Rebels For Real: A Look Back At Mark And Cordel
In Belize's modern political history - where most politicians confine themselves to staid, worshipful remarks about their party and its leaders, Mark Espat and Cordel Hyde were a radical departure from the norm.
In 2004 they started on a campaign of sustained public hostility towards what they construed to be dishonorable elements within their own party. The only problem is that often meant going up against the senior ranks of the PUP - leaving the two rebel representatives out in the cold - dumped from cabinet, distanced from the nucleus of power.
At the time it seemed like so much fussing - after all, they were in the PUP - what did they expect, a church choir?
But while you can say that they achieved very little for all that sustained hostility -
looking back at the record now - and the public positions taken by these two representatives over an eight-year span - we can at least say that they were consistent! - Constantly pushing for their party to get back to its social justice roots. And every time, their party reflexively pushed back - leading eventually, perhaps inevitably to both withdrawing their candidacies in the past week.
And so, while we won't have them to "blaze up" the PUP anymore, we still have our archives - those gems of news nostalgia.
Looking back more deeply tonight, we found that the trouble for these two started in February of 2004 when Cordel Hyde threw the first stone:
"Some fat cats have laughing all the way to the bank over the last few years and tonight I want to say I don't apologize if my eyes shed no tears and my heart don't beat at all f or these folks."
"We have a 2 billion dollar economy and yet some mothers can't feed their kids and the youths on Vernon Street can't find a job that pays more than 20 or 25 dollars a day."
That was February of 2004, Mark Espat and Cordel Hyde started what would become a social justice crusade in the PUP. That was a glancing blow, but their downward trajectory in terms of inter-party politics for started in August 2004 with the G-7.
To varying extents, all 7 politicians reconciled with the leadership of the Government and party but Espat and Hyde never fully got back on track.
By December of 2004, Espat was fired from Cabinet again and Hyde resigned in solidarity with him.
"I think that yesterday was a defining moment for us. It was that time when a man had to stand up for what he believes in and not just talk the talk but actually walk the walk and I felt like I had to 16:12 do that."
One month later, in January, 2005 with union-led unrest simmering over a tax increasing budget Espat and Hyde made parliamentary history: they voted against their government's budget.
And then in June of that same year - those sentiments would be revisited as the debate centered over a tax break for the Beer company.
Tax the beer before you send home public officers, tax the beer before you tax the poor. But for whatever the reasons, the Government has been pussyfooting around the issue."
"Madam Speaker, in this bill the Government is saying forget about social justice and equity, forget about the poor, we need the money but we can't tax the rich. Madam Speaker the government should stop putting the special interest ahead of the national interest.
Many others are paying more taxes than they did in 1998 but poor Mr. Barry, he can't afford it. The rest of us are fools you see. Madam Speaker, I cannot support this beer tax, it just does not go far enough."
And if that wasn't enough, at that same house meeting Mark Espat gave his famous puppet and master speech and an only slightly veiled reference to Lord Ashcroft as Mr. Carlisle:
"When it comes to helping Belizeans, whose interests our government is elected to serve and protect, everything is a matter of high finance, legal complications and beyond their abilities. This is why our country is so rich but our people so poor….
The voice that the people of the Albert Constituency entrusted to me on March 5, 2003 cannot be used to defend Carlisle, it must be used to defend Belize against these modern day pirates and profiteers whose only loyalty is to the bottom lines."
And after all that historic bombast from the backbench - just 5 months later, they were back in the Cabinet, Espat as Minister of National Development, Investment and Culture, and Cordel Hyde as Minister of Defense, Housing, Sports and Youth.
Prime portfolios and they were duly grateful - even contrite:
Hon. Mark Espat
"I think I should acknowledge the invitation by the Prime Minister. I am sure that it was not a decision that was without political courage and I am humbled that he believes I am able to contribute in some way to the governance as it relates to these three particular portfolios."
"How do you share a Cabinet with people who conspired against the interests of the employees and masses, by your own reasoning?"
Hon. Mark Espat
"I think one would be more of a hypocrite if one were to say these are the problems and given the opportunity to contribute towards their solution, one would say 'no thank you, I prefer to stay outside and to complain."
So they got back in - but just 7 months later, the war was on again with the old Guard - when Espat memorably put down PUP elders in a battle over Free Zone pre-eminence:
"And I will go further, I will say that indeed there is an old PUP and I would hope sometime soon, a new PUP. What the 'old PUP' stands for is what the people rejected resoundingly, 64 to 3 seats, on March the 1st. and when these political dinosaurs, as I believe they are, or as the streets would call them, political skettels, when they recognize that it is because of the misguided policies that they have pursued, when they come to grips with the fact that so many of the hits against this People's United Party is as a result of the policies that they, and their small group, their minority - obnoxious as they may be, rude and arrogant as they may be - when they come to grips with the fact that it is their policy that has brought the PUP to its lowest level in its 55 years history, only then will there be an opportunity for renewal. Only then will the electoral viability of the PUP as a whole be restored."
"And so no, I am not a member of the 'old PUP.' I believe, I am ashamed of that old PUP and there are tens of thousands of Belizeans who wish to support the PUP but who do not support Mr. Chief Crony, his cabal of cronies, and the havoc that they have wreaked in the Belizean economy and society over the last several years."
That putdown was hard! - and Espat was almost expelled through the efforts of those skettels - but Cordel Hyde amplified his position:
"Right now we don't have one PUP. We have two different PUPs. We have an old PUP that wants to hang on to policies of the past that has gotten us in deep deep trouble. In fact it has put us in a situation where we don't have enough money to provide budgets for our youth interventions and don't have enough money to provide budgets for housing, education, health, and I think we need to deal with that issue real quickly or else we will just implode. I think that still remains today."
The implosion didn't happen then, the two averted expulsion form the party and Espat was designated to save the Musa Administration from a sovereign default as the point-man on the 517 million US dollar superbond in December of 2006.
And then in April of 2006, along came the disclosure that PM Musa had secretly guaranteed the Universal Debt - which Musa did not disclose for the Superbond and within a month, Espat and Hyde had been fired from Cabinet again.
From then to now, it has been a more or less sustained state of war.
Of course, that last part of the story really compresses events - so much happened and didn't happen since the pair was fired from Cabinet in 2007 - culminating in Mark Espat briefly leading the PUP for about 17 days in October of 2011.
But that era is less colorful, because the pair stopped giving us - or pretty much anyone else - interviews!
It's a policy they have maintained even in stepping down in the past week where both only issued written statements.
Woman Endures Arson In Libertad
On Monday night a Libertad woman reported to police that her house was burglarized and she was assaulted inside her home that was later set on fire. The incident happened around 9:00 that night. 64 year old Petrona Leal, better known as Miss Pretty, told police she had recently closed her bar for the night -that is situated at the lower flat of her home - called El Paso and went up to the upper flat of her home - when she heard a knocking at the door.
The person told Leal that he wanted to purchase liquor from her, but when Leal opened the door, she was ambushed by 3 men - all of them with mask on their faces. She was choked until she went unconscious and that was when the men stole an assortment of items from Leal's home and then set it on fire. Leal was later awaken by the heat and noticed that the men had stolen a gold chain with an anchor medal along with 7 gold rings from her. Her home and business was destroyed by the fire.
We understand Leal lives alone and ran her own business. So far no one has been arrested or charged for the incident.