The battlelines are drawn:

Friday, 21 July 2006

By Harry Lawrence - Publisher, The Reporter

Former Prime Minister George Price this week broke his long sleep on public affairs to comment briefly on the state of politics in Belize.

Price, who has kept a stony silence during an unprecedented string of scandals and setbacks rocking the PUP, broke his self-imposed isolation this week to scold Investment Minister Mark Espat for his “attacks” on the Party and its leadership.

My grand-nephew

In a letter typed on plain paper, Price let it be known that he supports First Belizean Winston Smiling, his grand-nephew, who he says, has been “a loyal supporter of the People’s United Party for decades”.

Espat had written to Price on July 12, to complain about the public behaviour of Winton Smiling, whose outbursts against the Party Leader and Prime Minister, Espat said, had become more frequent and hostile.

In his letter Espat invited Price if he found it appropriate, “to counsel Mr. Smiling at an early opportunity.”

Clenched Fist

If Espat was expecting the old party leader to extend the hand of peace to calm a potentially explosive situation, a power struggle capable of tearing the PUP apart, what he got instead was a clenched fist.

It took a week for Price to reply, but when he did, this is what he wrote:

“Dear Minister,

“I received your letter dated July 11, 2006, copied to the Party Leader.

“Since August 2004, I have resisted direct comment on the many attempts to damage those who have worked selflessly for the Party. Now the blatantly mischievous slant of your letter calls for a response.

Loyalty first

“My grand nephew is and has been a loyal member and supporter of the People’s United Party for decades. He has risked his person and his family in carrying out, without complaint or question, the tasks assigned to him.

“His only “outburst” was to express horror as you and your followers attack the Party and its leadership. There were such attacks in the House of Representatives, on the streets and in some outlets of the media.

“As you suggest, I have counseled my grand nephew to continue to be a loyal member of our party and I would give the same counsel to all members of the People’s United party and of its hard work to build a better Belize.”

The letter is signed simply: “George Price” and is copied to the Party Leader.

Defining moment

This letter will probably be recorded in history as a defining moment for the man who likes to be called the “Father of the Nation”, because it shows in bold relief the priorities of a leader too obsessed with his own image to see the decadence and decrepitude into which his People’s United Party has fallen.

Price still thinks that the road to political success is through party solidarity, blind obedience, unquestioning loyalty.

He still dotes on the now discredited Ayrian philosophy: Right or wrong I serve thee still!

Also revealing

Espat’s letter to Price it’s also revealing. It reveals that some months ago Espat and Cordel Hyde visited the leader emeritus at his home on Pickstock Street and had been courteously received.

No indication of what transpired at this meeting, but it is clear from the tone of his letter that Espat was of the view that he could with confidence approach the leader emeritus again on matters of pressing political importance.

His was right in thinking Price would have some influence on the Old Guard of the party, and that if the Old Guard was bracing for a show-down, it would be an ugly and disruptive dog-fight, capable of tearing the party apart.

High-rolling rump

He had perhaps sensed this high-rolling, fortune-hunting, ass-kicking, foul-mouthed rump of a PUP would never submit to any reform which would impact on its precious cosa nostra.

And yet the overwhelming truth is that political reform is the only way forward if the PUP is going to survive in a democratic environment.

And Espat is the only crusader on the horizon brave enough and astute enough to lead this challenge.

Little to lose

He is well qualified for this job too because he is incisive and coherent, fluent and persuasive.

He also has little to lose!

He has been fired before, and he can be fired again. But that won’t matter in the long run because he has nurtured his constituency in the Albert Division and his seat in the House is widely regarded as a safe seat.

Espat hinted as much in his letter to Price when he pointed out: “That Mr. Smiling is also disrespectful of me as a PUP Minister is not as damaging to the Party’s fortunes in Albert as his attacks on the Party Leader are to the Party’s fortunes nationally.”

Crusader for reform

Mark Espat will survive because he is a crusader for reform within the party and because the party needs a reformer at this time. And he has a safe seat!

This is more than can be said for the Prime Minister in the Fort George Division, or for any other PUP standard-bearer in Belize City or elsewhere!

But maybe Price, the Leader Emeritus, is too obtuse to see this!

The Letter

The following is the text of Mark Espat’s letter to George Price. He insists he did not release these letters to the press, and blames the party rump for doing so in hopes of bolstering its case with the public.

The letter states:

Dear Leader Emeritus,

“I trust you remain in good health and spirits, as you were when you were kind enough to receive the Hon.Cordel Hyde and me in your home some months ago.

“I write to complain about the public behaviour of Mr. Winston Smiling, your nephew, whose outbursts against Party Leader and Prime Minister Said Musa have recently become more frequent and hostile.

“Investors and staff members from the Corozal Free Zone and Party supporters in Belize City have reported that Mr. Smiling has repeatedly attacked the integrity and character of the Party Leader.

“That Mr. Smiling is also disrespectful of me as a PUP Minister is not as damaging to the Party’s fortunes in Albert as his attacks on the Party Leader are to the Party’s fortunes nationally.

You have always declared that the Party Leader should enjoy public respect and loyalty, especially I imagine, from someone like Mr. Smiling, who is related to you.

“Perhaps you will find it appropriate to counsel Mr. Smiling at an early opportunity.”

The letter is signed:

Mark. A. Espat,

Albert Representative and PUP Minister,

and it has been copied to the Party Leader.