An interview with the Prime Minister of Belize by: Aria Lightfoot and Fayemarie Anderson-Carter

Leadership is the ability to guide, energize or direct an organization, movement or country towards the accomplishment of a common goal. Leaders shape the destiny of that organization, movement or country and many times the organization, movement or country is defined by such leadership. Leaders are the force that determines the success of their organizations, movements and countries. The study of leaders and leadership qualities is vast and expands centuries. It covers numerous factors such as religion, politics, socio-economics, etc. It would be difficult to cover all the different types of leadership styles and theories in this piece.

Researchers have agreed that there are certain traits and characteristics that are normally associated with being a successful leader. The physical attributes are height, age, appearance, sex appeal, as well as, character traits such as honesty, integrity, vision, competence, integrity, enthusiasm and persistence. Leaders must be intelligent, progressive, decisive, and inspire confidence, trust and loyalty. Political scientist, James McGregor Burns, has examined presidents and world leaders and he came up with two distinctive type of leaders. He classified leaders as either transactional leaders or transformational leaders. A transactional leader motivates followers by recognizing their needs and providing rewards to fulfill these needs in exchange for performance and support. A transformational leader raises his/her followers’ aspirations to focus on “transcendental, higher level goals akin to self-actualization needs” .

Martin Luther King Jr. is an example of a transformational leader. He inspired followers to look forward to a new vision; to reject the status quo and to work for greater social justice. Barrack Obama inspired and raised the spirits of all Americans, especially African Americans, to once again believe that, regardless of station he/she is born into, regardless of race, anyone can rise to the highest position or status as long as he/she works hard. His rallying cry “Yes, we can” was shouted all over the world as supporters watched the United States elect its first African American president. George Price, implored Belizeans to break the grip of the colonial government and fight for and eventually win independence in 1981 so that today he is called “The Father of the Nation”.

The Prime Minister of Belize, Honorable Dean Barrow, despite criticism and naysayers is proving himself to be a powerful transformational leader. On March, 24, 2012, Twocanview had the privilege of interviewing the Prime Minister to get his perspective and to examine his leadership style. Twocanview has observed that much of the criticism aimed at our leaders is done without ever talking to the leaders. Getting a personal perspective before judgment is passed is definitely an important exercise.

The Prime Minister’s manner was very cordial, warm and inviting. This allowed us to just dive right in and begin our interview. Our first question to the Prime Minister was “why politics?” His answer was that he was born into politics. His grandparents, parents, uncle were actively involved in politics so that he grew up listening to animated and in depth discussions about current affairs right there in his living room. He watched as the different parties developed, declined and eventually, three of them would merge into the United Democratic Party (UDP). His involvement was a natural progression. He started as a legal advisor for the UDP was asked to run in city council elections,(which he won) then shortly thereafter in 1984, the general elections. His success in Belize politics is undeniable. He is the first Black Prime Minister of the Central American region and also the first leader of the UDP to win two terms consecutively.

The PM leads both his party, the UDP and the Government of Belize. Each has its own separate and particular challenges. He claims that at this juncture, the members of the UDP have coalesced to a strong cohesive unit, with no personality conflicts or serious grumbling. His biggest challenge is to maintain equilibrium, balancing expectations with conflicts.

As the Prime Minster of Belize, conversely, the challenges are innumerous. Belize is a small open economy. International trends can and do affect Belize: Europe’s struggle to balance its weakest members with the strongest in the union; shaky confidence in the United States’ leadership as the country faces an election year; the downturn of international tourism as a result of the worldwide recession. Surprisingly, Belize has not been as negatively impacted as other countries and our country actually did enjoy quite a healthy tourism trade last year, 2011. However, debt such as the “superbond” continues to obscure this progress. This creates increasing pressure to renegotiate terms so as to alleviate the strain on the economy and release funds for the continued development of our social programs.

Other pressing issues continue to include the Guatemalan claim, a complex conundrum spanning centuries which poses a constant threat to our borders and our resources as Guatemalan citizens ignore the laws of our land regarding immigration, agriculture and forestry. There is also the encroaching influence of the Mexican mafia infiltrating our justice system as they seek to cultivate means of transporting their illegal drugs and arms. Related gang violence is a real concern for many in urban areas and now even in the more rural villages.

Domestically, the PM faces the difficult task of providing immediate relief to our most impoverished while trying to develop sustainable, long term solutions for employment, education and proper medical care. All the while he is diligently pursuing these goals, he is bombarded by rambunctious advocacy groups with different agendas. Critics weigh in on his decisions and policies relentlessly and seemingly without any real purpose but to detract and create disharmony and fear. The Prime Minister must take account for it all, navigate a philosophical and realistic course with purpose and effectuate policy that is beneficial for all Belizeans.

When we asked the PM in what direction would like to take Belize, he said that social justice is the hallmark of his government. He wants to uplift the marginalized people of Belize. He describes his ideology as being similar to that of the democratic party of the United States. He was emphatic in juxtaposing the Republican philosophy against the Democrats’ in order to state that he does not believe that government should stand back and just let the corporations dictate the people’s fate. He believes that “government must function to alleviate the hardships in people’s lives”. His government believes in the ‘pro-poor programs” such as the Food Pantry Program in Belize, Cayo, Toledo Districts where the working poor can buy food at a reduced cost. He assists heads of households, mostly single mothers, with a monthly subsidy called Boost in exchange for compliance with truancy laws etc. He is determined to continue to develop more social programs in this second term of government.

A priority for the Prime Minister is increasing the growth of the private sector. As the world economy gradually improves, Mr. Barrow plans to seek ways of helping the private sector to pick up the pace through increase production. This translates into more taxes which benefits the people of Belize through funding of more social programs. He admits that one of the biggest impediments has been the increasing fuel cost. Although the government may benefit from exporting crude, Belize must turn around and import the refined oil at high cost. The Prime Minister tells us there are plans for a refinery. Belize National Energy (BNE) is the only company that has found oil and presently exporting crude oil so BNE will be initiating plans to build the refinery. It is the Prime Minister’s intention that Belizeans will benefit from the refinery through ownership of shares. He plans to ensure that BNE continues to act in the best interest of Belize by allowing for a certain percentage of the shares are owned by Belizeans.

We then asked the Prime Minster what he considers his leadership style. The Prime Minster said that he is not a “micro-manager”. He believes that people should be allowed to do their jobs without constant interference from him. He said that given the magnitude of his own responsibilities, that would make for an impossible situation. He has an expectation of professionalism, honesty, and utmost respect for the people. He admits he is a forthright person. He will directly address issues as they present themselves but it is not his style to be arbitrary or condescending to his staff.

This brought us then to the question of what the Prime Minister thinks about criticism branding him as arrogant. He said that he doesn’t consider himself to be arrogant but rather thinks of his approach as direct and confident. However, if his critics insist on labeling him as such, he would prefer to be known as arrogant rather than dishonest. He reiterated that he conducts his office professionally and with rigorous honesty. No one can accuse him of receiving bribes or collusion. He is honest with the public about difficulties we face as a nation. He refuses to conceal the truth and does not hide behind rhetoric. He further went on to claim that there is absolutely no incidence or occurrence of fact to substantiate the rampant accusations of antagonists. He feels that “independent and fair minded voters” could easily identify the strengths of his character. He believes that regardless of all the negative information that is propagated out there, people who believe in facts, will know the truth and that truth wins out in the end. Ultimately, he feels that he will be judged by his integrity and openness to the public.

We followed this by asking the Prime Minster if there was any one leader with whom he identifies. He said that he is a voracious reader and as such, he is familiar with many well-known leaders, but he feels that at this moment he can most relate to the President of the United States, Barrack Obama. He acknowledges that the population size of Belize is nowhere near that of the US nor is our government near the scope of that of the US. Nevertheless, he feels that like Obama, he was hailed as the agent of change and as they both began their terms, he watched, that similarly to himself, President Obama’s high approval ratings gradually declined as time progressed. The recession dashed hopes, demanded compromises and spurred economic crisis. He said that while Belize’s parliamentary system does not face the gridlock of the United States’ governing body, Belizeans are faced with similar economic conditions, expectations and challenges, thereby creating similar tensions, disappointments, negativity and disharmony. The Prime Minster said that despite the tense atmosphere and barrage of allegations cast his way, the President’s eloquence, persuasive nature and the way he balances his rhetoric is admirable. Along with paying keen attention to the goings on in our neighbour’s government, the Prime Minister also does a lot of reading. In order to keep up with world events and to make decisions with an accurate perspective of Belize’s place within a global context, the Prime Minster reads much about world politics and world economy in papers such as The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal as well as magazines and books. As for light reading, he prefers classics such as George Elliot, Charles Dickens and Charlotte Bronte.

The final question was more personal in nature as we asked the Prime Minister about the effects that a diagnosis like that of Mrs. Kim Simplis-Barrow has had on him. He said it was a tremendously difficult moment when he found out she had cancer. He describes the worst night of his life as when they were waiting for the results of the scan which would determine if the cancer had spread. Her diagnosis was Stage 3, but could have also possibly had advanced to Stage 4. He was absolutely relieved to find out that it was not a Stage 4 diagnosis. He said that even though he has had a tough time watching his wife undergo this fight for her life, he can only imagine that “it is a million times rougher on her”. He said Mrs. Barrow has been a “trooper” so that even though she has had some low moments during the course of her treatment, her courage has been a powerful testimony to her character. She is brave, unrelenting, calm and positive.

At the end of our interview, he thanked us for the opportunity to add clarity and definition to his position and that of his government. We in turn, thanked him for the opportunity to provide our readers with such an up close look into the inner workings of our leader. We also wished him, the First Lady and their family, all the best for the upcoming medical visit this week.

Our Impressions of the Interview:

Leadership is a process. It is such an arduous task that in fact, given the opportunity, most people could not function as leaders. In addition, leadership today is made even more difficult as society has grown cynical, disrespectful and doubtful. We are now in an information age where lies and propaganda can be disseminated in a matter of seconds. People can damage a person’s credibility and reputation in a matter of minutes.

I (Aria Lightfoot) met Justice Clarence Thomas in 2011 and he said something that resonated with me. “We can no longer raise a generation of children believing the game is fixed and raise them in a cynical society and cynical about leaders”. He said that children must believe in hope and possibilities for them to chart the future of the United States. As builders of Belize’s future, we must learn to be respectful in our approach to all our leaders. Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Dean Barrow, has given his entire life to the betterment of Belize. In spite of all the unfavourable political rhetoric that is out there, Belize’s democracy is more vigourous, informative and louder than any other time in our history. We have freedom of speech so our leaders are under constant scrutiny and criticism. Therein lies the most precious gift of our time: the freedom to be who we want to be, the freedom to want what we want and the freedom to demand it from our leaders.

In light of our economic crisis, crime rate, poverty and this recent underlying divisive agenda of anti-government proponents, Belize needs confident, skilled, experienced and unifying leadership. Benjamin Franklin once said “any fool can criticize, complain and condemn and most fools do”. We should be offering solutions to help build Belize. We are at a moment in our society where pettiness, vendettas and irrelevance should not enter into our public debate. We need to agitate for changes but we should not agitate with the sole purpose of undermining our society. We keep reading sentiments such as “this is not my PM or government, I did not vote for him”. Whether or not you want to accept it, once elections are over, the government of the day is each and every Belizean’s government.

We, at Twocanview, only have the best interest of all Belizeans at heart and wish only the best and most progressive leadership for our nation. Is the Right Honourable, Dean O. Barrow, that leadership we seek and need? Only time will tell. In the meantime, let’s lend our best efforts to the development and growth of our country.

“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

-John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961


14 thoughts on “An interview with the Prime Minister of Belize by: Aria Lightfoot and Fayemarie Anderson-Carter

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  2. Dean Barrow is responsible for the shooting and killing of farmer Antanacio Gutierrez and the shooting and beating of others on 2nd february, 2009. He ordered the use of live bullets against cane farmers who were standing up for their rights and were unarmed. Up to today, there has been no court trial to bring justice, no compensation for the grieving widow and her children, no compensation for the injured people, not even an apology. This is the animal that Dean Barrow is. He speaks one thing and acts the other way. Under his watch, there has been the most drug landings on public highways, the most transhipments of cocaine and pseudoephedrines and other chemicals to make meth, through our seas and port and borders. And he is honest? Wake up Belize And does anyone dare to defy any of the above accusations??? You can’t because it’s true.

    • I’m not afraid of calling a spade a spade as long as there is proof…right now all this will remain unproven bc people will not risk their lives/livelihood to come forward…thanks for sharing…

  3. Pingback: “Belize ”Boosts” School Attendance and Access to Financial Services for the Poor” : The World Bank « Twocanview LLC

  4. Impressive report notably highlighting a positive character in message and tone! Twocanview has set an example in journalistic reporting that is worthy of emulation by those in the media business who have the best interests, and well-being, of Belize and all Belizeans at heart!

    • We are trying to move away from what seems to be a prevalent style of discussing our country, which is in very negative terms. We strive to look at things fairly and to inspire hope and cant beat people on the head with the truth stick too much or else they wont be able to get up and do anything….engage,enlighten, encourage,empower

    • I meant that on a positive note actually…Dean Barrow is oft painted as this arrogant, tyrannical attorney but your piece showed another side of him. On another note, living in the States and being at the bottom of the food chain, I tend to side with the Democrats.
      It is said that most college students are Democrats until they go out into the workforce and start paying taxes…then they become Republicans. So now am wondering…if my PM has democratic tendencies, does that make me a PUP or a UDP…Hmmmm 🙂

  5. Twocanview must be commended for such a great article. We are but just humans regardless of who u are……maybe as a follow up, u can interview former Prime Ministers and leader of oppositions……it would be great to read and know who they are.

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