Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Belizean Situation (reprint from Amandala Newspaper)

He has the support of the international community as well as the U.S., which canceled the visas of many officials in the interim government, and cut some aid to Honduras, one of the hemisphere’s poorest countries. However, Mr. Zelaya’s return is vehemently opposed by the country’s institutions, including the congress, the courts, the armed forces as well as the powerful Catholic Church.” ----- pg. A8, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009

- The political situation in Belize, the only English speaking nation, and the youngest, on the Central American mainland, was disturbed this week by two significant developments. The first was the urgent departure for medical treatment (back) in Miami by Prime Minister Dean Barrow of the ruling UDP, and the second was the news on Wednesday that former Prime Minister/former PUP Leader, Said Musa, a member of one of Belize’s wealthiest business families, was gaining substantial strength within the PUP executive.

Belize’s political system (first-past-the-post) is such that elected governments quickly become very strong, and the strength always translates to arrogance. More than that, the single figure of the Prime Minister invariably becomes of inordinate substance and power. To the best of the Belizean public’s knowledge, we have never had a sitting Prime Minister experience a medical emergency.

What complicated matters in the present case is the fact that the Cabinet in place is a manifestly mediocre one. It is completely dominated by Prime Minister Barrow. What would happen in Cabinet if the surgeon specialists in Miami cannot comfort and heal Mr. Barrow, is anybody’s guess. As it operates, the Belizean constitution depends on the single figure of the Prime Minister. Gapi Vega is surely no Dean Barrow.

It is at this precise time that the pro-Lord Ashcroft forces in the Opposition PUP have moved to increase their power in the PUP executive. It is more evident now than it has ever been since he resigned as PUP Leader in February of 2008, that Mr. Musa, who appears to be in relatively good health, is serious about a big time comeback. One has to conclude that the PUP’s two largest financiers, Michael Ashcroft and Barry Bowen, have placed their bets on the former Prime Minister.

The implications of these two developments for the masses of the Belizean people are not good. We think it is fair to say that, in the last five years the majority of the Belizean people have come to the conclusion that Lord Ashcroft is the most dangerous predator operating in Belize. Mr. Barrow, a beneficiary of Lord Ashcroft’s legal retainer fees and political campaign largesse for more than twenty years, emerged on August 24 as the Lord’s most serious opponent. Just a month later, a medical question about Mr. Barrow has arisen.

At this same time, Lord Ashcroft’s most prominent ally and collaborator, Said Musa, has gone on the offensive inside the PUP. It is no coincidence that Mr. Musa has announced that he will release his political memoirs next week, to coincide with the PUP’s 59th anniversary celebrations.

Mr. Barrow’s condition is only painful, not life-threatening. So there is no need for alarm. For those of us Belizeans who have been fighting against colonialism and imperialism, however, it is ironic that we should consider Mr. Barrow an ally of the people at this time. It shows us how truly desperate is the plight of the Belizean people where Belize’s politico-economic situation is concerned. All around us in Central America and South America, except in Honduras, neoliberalism is on the retreat. But in Belize, neoliberalism is in open attack mode, so much so that Belizeans have to be hoping that our accommodationist, mainstream, non-revolutionary Prime Minister has a quick recovery.

And the principal reason we are in this situation is because the previous Prime Minister had begun his public life, way back in January of 1969, as an outspoken enemy of colonialism and imperialism, as a brave critic of corrupt, right wing elements in the originally roots PUP. When he came to power in 1998, however, Mr. Musa proved to be otherwise than his earlier rhetoric projected.

In Central America, the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy has proven itself historically, and even today in embattled Honduras, to be an ally of the rich. In colonial British Honduras, the Roman Catholic Church was considered a friend of the poor and an enemy of British colonialism. But in the Belize of 2009, the masses of the people cannot look to the Church for leadership. The PUP has become a party of the rich, and the Church, which assisted in the formation of the party, has gone along for the ride.

The burden of proof, therefore, now falls on the shoulders of the trade unions in Belize. The pro-Ashcroft elements in the ruling UDP will benefit from Mr. Barrow’s ailment. Ashcroft is now on the attack both in the UDP and the PUP. The problem the unions here have had is that they were not specifically designed for political activity.

Because our political system was constructed the way it was, allowing for just two political parties – Government and Opposition, the majority of the Belizean people are not being properly represented. On August 24, under great duress, Prime Minister Barrow made the move which the majority of the Belizean people desired – he stood toe-to-toe with Ashcroft. But there are people in Mr. Barrow’s Cabinet who are on Lord Ashcroft’s payroll.

The situation in Belize is becoming imperceptibly unstable. With Lord Ashcroft now on the attack, the people of Belize are on the retreat. But this is a situation which will not continue indefinitely.

Power to the people. Power in the struggle.

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