By Wellington C. Ramos

I knew about one year ago that there was a possibility that the United Democratic Party (UDP) was going to lose the municipal and general elections in the Stann Creek and Toledo districts in the southern part of Belize, where the majority of Garifuna people live. This is because, as a native of the south, I have many relatives in the towns of Punta Gorda and Dangriga, where I was born and raised.

The people in these towns have been complaining about their candidates neglecting them, poverty, unemployment, immigrants, drugs, disrespecting, not taking care of their needs and having no access to them for assistance.

In Dangriga, the representative was elected because the people did not want PUP and gave the UDP Arthur Roches a chance. After they elected him, many of his supporters were looking forward to his assistance in providing employment, lots, land and other benefits, but nothing happened. Some of them went to him to seek his assistance but he did not make himself available. In the news they kept on hearing about other Belizeans in other parts of the country receiving lots but none was given to Dangriga residents.

These people became upset and called for a new candidate to replace him. Dangriga people of today are different from the Dangriga people of the past. Most of the older people came from families who were independent, had farms, jobs, money and businesses. In fact, in the villages of Stann Creek District, there were always industries like banana, citrus, cocoa, fishing and others.

People from other districts used to come to this district to seek employment. The Commerce Beight pier that used to provide jobs and tourism is of vital importance to the residents of Dangriga town. This pier is now closed and many people who depended on it for years are praying for it to reopen but so far it is still closed.

The economic situation in Dangriga and Punta Gorda towns has also changed. Today, the young people do not go and work the farms with their parents any more. Also, fishing is something of the past and they have become dependent. The rate of poverty has increased due to the lack of employment in these towns.

There are some jobs available but the young people do not want to do the jobs. The people from the neighbouring republics of Guatemala and El Salvador are coming to the Stann Creek and Toledo Districts and they have taken over most of the farming and the agricultural jobs their ancestors use to do.

Last year I took a tour in the Stann Creek West Division and visited the villages of Hopkins, Seine Beight and Placencia. The people in those villages were complaining about their Minister Melvin Hulse's attitude. Some said that he has referred to them as "Kerobi", a derogatory label for the Garifuna people, which they hate to be called.

This is not the first time I have heard somebody say this about him. I have heard that, as a minister, Mr Hulse is good but his public relations is poor with his constituents. They even complained about him having his office in Dangriga Town instead of Mango Creek and Pomona, the two villages where he would be strategically closer to most of his constituents. One UDP supporter even indicated his tendency to interfere in the constituent affairs of other elected representatives in the Stann Creek and Toledo Districts as if he is the chief minister of the entire south.

Many times in politics public relations is just as important as the delivery of services for a politician to maintain control over his or her constituency.

Minister Eden Martinez is another victim of poor public relations. I met with him last year and told him that many people in New York City were trying to get in touch with him and he should make an effort to come and visit them. If you send him an email he would not respond to it. Communications and public relations are very important in politics. Being accessible to the people when they needed these representatives was an issue also that came up many times.

When a person decides to become a politician, people elect you the person and not your family member and they need assurances. Some things they would prefer to discuss in confidence with their elected representative and not the family member. I do not know much about Juan Coy but I am always reading negative things in the press about his abuse of power. If these reports are true, then over a period of time the people who voted for him will become resentful and turn against him. This could be another reason along with the others that led to his defeat.

The margins of victory against these candidates were huge and the turnouts were low. Which could indicate that many people were not motivated to vote for them and those who voted decided to vote against them. Money brought in to purchase votes works with poor people and I know that it was used in the previous elections and is becoming a pattern of behaviour in the entire country of Belize, especially in poor constituencies.

I strongly believe that the people in the south did not vote against UDP but the candidates they presented. Belize is now a nation at risk because rich people in Belize and from abroad, will be able to buy our elections with their money, put people in power to take over our country, control our natural resources and people.