The People’s United Party (PUP) held its much anticipated national convention in Belize city today, starting with a march through city streets, which drew a massive turnout and ended at the ITVET compound for speeches by party leaders.
The parade started on Fabers Road and the crowd of party supporters stretched for several blocks. Party supporters marched with flags and banners down Central American Boulevard to the ITVET compound.
PUP Leader, Johnny Briceno told the Reporter he was happy for the “monumental turnout” and said the turnout has set the stage for the PUP to win the upcoming municipal and general elections.
Briceno estimated 15,000 supporters at the convention at its peak. The ITVET compound was filled to capacity during the rally.
Briceno said that despite having access to abundant resources, the United Democratic Party isn’t able to mobilize the way his party did today. Briceno said the thousands that showed up for the convention sent a loud message that change is coming.
Briceno told the Reporter that the turnout speaks volumes and shows that his party is united and working hard. He said it also shows that Belizeans have gotten enough of crime, incompetence, unemployment and corruption within the country.
The last national convention the PUP hosted was in 2010 in Dangriga.
PUP Flex Mass Muscle - Enough to Improve Party’s Prospects At Polls?
Municipal elections are only weeks away and, on Sunday in Belize City, the PUP hoped to bolster their prospects of electoral success with a "buff" convention. The truth is the party hasn't won anything close to a majority of the 67 municipal seats countrywide since 2003 - so the party is desperately in need of a slump-breaker.
Could a Sunday Tsunami provide the momentum to break that slump? Daniel Ortiz rode the blue wave all the way to ITVET. Here's his story:..
Daniel Ortiz reporting
Coming from all over the country, party supporters gathered in the hundreds at the corner of Faber's Road and Central American Boulevard. They rolled out in a massive march, the first show of strength for the day.
Coming from all 31 electoral divisions, these loyalists started traveling early in the morning, spending hours and hours on the road. There were about 150 buses, plus those who came on their own, plus the city supporters, easily accounting for over 7,500 + supporters.
In their PUP march, they displayed the mass party muscle on the streets that the PUP hasn't shown in almost a decade. They made the midday sun seem like hardly a bother with all blue and white flags aloft, flying in the breeze, as they moved along to the convention venue.
The party executive, along with the candidates for the municipal elections, took the lead in the march. The PUP, which has been on a losing streak since 2003, was demonstrating that they still have a base to summon for events such as these.
Hon. John Briceno - Leader of the Opposition
"First of all, I am very excited. I'm energized by seeing amount of people that have showed up. We're getting - we have support coming in from all the districts, from Corozal, all the way to the Toledo District. We've been aiming from between 12,000 and 15,000, and I believe that we made at least 15,000, maybe a little bit more."
We're not so sure about that. Walking around the grounds, we counted a little over 7,000, and that crowd wasn't concentrated. While the loyalists marched with energy through the streets, on the ITVET, huge numbers of participants took to whatever shade they could find to get away from the hot sun. There were hundreds not even in the main stage area of ITVET compound. They went anywhere they could cool off. Also, because the rally started late, some of those bussed in from Toledo had to begin their journey back home.
But, when the green light was given, organizers quickly dove into their 32-item agenda for the afternoon.
As part of the convention, the new executive was sworn into office once again, with leader John Briceno getting another term uncontested as the maximum leader for the PUP. There were no challenges for any of the positions on the executive, and so, there were no need for any elections.
Linsford Castillo - Secretary General, PUP
"A National convention shall be held every 2 years."
Briceno was later joined on stage by former Prime Minister Said Musa, and former Opposition Leader Francis Fonseca.
Henry Charles Usher - Chairman, PUP
"Today, February 11, is a historic day for our party. Today, you, the true owners of this party have given John Briceno, have given Cordel Hyde, have given myself, have given all members of the National Executive a fresh mandate to serve."
The rest of the business of the convention was orchestrated so that some of the aspirants for municipal office on March 7 could get some air time. The convention itself was being carried live on the internet and national television.
Elio Pulido - Councilor Candidate, San Ignacio & Santa Elena
"Be it resolved, the People's United Party strongly condemns the complete silence, lack of leadership and failed crime fighting strategies of the current Barrow/Faber UDP Government."
Dilan Cassanova - Councillor Candidate, Corozal Town
"Be it resolved that the People's United Party demand that Government provide timely audited reports of all statutory bodies. 2, insist that the Prime Minister institute a commission of inquiry into the corruption in the Lands Department and other ministries, when there are cases of obvious wrong doing."
Tanya Santos - Mayoral Candidate, Belmopan
"Be resolved that the women of the People's United Party, 1, condemn in the strongest terms, all corrupt acts during this UDP administration."
Erica Rodriguez Jang - Councillor Candidate, Dangriga
"Under this UDP administration, it is dreadful and devastation. One cannot be blinded with the state of corruption, nepotism, non-accountability, and non-transparency that blanket our nation."
Kevin Bernard - Mayor, Orange Walk Town Council
"Be it resolved, that the next People's United Party Government will pursue and promote reforms to give greater autonomy to municipal authorities, and bring back confidence in the management of councils."
Bernard Wagner - Mayoral Candidate, Belize City
"One day, we will look back at this moment, and mark it as the being of our party's return to its rightful place, back to it's winning ways. My fellow Mayoral Candidates, councillor candidates, and PUP's near and far. Are you ready?"
But, the main addresses of the day came from the Opposition Leader and his National Deputy.
Hon. Cordel Hyde - National Deputy Party Leader, PUP
"This is the challenge for the PUP. The challenge for the PUP is for us to convince the people that we are better, that we are up to the challenge, that we are returning to our social justice roots."
Hon. John Briceno
"That you so much. I know many of you have been out here from 12 o'clock, but you are showing that you are no longer afraid of Dean Barrow, Patrick Faber, and the United Democratic Party."
So, strategically, how does a national convention like this help the party in its preparation to try and take a majority of the municipalities away from the ruling UDP - which controls eight of the nine?
Hon. John Briceno
"Well, it will certainly help. It will certainly energize the base and the people. Because we are streaming it on the internet and on Channel 5. Everybody can see the people and the excitement and the energy that we're generating out here. But, that alone is not enough. It is hard work. We have to make sure that we visit every single home that we can."
But, one of the obstacles that the PUP has at this time is that they are out of Government. Voters may see it as unwise to roll the dice and back the PUP while they're still in Opposition. Briceño thinks that he and his party have a good case to make.
Hon. John Briceno
"Most of the municipalities have failed, despite the fact that they have been boosted by Central Government. But let's look at Orange Walk Town, in Orange Walk Town, for the past 6 years. We've had a PUP Town Council, and they got zero help from Central Government, zero. But, Kevin Bernard and the PUP councillors have demonstrated that you can get the work done, if you organize yourself properly, if you consult the people, and you're going to do the right work."
On Sunday, the PUP tried to prove that it still had some of the flash - and the cash - to be a viable alternative to the UDP - whether or not the sales pitch worked will be known in a few weeks' time.
As you saw in our story, there were no elections for any of the posts on the PUP's executive. There are, however, some key changes that have been made.
Narda Garcia is now the Party's Communications Director. She replaces Anthony Mahler, who has taken over as Deputy Leader for the Eastern Caucus. Mahler replaces Kareem Musa on the executive - who got jilted after he indicated that he was considering challenging leader John Briceno. Briceno says Musa never expressed interest in taking up the post again.