, dumb and blind and are easily led. These 85% are supposedly manipulated through ignorance, the skillful use of religious doctrine, and the mass media. This is done by a 10% who are comprised of the rich and who make practical slaves of that 85%. Farrakhan, and Wallace Fard before him, are supposedly a part of the remaining five percent, who are considered “poor righteous teachers of the people”. This five percent apparently know the truth about the manipulation and are tasked to teach the 85%. They are however, in a constant struggle with the ruling five percent which has led to numerous confrontations and even assassinations. Careful deliberation might incline one to a more serious consideration of the doctrine.

Farrakhan’s popularity has long been shrouded in the suspicion that he was somehow involved in the assassination of another popular Muslim leader, Malcolm X. Malcolm was killed in 1965 while addressing an Organization of Afro-American Unity rally in Manhattan's Audubon Ballroom. While Farrakhan has long denied ordering the assassination of Malcolm X, in a 60 Minutes interview in May 2000, Farrakhan admitted that some of the things he said may have led to Malcolm’s death. "I may have been complicit in words that I spoke", he said. "I acknowledge that and regret that any word that I have said caused the loss of life of a human being." A few days later Farrakhan again acknowledged that he might have "created the atmosphere that ultimately led to Malcolm X's assassination." In spite of all that, Farrakhan has grown immensely popular and has single handedly resurrected the Nation of Islam (NOI), which had all but fallen apart following Elijah Muhammad’s death.

Farrakhan’s visit to Belize is timely for it comes at a time when things are…well, for lack of a better word, dread! Murders and serious crimes are out of hand and for the most part, it is black on black or Belizean on Belizean crime. Farrakhan’s message is all about unity and love for one another. It is left to be seen if his full week of lectures will make any difference for Belize.

While in Belize, Farrakhan spoke on many issues including politics, crime and the economy. He encouraged Belizeans to unite, not only among themselves but also with the rest of Central America and the Caribbean. Farrakhan pointed out that with all the arable land at our disposal, we should be able to feed ourselves and no Belizean should go hungry. Touché!

Where Farrakhan broke the taboo was when he ventured into the area of the Guatemalan claim. Unity and love of brother is all good and well but when it comes to this Guatemalan thing….well, Belizeans are a little “touchies”. This is a very sore spot for Belizeans and at this particular point and time that sore is festering and is super sensitive.

Farrakhan should have been properly briefed and advised not to go there. Knowing Farrakhan and his love of controversy however, that might be just the reason why he did go there. Farrakhan suggested that Belizeans and Guatemalans should live together and love one another as brothers and sisters. Yeah…sure, but there’s a little thing in the way: an “unfounded claim”. If Guatemala would drop that claim tomorrow, we’d be as sweet and loving as “loving Josey and Betsy syrup”. Until then however, Farrakhan might have more luck convincing our young black men to put down their guns. Farrakhan is powerful and persuasive but when it comes to Guatemala, he better be ready to move mountains!

G. Michael Reid
Citizen of the world

#461200 - 03/28/13 06:12 PM Re: From my point of view: GMike [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Houdini alert

After many years of listening to House meetings and debates, Belizeans were finally informed as to what these exercises are all about. For two days last week, different members of our government took turns telling us what it is that they do in the House. I, for one, am truly grateful because for the longest time I have been listening and have been confused. Now it all makes sense to me.

The Prime Minister revealed on Friday that the purpose that he and his fellow members go to the House is to entertain us, the listening public. He, Dean Barrow, is the ring leader who dazzles us with word tricks, pulls promises like rabbits from his magic hat and escapes from every situation like Houdini. According to the Prime Minister, his budget reveals a “Houdini-like performance” and that his party is ready for “laurels and garlands”. All that was left was for the Prime Minister to have entered wearing a black suit and a tall black hat, with a magic wand in hand and uttering the spell “Abracadabra”. We were nonetheless spellbound as we sat listening incredulously for two days.

In reality, the House sitting was supposed to have been about a debate of Mr. Barrow’s “ACHIEVING DEBT SUSTAINABILITY, STIMULATING ECONOMIC EXPANSION” budget. Mr. Barrow described the debt, specifically the dreaded Superbond, as a wild raging beast that he “tackled and tamed” as he “extricated Belize from the worst of their Faustian pact.” Magic folks, simply magic!

The opposition tore Mr. Barrow’s budget apart and in the end, it was exposed for what it really was; an illusion. It seems that rather than Houdini, the Prime Minister would have better compared himself to David Copperfield, the world famous illusionist. Mr. Barrow made growth appear from thin air and made inflation disappear. Magic folks, pure magic!

The Prime Minister bragged of a five percent economic growth but had no facts to back up his boast. Where exactly did that growth come from? With declining revenues from oil, less port calls from cruise ships and a sugar industry now owned by foreigners, where is Mr. Barrow getting this growth from? Certainly not from citrus, which saw prices fall to nearly half what it was in previous years. While citrus growers got $14 dollars per box for oranges last year, this year they are receiving just over $7. Is that what Mr. Barrow considers growth?

Mr. Barrow has also been bragging about a two percent inflation rate. Anyone who has to buy groceries and feed a family must have been listening to the Prime Minister with gaping jaws. Maybe we should buy our groceries where he does, but then that would mean flying to Miami. The Houdini reference is appropriate to some degree because Mr. Barrow does disappear quite often. Maybe those figures are indeed from Miami where he spends most of his time.

Minister Sedi Elrington then stood up to compare his leader to Jesus Christ. Serious folks, I’m not making this up. Like Jesus, said Mr. Elrington, Dean Barrow has made everyone happy and fed us all with five fishes and two loaves of bread. Elrington must have thought that was what was happening when Dean looked up to sky and made the sign of the cross when a member on the other side finished speaking. Elrington then went on to once again try and explain away his ill-thought of comment about an “artificial border”. It doesn’t matter how often and how long you speak about this Mr. Elrington, you were wrong; wrong as two left shoes.

Caribbean Shores representative Santi Castillo then came forward and professed to teach us history. He explained about Houdini and who he was. According to Santi, Houdini was a magician who performed tricks and informed us that Houdini’s last trick killed him. Santi himself seems to need a history lesson. Houdini was not killed by any trick but instead died as a result of a ruptured appendix. He had bragged about being able to take any punch to his midsection and one of his students took him up on the challenge and supposedly struck him hard when he was not expecting it.

The Houdini story might indeed have a lesson in it for our Prime Minister. He brags and boasts and thinks that he can escape any situation and talk and trick his way out of every predicament. Well, the Belizean people might themselves have a trick up their sleeves and might one day deliver a blow when he least expects it.

And of course, what would any circus be with a clown? Michael Finnegan rose to the occasion and made a complete fool of himself. He spoke about everything except finance, including a tv commercial and the Holy Saturday Cross Country Classic. He also took the opportunity to inform that he had captured Mark and Jorge Espat and was going after Cordell Hyde and Godfrey Smith. Guh deh strong Finny, guh deh strong!

At the end of the day, when the discussion finally got around to the budget, it was learned that the government intends to spend nine hundred and thirty-four million dollars while collecting only eight hundred and seventy one. That leaves a deficit of sixty-two million dollars. Just about the amount government intends to dole out to cronies in their ill-conceived Belize Infrastructure Limited scheme. The Chamber of Commerce has questioned this project but watch Houdini get out of this one too.

According to the Chamber, “following the review of the Auditor General’s Report for 2010-2011, the House should not have allowed another budget presentation because corrective actions have not been taken in respect of the irregularities, corruption and waste highlighted by the report”. Excellent point Mr. Chamber but good luck tying Houdini down.

What Mr. Barrow did not explain in the debate, was how he would decrease crime and lower unemployment. There was nothing to assist the youth and nothing to address the forty plus percent of our people living in poverty. Oh well, at least we were entertain and after all, is that not the sole purpose of that exercise!

G. Michael Reid
Citizen of the world


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