On December 17th Foreign Minister Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington
was famously quoted as saying Belize’s border is artificial. 32 days later
– the Opposition People’s United Party issued a statement on it.
Not quite what you would call a rapid response. Of course, that may be because
their party newspaper, the Belize Times took two weeks off - two weeks when
two grenades were thrown and so many other important events occurred.
Indeed, the PUP has not been the most present or active recently, in
fact, they seemed to be kind of, on “coast,” fading lazily into
the background of the national dialogue which is informed and shaped more by
the media than any political party. Perhaps that is as it should be, but it
seems that the Loyal Opposition – if it is engaged - should not lag so
far behind. And today with an all hands on deck press conference – the
party seemed determine to show that it is still around and if not ready to make
trouble, at least willing to talk a good fight. Here’s how that event
Hon. Johnny Briceno, PUP Leader
“I asked you here today to engage in a frank and serious conversation
about the state of our nation.”
It was an unusually show of party unity for the Briceno leadership –
the leader flanked by two deputies – past leader Said Musa paying keen
attention in the front row. And while today’s event was about showing
that rare unified front, more importantly, it was about a triangular attack
on the UDP government – hitting the Barrow administration on economy,
crime and foreign affairs with prepared statements.
Hon. Johnny Briceno,
“Our government seems paralyzed. Their lack of competence is evidence
by the fact that are incapable of coming up with a gang truce that can be sustained
for more than four days. When grenades are exploding in our streets, when the potential for 17 more grenade explosions exists, and when the government’s
only response is to try and buy them from the criminals, something is seriously
wrong. This is urban terrorism and I would never negotiate with terrorists.”
Hon. Francis Fonseca, PUP Deputy Leader
“The Prime Minister has been summoned to a meeting by gang leaders
meanwhile the Belizean people have lost confidence in his Minister of National
Security. We call on the government to give serious consideration to the following
recommendations: 1) doubling the police recruit intake for 2010; 2) doubling
the number of booths on the ground or as they say officers on patrol in Belize
City; reopening of all the police booths and substations that have been closed
over the last two years; 4) Reactivating and adequately resourcing the community
policing and neighborhood watch programs.”
And then, there’s the economy.
Hon. Johnny Briceno,
“We are calling on the Prime Minister to cut interest rates especially
for those in the productive sector. We want to see a more aggressive program
to bring opportunities to at risk neighborhoods especially in the southside
of Belize City. We are demanding that he finds a way to access capital to help small businesses especially those in the tourism sector. We want more police
officers on our streets and we want the Prime Minister to bring down the cost
of living no matter what.”
Hon. Mark Espat, PUP Deputy Leader
“I wish to sketch the outline of our great recession. Economic activity
as measured by GDP has shriveled for three consecutive quarters by 2.2%, 1.9%,
and 0.2% respectively. These are not intangible numbers bereft of human agony.
They convert to thousands of lost jobs, businesses shut down, houses repossessed,
children booted out of school and families broken. For very real people, for
very real people it has even meant meal times without meal.
The record now shows that the much trumpeted stimulus package, that life
raft that was to rescue a drowning Belizean economy was riddled with holes.
$200 million? Which $200 million? There is today no solid waste management station,
no upgrading of the tourism product yet in Belize City or Placencia or San Pedro.
No improvement to the drainage in Belama that was promised, no major works on
either the Northern or Western Highways, no municipal renewal program yet from
the World Bank, no relief to the potholes and the craters and the garbage dotting
our city’s streets. Their stimulus held up to light is exposed as counterfeit
A gleaming example of the apparent powerlessness of those lent power two
years ago is the issue of interest rates at the banks. Incredibly, neither the
Minister of Finance nor Governor of the Central Bank could offer our farmers,
the productive sector, small businesses, entrepreneurs, even a glimmer of hope
that the interest rates will come down anytime soon. Saddled with commercial prime lending rates upwards of 16%, the managers of our economy are incapable
of peddling hope much less peddling prosperity.”
And Senator Courtenay spoke on his former portfolio, Foreign Affairs.
Senator Eamon Courtenay,
“The number of illegal settlements in the border area has also increased.
Additionally deforestation and cultivation in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve by
Guatemalan nationals has reached unprecedented and unacceptable levels. The
Gulf of Honduras continues to be exploited by over fishing by unlicensed fishermen
and pollution in that Gulf continues unabated.
The PUP therefore today at this time and place in historic Independence
Hall calls on the government of Belize to prepare a white paper on Belize-Guatemala
relations within 60 days. This white paper should have as its main elements
a factoid description of the devastating effects of deforestation, cultivation,
over-fishing, and pollution and other illegal activities. It should elaborate
a comprehensive strategy to immediately redress these urgent problems.”
And it wouldn’t be foreign affairs without a swipe at beleaguered current
Minister Wilfred Elrington.
Senator Eamon Courtenay,
“We assert without equivocation that we have had and continue to have
and will always a real border between Belize and Guatemala as defined in the
constitution of Belize. To Mr. Elrington we say you had yesterday the humility
and decency to apologize to the Chief Justice, it is long past the time for
you to apologize to the entire Belizean nation. We demand a retraction of the
statement, we demand a public clarification of the true and correct position
and we demand the resignation of Wilfred Elrington.”
Is expounding its positions today, the party took absolutely no political risks
– playing it very close to popular sentiment on current events –
but also communicating, or seeking to communicate, a sense of presence for an
opposition that often seems absent.
Hon. Mark Espat,
“Today in calling out this administration on the flawed and failing
economic policies they have pursued, we’ve fulfilled our, the PUP constitutional
to the citizenry as vigilant watchmen and watchwomen of the public estate.”
Hon. Johnny Briceno,
“It is time for us as a party, as we said, that we have given Mr.
Barrow and his government enough time, two years, for them to try and get their
act together and they cannot do it and that is what we are doing here today.”
Courtenay offered that so little progress has been made on the referendum
that it should be deferred until after the next general election cycle in both