Remembering Aikman’s energy
Derek Aikman's funeral will be held on Thursday at 1:00 at St. John's Cathedral.
Aikman's place in history cannot be argued. After all, he beat sitting Prime Minister George Price in 1984 - handing the political giant his only defeat ever in a General Election.
Today, Aikman's party leader at the time, Manuel Esquivel said that it was Aikman's matchless energy which put him ahead of the political legend:
Sir Manuel Esquivel (Rt. Hon) - Two Term Prime Minister
"The one thing he had which was already visible for those who could look and see. He would dive into that election as if the world was ending. Everything he had to do in that election he did it, because he wanted to win. Price lost because he thought he could not have lost. He outworked Price because Price was sure of his own popularity. How could he lose?"
Aikman remains the only UDP to have won the Freetown Division - and he did it twice.
“Mi D” dead at 59
A massive outpouring of sympathy to his family blanketed social media yesterday after Belizeans at home and in the diaspora learned that the Reverend Derek Aikman, a former United Democratic Party (UDP) Cabinet minister, had passed away on Saturday, March 2, while undergoing treatment at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital.
Aikman was 59. Information to us is that Aikman died of a heart attack, but this could not be confirmed from family members.
Derek “Mi D”Aikman is best remembered for his fiery oratory skills on the political rostrum when he first entered the political arena as a very young man.
Aikman rapidly rose to popularity and prominence in the United Democratic Party under the leadership of Manuel Esquivel. In the first post-independence elections held in Belize in 1984, Aikman emerged as the “giant killer” when he was elected to the House of Representatives after he defeated the iconic People’s United Party Leader, George Price.
At that time, he was the youngest politician elected to the Belize House of Representatives. He was 24 years old when he defeated Price and was appointed to Hon. Manuel Esquivel’s Cabinet as Minister of Education.
In the ebb and flow that oftentimes typefies Belize politics, Aikman’s meteoric rise to power was short-lived. In the early 1990’s, while he was still an elected area representative, Aikman was declared bankrupt and was forced out of the House of Representatives.
Accusations of complicity in the orchestration of Aikman’s bankruptcy have been laid at the doors of both major political parties, the UDP and the PUP, which sided with Lord Michael Ashcroft’s Belize Bank, which called in loans that Aikman had taken out to finance Belize Airlines Limited (BAL).
By 1992, when the PUP government passed the Maritime Areas Act into law with the bipartisan support of the then-Opposition, the United Democratic Party, a full-fledged war had erupted between the UDP and some of its members who were opposed to the passage of the Maritime Areas Act.
Aikman, along with the late Sam Rhaburn, Hubert Elrington and others ended up resigning from the UDP and joined Philip Goldson’s National Alliance for Belizean Rights (NABR). Goldson, too, had resigned from the UDP and formed NABR.
By 1998, however, Aikman had rejoined the UDP and ran as the party’s standard bearer in the Fort George constituency. He was, however, soundly defeated by the then PUP leader Said Musa.
Following that general election defeat, Aikman drifted away from the political arena and was not heard from for a long while, until 2007, when he claimed that he was kidnapped near Burrell Boom, where he resided.
In 2008 when the UDP was returned to power, Aikman left Belize shortly thereafter and went to live in the United States, where he eventually became ordained as a minister of religion.
He worked in the United States to form a Belizean diaspora organization, Belizeans United For Equal Rights at Home and the Diaspora (BUFFERED) in 2016.
By the following year, 2017, BUFFERED had conducted a simulated election and came away with the conclusion that the much-touted secret ballot in Belizean elections was not so secret, after all.
When it came to the Guatemalan claim against Belize, Derek Aikman was a voice in continuous opposition and was always on the lookout to ensure that the rights of Belize and Belizeans were respected. He was mightily against Belize going to the International Court of Justice to settle the Guatemalan claim.
Aikman was one of the first persons to talk about a legal challenge to the Special Agreement that the Government of Belize and Guatemala signed for taking the claim to the ICJ.
Aikman lent his voice against the government’s Special Agreement, which it signed in 2008 to take the Guatemalan claim to the International Court of Justice for a final and binding resolution.
Aikman was one of the first persons who talked about taking out a constitutional claim against the Special Agreement, long before the Joint Legal Opinion had opened the door to that possibility.
Derek Aikman is survived by his wife, Kim Smiling-Aikman, and children: Inga, Mischa and Anya Aikman.
Funeral services for the late Mr. Derek Aikman will be held on Thursday, March 7th in Belize City at 1:00 p.m at St. John's Cathedral. Rest in Peace Sir Aikman.
Remembering Derek Aikman between 1984-1992
There was a time in Belize when we thought that the PUP would rule forever. In that time the opposition was just a constitutional requirement; in 1969 we were almost not even that, the opposition NIP gaining just one seat out of the eighteen available in the House of Representatives. There was one radio station in the country back then, Radio Belize, and all they sang all day long were the praises of the Peaceful, Constructive Belizean Revolution under the PUP and their leader, George Price. Radio Belize’s announcers coddled George Price, as if he were a saint, and his ministers, even though a number of them didn’t go to church, were shielded by the glow of the great man’s halo. There were occasions, in one instance an approaching general election, when the opposition was given all of fifteen or so censored minutes to make their play, to state to the Belizean people why a government other than the PUP could lead Belize.
It was no wonder that in this environment many young people were of the belief that if there was to be a regime change in Belize, it would have to come through a bloody revolution. Such was the grip the PUP had on the country. The main opposition party in the 1960s, the NIP, under the leadership of Philip Goldson, felt that “the time to save [our] country was before we [lost] it”, and so they concentrated most of their energies on keeping the invincible PUP from giving up too much in negotiations with Guatemala. Such was the opinion in 1968 when the nation was presented with the Webster’s Proposals. The NIP and the trade unions rallied the nation in defense of our beloved country. From Punta Gorda, Corozal Town, and Benque Viejo the people came to march against the Webster’s Proposals. The energy from this effort should have buoyed the main opposition party when the general election was called in 1969, but there had been a split in the leadership of the NIP, and what hindsight has shown us is that the Belizean people tend to separate local politics from the nagging Guatemalan claim to our country.
In 1974 there were whisperings of change, but that didn’t amount to much more than a lee breeze; however in 1979 there was real talk of a peaceful change of government. We knew then, after another discouraging failure in 1979, that it could never be done. The PUP led the country to glorious independence in 1981, and this alone should have secured them another victory at the polls in the general election that followed a few years later. At the time they still had an iron grip on the only radio station in the country (except for a small one controlled by the British). But there was no carryover from the triumphant march to independence and the people were sick and tired of Radio Belize’s announcers who, it seemed, lived only to serve their political masters.
Politically savvy people knew that time had run out on the PUP machine, the Big Blue, and for them the only worry was the response of the PUP, if they would go into the night peacefully. The masses, the less savvy, people like me, though hopeful of an opposition victory, knew it couldn’t happen, could never happen. That night in 1984, when the PUP fell for the first time, cemented Belize as a democracy. It is the hardest thing to peacefully remove a political party that has become entrenched in government. The PUP had had a near unchallenged run, through the fifties, through the sixties, and through the seventies. They had never known the bitterness of defeat.
For me, I was convinced that the PUP couldn’t be beaten at the polls. In the 1979 election they had been accused of using invisible ink and all kinds of rotten stuff to get over. They seemed to have all the authorities on their side. They handpicked all the heads of departments, and police top brass, and they had a grip on propaganda with their unchallenged radio station. The writers of the Western movies say that if you can’t tell a story better than you heard it, leave it alone. The newspaperman in the movie, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, put it this way: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” In the story of Aikman over Price, the fact and the legend are the same. There is no way of embellishing what happened.
I was drinking in my father-in-law’s bar when the election results started coming in. I don’t recall exactly when the result from Freetown was announced. I’m pretty sure it came early, but not before the trend was showing that the PUP was in real trouble. I’ve told you this story before. My brother-in-law and I jumped up from our stools, absolutely ecstatic when the announcement came that the invincible Price had gone down to defeat. There was some bittersweet in the moment. There were a lot of old folk who adored George Price, and one of them, a legend in his own right, was sharing a drink with us when the result from Freetown was announced. He banged his hand on the table before him and cried out, “That (George Price) was a good man; that was a good man.”
Derek Aikman was a favorite of Prime Minister Manuel Esquivel from the get go. No political party is homogenous; they comprise many bedfellows, factions, and as political parties go, the UDP had more factions than most. There were many different political parties that came together to form the UDP, and Manuel Esquivel’s base was the least formidable of these. It is not a hard study to find out why Derek Aikman landed under Manuel Esquivel’s wing. His five years in government were eventful. Derek Aikman, the first minister of education in Belize who wasn’t appointed by George Price, was an Americanophile. Belizeans were seeing American television for the first time and they had fallen in love with the Chicago Cubs. Derek Aikman was instrumental in bringing Cubs standout left-fielder, Gary Matthews, to meet his adoring fans in Belize.
The PUP had moved to take control of tertiary level education with the formation of BelCAST, (the Belize College of Arts, Science, and Technology). Wikipedia states, “In 1979 the ruling People’s United Party (PUP) government established the (Belcast) with the intention of breaking Belize’s dependence on the outside world for university education. The PUP envisioned Belcast as a government-run institution, with no participation from the church. “Under Derek’s watch, while he was minister of education, the UDP overturned BelCAST and replaced it with the University College of Belize (UCB). According to Wikipedia, “The UDP revoked the Belcast ordinance and invited Ferris State College of Big Rapids, Michigan, to establish and manage a new institution, the University College of Belize (UCB). Control over the UCB program rested not with Belizeans, but with the administration of Ferris State College.”
Under Derek’s watch, while he was Minister of Electricity, Transport and Communication, Manuel Esquivel’s government converted BTA (Belize Telecommunication Authority) to BTL (Belize Telecommunication Limited). Belize Today said, “the Government of Belize retains 51% of the shares…British Telecom has acquired 25%, and the remaining 24% is reserved for Belizean citizens both at home and abroad.” Derek Aikman was out of office (2007) when he called in to the WuB and “told shocked hosts Evan ‘Mose’ Hyde and Kalilah Enriquez, in a voice trembling with emotion, that he had been kidnapped and that his kidnappers, three of them, were threatening to kill him if the BTL Vesting Bill that went to the Senate that very morning, was not passed.” (from story by Keisha Milligan, Amandala). Derek Aikman had been integral to the transformation of BTA to BTL. What the ruling PUP was doing with the company must have thus been an obscenity to him. Adele Ramos wrote in the Amandala in May, 2007: “If passed, the vesting legislation would permit Ashcroft to transfer hundreds of millions of dollars in assets at BTL to Telemedia, with the Government waiving millions of dollars in revenues it would normally earn on such a transfer. GOB, through this bill, foregoes any taxes, stamp duties, registration fees and other revenues ordinarily payable to the Government of Belize.” The bill was nonetheless passed. “Today, the bill over which Aikman said the kidnappers threatened him with death, was passed in the Senate by a majority of 6-5,” stated Keisha Milligan in the Amandala.
In 1987 Derek Aikman became chairman of the UDP. If I remember correctly, Dean Lindo had held that position. But Dean had lost a lot of luster because of a major land transaction he had overseen as Minister of Natural Resources. There was also the case of Rufus X, who was seeking to challenge the Belize Rural North representative for the UDP for the right to represent the party in that area in the next general election, 1989. It was my observation that Dean Lindo wasn’t against Rufus X contesting for the seat, but Manuel Esquivel was 100% against Rufus X’s candidacy. The UDP was not a united party when they contested the elections in 1989, and they lost a squeaker, 15-13, that year. Derek Aikman held on to his seat, but that was the last time the man who engineered the most stunning upset in Belize’s political history, would be victorious at the polls.
In 1992, Derek Aikman broke away from the UDP to form, along with Philip Goldson and other UDP leaders, the NABR (National Alliance for Belizean Rights). The UDP, under Manuel Esquivel (leader) and Dean Barrow (deputy leader) had joined the PUP in support of the Maritime Areas Bill. The NABR believed that the Maritime Areas Bill was very bad for Belize. In the 1990s, Derek Aikman suffered a major financial loss in the air transport business, and he ended up being declared a bankrupt by the courts. It is believed in some quarters that his enemies conspired against him — the UDP for his breakaway from the party, and the PUP for slaying the political giant, George Price. He was stripped of his seat. Effectively, being declared a bankrupt was the end of the political career of one of the most charismatic Belizeans to ever stroll the political stage in Belize.
By Colin Hyde for Amandala
MINISTER DEREK AIKMAN IN MEMORIAL
by Bilal Morris
Isn’t it funny how time slips away? It appears like just yesterday that the young and ambitious political student activist, Derek Aikman, at the tender age of 19, came home to Belize from school in Florida in the United States in the early 1980s, and began to pursue a very ambitious career in politics in Belize.
His youthful age never seemed to matter as Belizean young people of all colors and creed began to identify with his message of political change in a People’s United Party (PUP) dominance of political power in Belize since the 1950s under the charismatic leadership of the late George Cadle Price. But Derek Aikman, who may have never really envisioned that he would come to defeat the most popular Belizean politician in history, George Price, in the historical 1984 general elections, surged into Belize’s political arena and made history for himself.
Aikman’s alliance with Belize’s Opposition party at that time, United Democratic Party (UDP) that appeared to have connected him traditionally through the political leanings of his parents, immediately embraced his astute political ambitions to enlarge their cadre of talented Belizean politicians that included Belize’s present Prime Minister, Dean Oliver Barrow. Barrow appeared to have not only become a serious competitor and challenger to the ambitious Aikman, but he had already established himself within the party’s hierarchy, and would later pose some serious challenges to the upward mobility of Belize’s most fast-rising politician, Derek Aikman.
The two promising UDP politicians became the prize of the UDP party and paralleled each other in oratory skills to the envy of most of the veteran politicians at the time. Their only match from across Belize’s vibrant political spectrum were the PUP’s Assad Shoman and Said Musa. The stage for the 1984 general elections battle was set, and the Belizean people had begun to become disgruntled and frustrated with the PUPs failed electoral promises, and change could be felt to the point of absolute certainty.
In the first ever United Democratic Party (UDP) political victory since their disappointing loss in 1979, and the first ever People’s United Party (PUP) loss in history, Aikman beat the incumbent and long-standing Prime Minister, George Price, in Belize City’s Freetown Division in the 1984 general elections.
He went on to become Belize’s Minister of Education, capitalizing on much earned political capital to spend, and spent it he did with his ambitious plans in the initiating of Belize’s first ever university called, “University College of Belize (UCB)”, that copied the U.S. Ferris State University curriculum and design almost completely. Minister Aikman had made his first political move as a young and ambitious Belizean politician who was coming of age under the watchful eyes of international political observers.
After a long absence from politics in Belize enduring some painful political and financial losses in the 1980s, and 90s, the formidable and former UDP politician, Derek Aikman, made a sudden resurgence back into Belize’s political arena with his recent and newly found “Belizeans United for Equal Rights at Home & Abroad” or (BUFERHD). It appeared that the political and civic organization was championing the constitutional rights of the Belizean electorate that have been trampled by past and present governments of Belize, including Aikman’s once aligned UDP party that has won three consecutive elections already since 2008, added to the two times before that in 1984 and 1993. BUFERHD’s new and recent political stint and bombshell was the revelation that the Belize electoral ballot is not, and was not really “secret” at all.
In a special meeting called by the political organization’s head himself, the resistant Derek Aikman surprised many a Belizean political pundit that the two Belize political parties in the country’s two-party political system had appeared to have been cheating the Belizean electorate all the while through what should have been a “secret ballot” that was supposed to have kept confidential the people’s vote casting patterns as a means of protecting the Belizean electorate from fraudulent elections over the years.
Through Minister Aikman’s assertions, it was not necessarily so. Did most Belizean politicians and campaign managers of Belize’s political parties know such a thing was going on in Belize’s proud electoral system that those like U.S. President, Jimmy Carter, had held up to high standards to the rest of the Western world as a beacon of light symbolic of free and fair elections?
In editing this feature written more than a year ago, the sad news of the death of the dynamic Belizean politician, Derek Aikman reached me with much sadness of his loss and the passing of a revolutionary era of illuminating Belizean politics that was energized by a young St. Michael’s College graduate who had pursued his educational dreams and endeavors abroad in the United States and returned politically armed to serve his country and people.
We here at “Belizean Legends” honor Derek Aikman today in his passing and hope that more young Belizean students of politics may soon take on the mantle of political leadership in Belize in the way of the honorable gentleman, Minister Derek Aikman. He will be surely missed by many of his family and friends. From God we come and to Him is all our return, my dear brother Derek. Go in peace and meet your Maker, you Belizean political warrior. Your journey has ended and it’s good to be home.