Is this Real or Imagined?
By Hubert Pipersburgh

“The punishment of wise men is to be governed by unwise men,” Plato.

Citizen participation, the bedrock of democracy, is definitely at work here on the internet. It is good to see the issue public (all of us) alive and firing on all cylinders. As members of the post- Hattie generation and as my contemporaries it brings great joy to witness a renaissance of sorts of the literati from this particular generation in Belize. We now have a bigger task at hand which is engaging the general public from the Rio Hondo to the Sarstoon.

The internet has somewhat leveled the playing field. For one thing, this relatively new medium has given access to the voiceless and the powerless. The various blogs are an excellent example; such as “Se la vee,”and “Friends of Belize”, we have voices ranging from the reasonable, to the ridiculous, to the radical extreme. Yet and still, we cannot censor each other, we should be allowed to have respectful intellectual disagreements. For another, this new medium has had a huge impact on focusing events and indicators, the harbinger for policy appearance on the agenda. Policy evaluation traditional reliance solely on empirical data to affect policy shift is no longer the norm anymore. Varied rhetoric from peripheral sources must be considered as well. An example of that impact, one gentleman recently mentioned that Mr. Barrow is a frequent visitor to his page.

The framing of issues is perhaps the biggest beneficiary of this internet experience. The negative effect is that it has rendered some very important policy issues perfunctory. For example, Mr. Musa recently published a reasonable, well argued essay of some of the policy achievements of his regime on the “Friends of Belize,” website. In fact, all of them were quite progressive for instance, the expansion of the Preamble of the Constitution to eliminate disparity on grounds of "ethnicity" , "disability", "gender inequality", and recognized the right of every individual to "basic education" and "basic health,", the strengthening of the Prevention of Corruption in Public Life Act, and priority calls on the budget were constitutionally required for certain offices such as the Auditor General,the Ombudsman, the Contractor General,the DPP, the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal so as to safeguard their security and independence.were just a couple that
stood out.

While very positive, those reforms did not go far enough. Chief among the reasons, he could have called for a suspension of the constitution and assemble a constitutional conference to bring together Belize’s brightest minds to write a new constitution that would include mechanisms for genuine participation by the people. Moreover, most of those reforms were stop gap measures and have not really addressed the fundamental conundrum the nation is faced with, that is, we are held hostage by a bogus carbon copy document designed to aid and abet absentee shareholders such as Lord Ashcroft. While I argue that they were short-term fixes it does not take away from the fact they were the right step in the direction of the necessary structural reforms required to have a more efficient form of governance and jurisprudence.

However, because of the mistrust and animosity towards him the policy achievements laid out by Mr. Musa was summarily dismiss out of hand by some on the site, while others did not even bother to consider his argument they simply called for his head. Some went as far as suggesting that his essay be removed from the site. While I found that troubling, I have to wonder, how will history judge Mr. Musa and is that history still being written even though, he is not in office? Will history be kind to him and give him credit for trying? Mr. Musa had the opportunity to correct Belize’s history with the development of a new constitution written for the people by the people. His time is now passed.

Another example of the effects of the internet on policy framing is the deafening debate over amendment 9 (A9). The debate has become so vitriolic and putrid it is often difficult to ascertain the facts from the propaganda and all the hyperbole rhetoric coming from both sides. Many individuals in opposition seem to be arguing from absolutist positions. For instance, some say democracy is seriously threatened in Belize. While others argue that Belize is fast becoming a dictatorship. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, to drive home their point they have portrayed Mr. Barrow as Hitler, Pinochet, Somoza, and Mobutu among others.

Let us examine these characters since these are the most extreme I have seen suggested and decide if these portrayals are fact or fiction as it relates to Belize and Mr. Barrow. First, Hitler, he came to power advocating that Germans were a master Aryan race (white supremacy). He started WW2 in an attempt to conquer the world. He then went on to murder 6 million Jews in what is now known as the Holocast. Next to the middle passage in which Africans brought over from Africa in the slave trade perished in transit, that is the single most harrowing genocide of humanity based purely on one’s race.

Second, Augusto Pinochet of Chile came to power with a CIA backed overthrow of the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende. He then went on to murder and to terrorize thousands of Chilean campesinos over his brutal reign. Routine disappearance of dissenters was the norm. After his regime fell he was placed under house arrest, he became ill and was taken for treatment in Spain, the British wanted to extradite him with the intention of taking him to The Hague to stand trial for crimes against humanity.

Third, Mobutu Sese Seko came to power in the Congo by means of a coup de tat. With the help of the CIA he murdered the first elected Prime Minister of the Congo Patrice Lumumba. His authoritarian regime publicly executed anyone who opposed him. He tortured and killed any rivals who dare to dissent. After his fall he was exiled. Fourth, Anastasio Somoza of Nicaragua a brutal dictator who used death squads to torture and murder thousands of campesinos in Nicaragua and after a bitter insurgency led by Daniel Ortega’s Sandinistas, he was overthrown. While in exile he was assassinated by a Sandinista hit team in Paraguay.

Now if those assumptions are correct and Belize resembles or will somehow morph into one or all of those aforementioned authoritarian regimes, then sign me up for the armed insurgency movement. The interesting thing is that all the individuals who are pushing these absolutist positions enjoy freedom of speech and expression, are relatively free to come and go as they please and they can even attack and speak out against the said leader.

This begs the question; would any of these freedoms be possible under Hitler’s Germany, Pinochet’s Chile, Somoza’s Nicaragua, and Mobutu’s Zaire? Here we all are on cyber space discussing via this new and powerful medium called the internet without any fear of repercussion, and retaliation from the allege dictator. In short, in our system even with all its repressions, we can still speak out and denounce this regime, attack its policies, and work to build an opposition political base. True, there is government harassment, but there is still that relative freedom to fight. To his credit, Mr. Barrow has been able to dominate the policy agenda. Starting with the dual citizenship, preventative detention, nationalization of key assets, and with the amendment 9 proposals, the fact that these very legitimate public policy issues have been proposed for policy formulation is great for the political discourse in our country. Demonizing Mr. Barrow and Mr.
Musa might be therapeutic for some, but it does not change the fact that we need meaningful structural reforms to advance our country well into the new millennium.

In contrast to Mr. Musa, Mr. Barrow has made A9 the signature defining issue of his regime. He is prepared to mortgage all his political capital and popular support on this policy. His regime will sink and rise on the passage of A9 or a lack thereof. Again, as was the case with Mr. Musa his shortsightedness is glaring. A9 is his response to Belize’s constitution obvious shortcomings; even with passage this amendment clearly will not deter the neo-colonialist imperialist predators such as Lord Ashcroft. It is another in the long line of ad-hoc, stop-gap policy formulation in Belize. For the record I am not questioning Mr. Musa and Mr. Barrow's integrity or sincerity. I am merely examining their methodology and approach to the much needed structural reforms to our system of governance.

History is presenting Mr. Barrow with a golden opportunity to do something that has never been done in Belize’s history and a chance to lead his nation to true independence, autonomy, and our god given right to self-determination by assembling a constitutional conference. A meeting of Belize’s best minds to fashion a document that will provide sweeping legislative changes, true constitutional separation of powers, legislative implementation, zero corruption policy that many have called for, while providing built in mechanism for the participation of the people. A document written by the people for the people it is not too late for him this is his chance to correct and rewrite history to be a true hero for his people. In addition, if he really wants to go to bat for the people of Belize then he should do something that is truly revolutionary. Nationalize the oil industry immediately. Protect what could potentially be Belize’s biggest asset and a way out of poverty for the masses. As was suggested by Mr. Evan X hyde in a recent editorial that kind of bravado is not in his DNA. Mr. Barrow is too much of a capitalist, he would much rather acquiesce to foreign imperialist, than do something really patriotic for his country.

It is probably asking too much of these leaders because presently in Belize we have witnessed the almost unbelievable idiocy of our political leadership. In the past political leaders ranging from the village council, to the mayors, ministers, and to the Prime Minister himself were regarded with respect in some cases almost reverenced. Today they are viewed with contempt. This negativism now extends to all institutions, from law enforcement, the judiciary, to the system itself; none have been spared the wrath of the public. This is further exacerbated by this world of mass media and instant access to the internet, which daily exposes our society’s innate hypocrisy, its contradictions, and the apparent failure of almost every faucet of our social and political life. As a result of this cognitive dissonance that people are experiencing it has caused the vast majority of the Belizean people to just tune out.

Moreover, as the differences between the two parties become less obvious especially in economic matters they continue to offer voters very little ideological choice which further leads to the apathy and silent resentment of the masses. In short, that is exactly why we do not need or can ill afford to have those types of negative portrayal, hateful rhetoric, and intolerance in our political discourse because there is still this great divide between the government and its people. That may explain some of the reasons why third parties or persons are having a hard time gaining traction among the masses. It is very difficult to take anyone seriously when the debate mirrors mean spirited and exaggerated portrayals and positions.