As COVID-19 wreaks havoc on Belize’s economy, we as Belizeans are grappling with a very uncertain future. COVID-19 brought to the forefront what we all knew and most turned a blind eye to- our political leaders are nothing but pirates of the system. COVID-19 showed us that they have not invested in our people; have short changed our medical system; did not create a diverse economy; have created an elite gap in our school system; and have left our borders unsecured and vulnerable. The worst part is that our entire political environment has significantly declined. We are not ideas driven, we are loyalty driven, even when the evidence of the human rights and constitutional rights are slowly stripped from the average citizen and even though many citizens, including children, have paid the ultimate price with their lives, freedom and citizenship rights.
What is scarier for many is an uncertain political future for Belize. Dean Barrow was able to galvanize many Belizeans with a message of change, but he proved to be a very dynamic leader who bluffed, and finger pointed his way into three successful election cycles. He changed the political landscape and became an expert at winning elections but failed to implement the systemic changes needed for national development. Even with mounting evidence of poor governance, many people voted for UDP with a belief that Dean Barrow was the ‘Knight in Shining Armor’ who was vested to save Belize. So many were/ are committed to this belief system while ignoring the mounting evidence of the contrary. Changing minds is more difficult that you think. According to Ozan Varol in “Fact’s don’t Change People’s Minds. …” He argues “Doubt isn’t always resolved in the face of facts for even the most enlightened among us, however credible and convincing those facts may be…as a result of well-documented confirmation bias, we tend to undervalue evidence that contradicts our beliefs and overvalue evidence that confirms them.”
But the bigger issue is less the leader of one party and the examination of political parties in Belize. Political parties are the problem and we need to do something about it. The fact that UDP is allowing a disgraced ex-minister who has been closely affiliated with two notorious criminals (Mason and Dermen); and have publicly admitted to hiding proceeds of money, is an indicator that political parties have zero vetting processes, cannot self-discipline and political parties expose the citizenry to serious international consequences for the actions of their prominent members and inaction of the party to address it. And UDP is not unique, PUP still have their worst offenders prominently in ranks – and it doesn’t end there, there is a plethora of evidence of our leaders being named in international criminal enterprises, names called in US Federal courts and proving actions that are nothing short of kleptocracy of the nation’s assets’. Political parties are the biggest facilitators and contributors to the thriving criminal environment of Belize. The past solution has been for the Belizean electorate to accept a certain level of criminality and unethical behaviors and measure the “lesser of two evils” argument to make political decisions. This is no longer acceptable.
How corrupt are political parties? They spit out, undermine, and destroy their ethical members and reject anyone who would want to change the system to make it more equitable and transparent. Leaders are chosen based on their ability to create an avenue for hustle for their prominent members and financiers. They also use their less prominent members to act as guardians and bully anyone who falls out of the rank. They have the same system of control as the mob and engages in some of the same level of criminality. The parties evolving into family business, much like the crime families you read about, is not coincidental. Political parties are centralized and organized to extract public resources for private benefits and unjust enrichment. Methods of control include economic access, access to bloated contracts, high level promotions and scholarships awards for acquiesce and loyalty, and a police force to physically control those who are completely locked out and likely to get out of line. The police acts as the party in power security guards. The Belize Police Force do not solve crimes, their prosecution rates are dismal, and their remand rates are a human rights red flag. They also do not arrest anyone for high level criminal behaviors and are a major part of the systemic problem facing Belize.
Sadly, the citizens are most affected by our system of governance. High quality candidates are locked out, or afraid to enter the process. The electoral process is distorted and political wins benefit only a few. The decline in our system has caused the poverty rates to skyrocket and the level and frequency of violence to increase. The general quality of life is decreasing and if one should reference history as a guide to human behavior, one can predict an eventual devolution to a violent revolution.
Belizeans, with a high level of urgency, must create oversight for political parties which should include financial oversight; registration of parties, and vetting of candidates who can contest elections. We must develop a mandate of ethics that holds accountable everyone to the Constitution and especially those who swear to protect and uphold it. The Constitution of Belize clearly states that elected and non-elected public officers cannot use their offices for private gain; it also mentions how constituencies should be equal as possible and a host of other actions that are currently unconstitutional; but ignored by both political parties. The courts most recent ruling regarding unconstitutional behavior to exclude the DPP is proof of an arbitrary system that fails to make tough corrective action and also signaling they are irresponsible; frivolous and care more about status quo maintenance. Sigh!
COVID-19 has us anxious for many reasons. We know this is the system we have all contributed to and we know it needs to be fixed but we seem paralyzed to fix it. We know years of unchecked corruption and economic downturn will create huge problems in the very near future and added to this, we know there are few people properly articulating a solution. UDP has proven themselves to be as corrupted as the PUP that was voted out due to corruption. After three election cycles, PUP has not re-branded and is bringing forth some of the same members that were voted out because of corruption and it seems like we are caught up in a perpetual cycle of musical chairs.
What about the third parties? My evaluation of the third parties is that some of them can articulate that corruption exists but do not have the grasp of the entire system to properly argue or formulate a credible plan for change. Third parties are already falling into the same traps of the established parties. They have no membership; their leadership is by appointment and they are not open to criticism and self- evaluation. PUP and UDP were first established and became prominent because of card carrying membership and small fundraising before big money entered the scene; so, it was disappointing to listen to one third party leader articulate their need for a big donor. In the mix of it all, is an economically poor population of voters who are poorly educated about their system and many who are afraid of change and refuse to change…better the devil you know!
All is not lost as we have a young and dynamic population who will reject their parent’s loyalty style and blind eyed politics; these young people will demand more from their leaders to bring them to the table and provide them with access. These young people have already started the process of demanding land. Politicians are already updating their policies on this issue because they know that $50.00 simply will not cut it in a crisis state. We need solution-based leadership. We need a solid plan and we need all citizens to understand their part in making democracy viable and accountable. I believe the people will stand up, when they have nothing left to lose and with three months of COVID relief fast approaching an end, that possibility may be closer than we think…We need to fix political parties because if we don’t fix the political party system, and we know they are unwilling to fix themselves, how the hell do you expect them to fix Belize?
to be continued.