Saldivar Showed Muscle, Money and Machinery at Leadership Launch

Posted By: Marty

Saldivar Showed Muscle, Money and Machinery at Leadership Launch - 11/05/19 12:21 PM

A big political show traveled from Belmopan to Belize City on Sunday. It was the formal launch of John Saldivar's candidacy for the UDP leadership convention in February of 2020 - and he pulled out all the stops.

Jules Vasquez was there and here's his recap:

With an imposing image of Saldivar plus 17 area reps or standard bearers welcoming supporters to the Civic, the message was clear: dominance.

We are told there were as many as 20 buses mobilized and the area was festooned with all types of signage, giving Sunday's launch the air of a national convention.

Even Commissioner Chester Williams was there to make sure security arrangements for his minister were on point.

Inside, the crowd was good. Our count showed that the 3,800 bleacher seats were about two thirds full - which is significantly better than the Patrick Faber convention two months earlier.

And while we didn't see 17 UDP area reps or standard bearers there, we did see Orange Walk North's Gaspar Vega in the front row who, very notably, got the biggest applause of the day.

And we also saw Prime Minister Dean Barrow's successor and sister and, Tracey Taegar Panton - even though her name isn't on the Saldivar slate, was still working the crowd.

And the introductory speakers were also working throwing serious backhanded shade at Faber:

Shyne Barrow, Std. Bearer - Mesop
"No one is entitled to be the leader of the UDP. No one has the right to succession. The next leader of the UDP has to have humility and has to work arduously to build the trust and the confidence of the majority of us."

"Not head in the clouds foolishly convinced of some entitlement to lead as if ordained by some divine decree."

Hon. Frank "Pawpa" Mena, Area Rep. - Dangriga
"We need a unifier. We have been divided on too many things, we are bitter because of this, we can't agree because of religion, because of politics, because of color of skin, because of gender - we can't agree because so many things and so this country yearns for a unifier. This country cannot deal with nobody who is petty and vindictive and personal and all of that."

Shyne Barrow, Std. Bearer - Mesop
"This is the type of leadership that we need to continue the progress, inclusive, balanced and just, not malicious, vindictive and victimizing and petty. Today, the soul of the UDP is at stake."

However, it's not soul, but the cold calculus of party politics which will determine the next leader, and in that calculus, a majority trumps all:

Hon. Beverly Williams, CANDIDATE FOR DEPUTY
"Ultimately John has the support of the vast majority of his colleagues because we believe that he is the right man for the job."

"I feel very good. We have put in our work and I have the support of many of my colleagues and this is the production, this is what happens when you have a majority of your colleagues with you."

"We saw that you had at least 19 plus yourself, 20. Is that a correct number?"

Hon. John Saldivar
"The count is probably at 22."

And now included in that 22 is the Party Whip, Michael Finnegan who made a dramatic entrance at the midpoint. He was Faber's campaign manager last time and now he's declared for Saldivar:

Hon. John Saldivar
"I am very humbled by the fact that the second longest serving member of this party, beside only the prime minister has come out publicly now to show his support to me. It means a lot to me, it means a lot to my campaign. It will give a good boost to my campaign and I believe that it's of things to come."

Indeed, on this day it looked like things were lining up - or being lined up for Saldivar - and in his address - he didn't go after Faber, but spoke about the man he hopes to succeed:

Hon. John Saldivar
"The night honorable dean barrow will be a hard act to follow, but like everything in life, we must move on."

And in moving on, Saldivar made a very pronounced effort to deliver fully a third of his speech in Spanish - an advantage over his opponent, and a gesture to an increasingly Latinized voting population.

His candidate for first deputy is also a reflection of that ethnic balance. He laid out the stakes in stark terms:

"The decision we make on February 9, 2020, will in fact determine whether as a party we rise to the challenge and continue guide the country, this great country, or whether we implode and self-destruct."

A whole lot at stake for the UDP as it faces an uncertain future after a run of unmatched post independent success:

Hon. John Saldivar
"Of the least 8 general elections, our UDP has won 5. And of the last 5 general elections, with Hon. Dean Barrow as our leader, we have won 3."

"We the inheritors of such a magnificent winning record must be ready and able to carry the baton to even more victories."

"YES, my people of the UDP WE can win a fourth terms, we can't win a fifth term, we can win a sixth term."

But that is more wish than certainty and this big show is good enough for the party faithful to sing and dance - but whether it will work for the wider electorate is another story completely.

And, a large part of the story is Danny Mason - a man on trial for the biggest murder of the young century - who has implicated Saldivar:

"Some would say that YOU ARE not a suitable candidate for leader, because of the reputational risks. You are a former business associate of a man on trial for murder who has implicated you indirectly in this trial. How would you respond?"

Hon. John Saldivar
"I think that narrative has already been done and spent. The entire trial took place, except for a very last moment hearsay that mentioned my name. Absolutely no evidence was brought in trial against me. That's where I stand. There is nothing more to say on that issue. The Belizean have spoken and will speak, because I don't think that in any country or any democracy you can be guilty of something of someone that you know has done some crime that he has done."

"Like it or not, sir, there is smoke around your name."

Hon. John Saldivar
"Anyway you turn it, when you look at an accusation that has been made against me and you compare that to the many accusations and the record of many in the People's United Party, I think you will find that the Belizean people will prefer my leadership, will prefer my party, the UDP, over that PUP bunch anytime."

On this day, amongst the easy comfort of friends and supporters Saldivar could deploy that easy elision, one year - or three months - from now, it's the voters or the delegates who will decide if it's a good enough answer.

So what was the final, total crowd estimate? Well, we would put it at about 3,200, which is about twice the crowd that we saw at Patrick Faber's convention two months ago.

Channel 7

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