Politics – mood and money

In the year 2011, Belize is now entering what we used to call the “rainy season.” As a matter of background knowledge for our younger generations, the month of June used to be when we would be going back to school after the long holidays in April and May. Since 1964, however, June is when our students and teachers begin their long holidays, and since the change of holidays was specifically designed to have Belize’s school year coincide with the school year in the United States, now we call our rainy season, “summer,” after the American fashion where June, July and August are concerned.

National municipal elections are due in March of next year. With both the ruling UDP and the Opposition PUP still trying to complete their constituency conventions, which are deciding standard bearers for the general elections due in February of 2013, there has been almost no campaigning being done for the municipals. True, they’re nine months away, but, if you think about it, right after the school holidays comes September, after that it’s Christmas, and then bingo – 2012! And, the municipals will be extra important next year, because some political observers here feel that if the UDP win the 2012 municipals in a resounding fashion, Mr. Barrow will not wait for 2013, but rather he will call the generals for the summer of 2012.

Overall, Belize is not an extremely poor country, but we do have a lot of problems associated with poverty. These problems are exacerbated by the fact that we Belizeans have acquired American tastes, which are expensive. Our people are hard to satisfy where political administration is concerned. On the one hand, we voters see the sudden wealth of those who are elected to office because they swore how much they loved the people, and that gets on our nerves. Then, the party in Opposition is always promising cake and caviar, so that by the time we reach this part of Belize’s electoral cycle, 20 months away from general elections, this usually becomes a tricky time for whichever party is enjoying the power of taxation.

Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Barrow, having been ambushed by the striking bus operators at an emergency press conference he called on Friday afternoon, May 27, in Belize City, decided that he would show his power at the Prime Minister’s quarterly press conference this Wednesday afternoon. There are prickly issues apart from the bus transportation power struggles. There is the human rights controversy surrounding the forcible evacuation of the squatters near the proposed new Haulover Creek bridge at Chetumal Street. Then, the government may be on the wrong side of the offshore oil drilling matter. The UDP’s new legislation appears to be going police state where crime and violence are concerned. The giant, Lord Ashcroft, and the Prime Minister remain at war. And now, BEL says it is broke. Under all the duress, Mr. Barrow decided, in the words of Channel 7’s Jules Vasquez, to turn Wednesday’s press conference into a political rally.

Street Belizeans in the old capital have hated the electricity company from the days decades ago when it was BEB (Belize Electricity Board), a government department which became a statutory board before it was privatized. The BEL people have been playing hardball with the government and people of Belize, because they are a monopoly which provides a public utility which is indispensable for most of us. The Barrow government, however, encouraged by a firm and nationalistic Public Utilities Commission (PUC), has been playing hardball right back. The government’s position is popular, because BEL is essentially calling for higher rates, and government, taking sides with the people, is saying no.

So then, Mr. Barrow saved the BEL part of his opening statement for last. His St. George slaying the BEL dragon performance went over quite well, we think, but when the media were allowed to ask their various questions, the “other” issues immediately began to intrude. Mr. Barrow began to feel some pressure.

Because it is that time of Belize’s electoral cycle again, Mr. Barrow’s huge seat majority in the House of Representatives is not as intimidating as it once was. In the Belize City streets on Tuesday morning, various activist groups marched. Their numbers were not large, but their demeanor was determined. The marchers included Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA), Belizeans for Justice, the Belize Bus Owners Cooperative (BBOC), a group supporting Orange Walk East area representative Hon. Marcel Cardona, and even advocates for the incarcerated Seawell brothers.

Tuesday morning’s was a motley group of marchers, but the mood of Wednesday afternoon’s press conference was new, different. The press conference was edgy. And it is precisely Belizeans like those marchers who have caused the edginess. There are growing pockets of dissatisfaction amongst the people of Belize, while the ruling politicians are becoming defensive. This is the political mood. There is money out there which has interest in some specific results. For sure this summer begins a difficult period for Belize’s democracy.