Friday, July 18, 2014

Belize: A Nation of God or A Nation of Laws?

We find ourselves in a dilemma in Belize today: Are we a nation of God or a nation of laws? The answer is not as easy as some would believe. Belize is in a transitional time warp that can be better understood if we saw our collective consciousness in two parts: pre-independence and post-independence.

If the same question was posed fifty years ago the answer would be resound: we are a nation of God! While we were never a theocracy by any means, the Christian religious values which underpinned our collective value system made it no question that the majority of us acknowledged the supremacy of God in our personal and collective lives. Thus, it is not surprising that that God consciousness forms a part of the first principle in the preamble of our constitution. During those days none would have dared challenge the constitutionality of that fundamental principle, out of reverence, or out of fear of being ostracized by this powerful collective consciousness. Questioning God was evidence of blasphemy.

Ask the same question today, however, and the answer is less convicted. Post independent Belize has evolved a new set of values that challenges some of the old values that were taken for granted in pre-independent Belize. One such conflict is in the answer to this simple, yet complex question: Are we a nation of God or a nation of laws?

Clearly the politically correct answer is we are a nation of laws governed by the principles of our constitution and all the conventions and declarations we have signed. So while the acknowledgement of God remains the first principle of the document the definition of supremacy is intrinsically challenged by other principles contained in the body of the document itself, especially those which says that every citizen has equal human rights under the law.

The reason there was no challenge to the legal definition of supremacy in pre-independent Belize was because supremacy meant that God’s moral code, as outlined in the Old Testament of the Bible, underpinned all our laws and the preservation of public morality was based on those religious principles. While the principle of privacy was respected in pre-independent Belize, if there was evidence of any display of public immorality there was an immediate reaction from the public and the law.

This is not the case in post-independent Belize. Our social rules are no longer governed by strict adherence to the old definition of public morality as defined in Judo-Christian ethics. In an era where soft and sometimes hard core pornography can be seen by 24 hours cable channels; where graphic dancehall lyrics coupled with hard-core sexually suggestive videos can be consumed on public media without censorship; where women and children continue to be victims of sexual assault, Belize, as far as public morality, now find itself at a place where the question again arises: Are we a nation of God or a nation of laws?

The gauge for public display of immorality has been so totally blurred today that the definition of what is morally right or wrong is now reduced to personal opinion and protected by the constitutional principle of freedom of conscience. And if you want to extend your peculiar definition of morality to a group of like minds, you are protected by the constitutional principle of freedom of association.

While these constitutional protections are enshrined within our constitution our exercise of those freedoms was different in pre independent Belize. There would have never been a UNIBAM challenge in a Supreme Court of pre independent Belize. Same people, same country, but different times. While there were the cross-dressing “Carmen Mirandas and Shirleys” in pre-independent Belize there was no perceived threat from their lifestyle as there now appears to be in post-independent Belize with the mob attack on “Vanessa Champagne Paris”.

This mob attack was indicative of this underlying clash of old values versus new values. The mob, and the spectators who did nothing to intervene, felt the victim deserved his ‘punishment’ for breaking “God’s law” which condemns men wearing women’s attire. The mob’s attack was spontaneous and irrational but fueled by an innate sense of rightness and justice in their action. So despite church leaders later distancing themselves from the actions of the mob it was clear that the root justification for this mob attack was religious.

The law on the other hand takes the view that there is never justification for assault on a person regardless to your personal or collective disagreement with them. So despite the moral indignation of the mob and onlookers at the behavior of ‘Vanessa’ and their Old Testament instinct to punish him, the law protects ‘Vanessa’ and condemns the actions of the mob.

It was said by one esteemed Jurist that you cannot legislate morality. By this I think he meant you cannot set out laws governing how individuals will choose to act or not act on a particular moral question since moral conscience is the preview of the individual and no one has a right to direct a persons’ conscience – each is personally responsible; this is a principle in law.

Following this reasoning then, the proponents for repealing S53 say that, “to legislate that a certain kind of moral behavior is illegal, based on “God’s law”, is unconstitutional. The state cannot legislate a person's moral behavior or prevent a person from behaving in a certain way as long as those ways do not affect the rights of others or disrupt the public good”.

While the proponents for keeping S53 as is say, “But isn’t it equally true that if you can’t legislate morality, you also cannot legislate the acceptance of a behavior that a sizeable part of the population finds repugnant and therefore, immoral? Can the state legislate that my child be taught certain material I find immoral; does the state have the right to legislate a morally offensive agenda? Isn’t this the same principle in reverse?”

This is an example of the conundrum that Caribbean Jurist faces today. The legal traditions of the West are based on Judo-Christian ethical foundations and have always had moral and ethical excellence as the goals of good governance. However, as western societies have evolved over the last century they have moved drastically away from a God centered society to a man centered paradigm with a result that “God”, as perceived in the traditional Judo-Christian ethical frame, is no longer the source of law: this has been replaced by a UN system of declarations and conventions called ‘human rights’ which are enshrined in the constitutions of most former colonial states in the region.

What does this all mean for us in Belize, in 2014, and how do we answer the question: Are we a nation of God or a nation of laws today? Clearly our recent history shows that we lean more to the latter definition, but are the two mutually exclusive or is it possible to be both? The dynamics surrounding the UNIBAM case brings that question into sharp focus. The battle lines are drawn and the long awaited decision of the Chief Justice will be interpreted as an affirmation of one or the other.


  By Nuri Muhammad













Monday, July 14, 2014

The Unholy Alliance between Belize and Israel: A Commentary for Freedom


The unholy alliance between the Belizean governments both past and present with the occupiers of Palestinian land, the so-called State of Israel, is one of the biggest failures in Belize's foreign policy. It will surely go down as the disgraceful use of elitist power which defies our socio-historical experience, morality, and diplomacy strategies.

Most Belizeans both at home and abroad are likely not aware that before the land of the Palestinians was considered by the imperialist’s powers of Britain and the United States as a 'Homeland' for the so-called Jews of Europe, Belize was also on the top of their list. 

Indeed, this was acknowledged by an Israeli Ambassador in a recent visit to Belize:

“In the beginning of the century there were a few ideas about where to build the new Jewish state. We were talking about Uganda in Africa, we were talking about Belize and other places” - Mattanya Cohen, Israel Ambassador (2009)

It was known that the region of Central America was far too hot for these Europeans.  It was the mild Mediterranean climate of Palestine which became the selected location of the unjust invasion and establishment of an Israeli state. The people of Palestine were driven from their land, pushed behind the barb wires in concentration camps which are now the bombarded Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Guat-Israeli Alliance
Belizeans must realize that the Israeli apartheid regime, which holds our brothers and sisters hostage in their own lands, has been the greatest supporter of the genocidal military oligarchy in Guatemala. And Guatemala, as we are well aware, is a sworn enemy to the Belizean people with an unfounded territorial claim over Belize.

When Belize campaigned for the international support from the United Nations (UN) to achieve self-independence, Israel was not Belize’s ally. In fact, Israel was one of the main suppliers of arms and ammunitions to Guatemala. This created a mood of war during the 1970s (see Shoman 2010, pp. 107, 137, 146).

Israel consistently abstained from voting in the resolutions that were introduced to secure Belize’s independence (see Shoman, 2010). This was done in order for Israel to remain an ally of Guatemala. The power elites of Israel would have benefited if Belize and Guatemala had entered a war because they were going to be the main suppliers of arms and ammunitions. 

In the past, the George Price PUP government did recognize the legality of the state of Israel (perhaps they were compelled to do so). But when the Esquivel UDP administration came to power in 1984, Belize's became a pronounced supporter of Israel. The Esquivel UDP administration declared its Pro-United States Pro-Liberalism policy to the international community. And concern Belizeans, like members from BREDDA and the UBAD Foundation, knew that the Belizean people were heading towards greater international dependency.

Then during the Musa PUP administration in 1998, there was a slight turn away from diplomatic support of Israel. But since gaining power in 2004, the Barrow UDP administration's with its diehard Pro-West Foreign Minister, Wilfred ‘Sedi’ Elrington, has gone to great lengths to accommodate Israel within Belize's body politic. As noted by 7 News:

Israel and Belize have long had an uneasy relationship... But today [November, 16, 2009] in a surprise diplomatic move – Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington boldly cemented relations with Israel allowing a visa waiver and a technical assistance programme. We suspect that it is the kind of thing that could not have happened during the last government when Said Musa who is of Palestinian descent was the Prime Minister. But things change and Elrington today said the new pact will help Belize with knowledge.

Belize now has official diplomatic relations with one of the most loyal military ally of Guatemala. This is despite the fact that Israel refused to vote in our favor during the independence campaign. We are now showing affection to the state which provided arms and ammunitions that could have led to our dissolution as nation. As Evan X Hyde said the “This makes no sense. The friend of my enemy cannot possibly be my friend” (The Publisher, 2014).

As the bombs fall on innocent Palestinians, it becomes obvious that our previous and current governments have wedded an unholy alliance with the occupiers of Palestine. By failing to break our current diplomatic relations with Israel, we are signaling our acceptance to the actions of Israel in our struggle for independence and in the genocide that is unfolding before the eyes of the world.

We must not remain silent while Israel unleashes hell on unarmed civilians. Due to our historical experience we should be the most sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians. We could have been the ones to experience the present state of terrorism of the Palestinian people. This is a call for civil society organizations, civil servants, educators, and academics to insist that Belize breaks its diplomatic relations with Israel.

By Bilal Morris* and Rolando Cocom


*Bilal Morris is a Belizean Journalist residing in Los Angeles. He has authored many articles on Islam in the Caribbean and Central America and on Belize.

Recommended readings:

Perspectives on the Belizean Status Quo: A commentary on “Stasis in Belize”

During my study of Belizean history at the University of Belize, we often talked about “why are things the way they are? And how can we make a change?

In our history sessions, Professor Iyo would often make reference to “stasis” as a way of understanding the Belizean status quo (i.e. the existing state of affairs). As his students, he would recommend that we read his co-authored paper with Michael Rosberg entitled: “Theoretical Perspectives on the Stasis of Class Relations in the Caribbean: the Belize Case Study”.

I recall that Prof. Iyo would employ two analogies to introduce us to the concept of stasis. He once drew a spiral on the board. A spiral he would remark is a gradually progressing curve which emanates from a central point. For the spiral to take shape, it encircles the path of its previous inscription. Therefore, the spiral has a directional flow but it is non-linear, gradual and apparently redundant.

The second analogy, he often used, was comparing stasis to the movement of the earth. The earth sits on an axis. It gradually spins, completing its axial rotation and revolution, only to do so again and again. 

Like the earth and the spiral, the Belizean society has been moving (changing) but has been constrained by an axial positioning which is theorized as the economic mode/relations of production (e.g. slavery; relationship between ‘master and slave’ or capitalism; relationship between employer and employees).

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, stasis is “a state of static balance or equilibrium; a state or period of stability during which little or no evolutionary change in a lineage occurs”.

As a theoretical construct, stasis is an approach to understanding why there has been little or no change to benefit the masses. It allows us to conceptualize “why the more things change – the more they remain the same”. 

Stasis then is both a description of a complex and changing social formation (society) and also a specific approach of analyzing the formation (by analyzing historical periods, party politics, education system, etc.).  

The thesis put forth is that both social structures (e.g. legal, educational, religious, political, economic institutions) and social actors (e.g. Belizeans participation in ‘Wednesday Clinic’, support of the PUP/UDP, participation in PUP/UDP rhetoric) contribute to stasis, where the mode of production (e.g. slavery, capitalism) plays a crucial role.

‘Stasis’ is informed by the theoretical perspectives of functionalism (E. Durkheim) and conflict theory (K. Marx). The functionalist perspective holds that each social sphere (religious, education, symbolic, cultural, etc.) exists in a formation  (society) to contribute to social cohesion and stability. Durkheim is said to have made the analogy that society is an organism. In this line of reasoning, society is the creation of something that is beyond the individual. Indeed, religion, language, party politics, and cultural forms, all exist prior to our individual existence. We enter (i.e. are born or migrate in) a society where the division of party politics, ethnic stereotypes, religious denominationalism, political victimization, clientelism, etc., exists as ‘social facts’ (taken for granted norms). It is suggested that through the process of ‘socialization’ we come to accept and re-enact these social facts.  


In the conflict perspective, there is the belief that a social formation (society) is fundamentally structured by the mode of production (e.g. enslavement, wage-labor, service-labor). In this scenario, the previously listed ‘social facts’ are treated as ideologies which facilitate a notion of ‘false consciousness’ that limits the masses from openly observing their economic oppression (e.g. education limits critical thinking, party politics discourages unity, religion discourages political activism). It is hypothesized that not until the masses become conscious of their exploitation will there be the possibility of change. The masses must gain control of the means of production (land and industries) to alter the mode of production which would lead to changes in the superstructure. (Note: This is a classical interpretation of Marxism, which does not reflect the depth of Marx’s writings. Additionally, religion, education, like other ideologies/philosophical domains can become forces of resistance). 

It is argued that the formation of modern Belize has been the result of various socio-political hegemonic impositions, resistances, and changes which have occurred in the periods of slavery, post-slavery colonialism, and post-colonialism. This includes the introduction, resistance, and abolition of slavery; population growth; migratory movements; establishment and resistance to colonial governance; wage labor resistances; the formation of self-government; the institutionalization of education; and the expansion of capitalist practices and institutions, among many others. 

The dominant political parties in Belize (the PUP &UDP) both enunciate that their respective parties are the solution to Belizean status quo (i.e. the solution to stasis). They persuasively propagate that the current status quo is due to the mismanagement of either the previous or current government in power, depending on which casts the blame on the other.

In the past decades, there has been increased poverty, unemployment, and limited opportunities to land, higher education, and health-care for most of the population. This has contributed to consequential effects such as the high rates of crime, low economic productivity, and an increasingly higher cost of living. And despite the fact that both parties have failed to change the status quo, there remains a high-support for these political parties. These are fundamental contradictions of contemporary Belize.

The persistence of social inequality and the lack of social change is said to be the result of an underlining mode of production which has remained concentrated in the hands of a few. In each historical period (slavery, post-colonial slavery, and post-colonialism), it is said that only the ‘names’ have changed while the has ‘game’ remained the same. Using the analogy of the earth, the axis on which Belize rotates has been the mode of production which privileged the colonial elites and the emergent upper class since independence.

But why do significant inequalities persist? It is argued that resistances have only occurred when Belizeans gained consciousness of the unequal opportunities given to them. It is asserted that the masses and the elites are currently gaining sufficient advantages which “prevent either side [from] opting for change”.

On the one hand, there is the claim that institutions in Belize are conditioning social actors (Belizeans) in such ways which prevent them from challenging the social order. This is the functionalist perspective of their approach. Religion, education, colonial legacies, party politics, and clientelism, among others, are institutions which encourage collective or normative behaviors which keep the elite in power.
  
On the other hand, there is the claim that social actors are purposively gaining sufficient benefits in the present state of affairs.  For example, Belizeans are said to be satisfied with the patronage (monies) given to them to support the PUP/UDP.  There are “powerful and immediate incentives and constraints which make it more logical to resist change than embrace it” both for the masses and elites. In this line of reasoning, the individual is viewed as a rational being who calculates that it is better to accept the social inequalities versus resisting or that it is better to join the elites versus fighting against them (if possible, e.g. the support of the media, civil servants, professionals of the PUDP).

Stasis is a viable and insightful socio-historical tool to conceptualize the Belizean experience. It provides an illustrative and analytic account of the role of historical factors and ongoing social actions of Belizeans in the production and reproduction of social-inequality.

However, it offered little analysis on the ways in which ‘stasis’ can be disrupted or transformed. The possibilities of change were ultimately conceived in a classical Marxist fashion: it is not until there are severe economic conditions that Belizeans will advocate for change. While the authors did recognize that harsh economic conditions do not necessarily cause a resistance, it was the common argument for future possibilities of change in Belize.

But why should we wait for economic conditions to become worst? If society is the creation of human actions, why shall we assume that things will get better in the long run? And why should we leave it to future generations to transform it? And what guarantee do we have that they will do so?

Future analysis of ‘stasis’ must involve an examination of the ‘identity’ of the Belizean elite and masses: Who are the Belizean elites? Are the elites a unified ‘class’? How does an individual become an elite? Are the masses a unified ‘underclass’ submerged in ‘false consciousness’? Are there any current ideologies (nationalism, multiculturalism, communism, human rights), which can be re-articulated to mobilize Belizeans? What alliances can be made between academics and activists? These are some of the questions we may begin to ask to further the perspective of ‘stasis’ and stimulate a project of political re-thinking and activism in Belize.

Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it. – Karl Marx. 

References:

Iyo, Joseph and Rosberg, Michel. (2002). Theoretical Perspectives on the stasis of class relations in the Caribbean: the Belizean case study. The Belize Country Conference. UWI. Retrieved July 10, 2014, from http://www.open.uwi.edu/sites/default/files/bnccde/belize/conference/paperdex.html

Stasis. (n.d.). Retrieved July 10, 2014, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stasis

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Scare of Mother's Day Cheer (Amandala)

The following is a letter to the Editor (Amandala) in which I sought to summarize and publicize the issues pointed out in my previous post called "The Scare of Mother’s Day Cheer: Media, Politics, and Hegemony in Belize": 

*Please note that I had inaccurately stated "Hours after..." in paragraph five. The conference at which the UDP ministers were interviewed actually took place in the morning. It was the PUP press conference that took place in the afternoon. Therefore, it was not 'hours after' but hours earlier. I assumed that the UDP ministers were interviewed after the PUP conference because that was the order it was presented in most news media. It was not until recently when I found Patrick Jones report that I realized this. 


Dear Editor:

Last week, I noted that many of The Publisher’s (Evan X Hyde) past writings on media politics and civil society were reflected in the coverage of the “Mother’s Day cheer.” Politicians and journalists all struggled to define what meanings and values were to be associated with the “cheer.” In so doing, one observes the continued normalization of party politics (PUDP) and the role of the media therein.

Anthony "Boots" Martinez
Several observations are worth recounting here: The first is the question of “objectivity” in the media. It is said that media should be the watchdog of democracy. But who is feeding the dog? (Hon?) Anthony “Boots” Martinez accused Channel 5 of “not [being] objective at all”. Of course, Martinez was merely struggling to articulate a positive image of himself and the UDP.

But this reminded me of Amandala’s past attribution of the power-interest that Ashcroft and the PUP have in Channel 5. This perhaps also rationalizes why Channel 5 did not include the question and response segment by Jules Vasquez in which he questioned the PUP’s “moral authority” to call upon civil society.

Whereas News7 sought to “balance” the perspective by stating that the PUP was guilty of similar practices, they also displayed some power-interests. They did not include (Hon?) Francis Fonseca’s full response to the question posed by Jules. In his response, Fonseca mentioned that the Barrow administration came to power “saying to the Belizean people that he would blaze a new trail, that he would do things differently.” In a classic PUDP rhetoric, Fonseca also wanted us to believe that when they come to power that they will do things differently. In the end, News7’s segment concluded on a note of reminding us of how unsuccessful the PUP was in their 2008 “cheer” program.

Image from 7News
 The Guardian and Belize Times also contributed in keeping the “cheer program” within the domain of the PUDP. Each claims that it is the other political party that is disenfranchising the Belizean people. These outlets provide much of the “common-sense” rhetoric that sustains the PUDP. The Guardian presented the “cheer” program as something noble of Government. They boldly declared: “PUP Has No Love for Mothers”. As for The Belize Times, they provided no independent analysis of the “cheer.” They simply reprinted the speeches given by the PUP members at the conference. Regrettably, to their loyal readers, these newspapers make perfect sense.

Another issue to bring up is the use of the word “political” by politicians and the media. (Hon?) Balderamos said that the cheer program was “partisan” and “political”. Hours after, (Hon?) Martinez was claiming that the media was making the “cheer” a “political thing”. The term “political” is used by the media and politicians to undermine any critique and resistance to the PUDP. This translates into the fact that when a resistance (such as this letter, a speech, or demonstration) is branded as “political” it is viewed as nothing less than a biased, self-serving, and unfounded action. It is branded as pro-PUP (or pro-UDP, depending on which is power and who is saying it). It is time that journalists take issue with the use of this word and begin to unmask the rhetoric of the PUDP.

On a final note, the power of the PUDP continues to re-establish itself by way of politician’s rhetoric and the lack of active civil society organizations. When the UDP ministers were interviewed, they all claimed that the “cheer” was a “transparent” program and that it was legitimate because it was a “decision by Cabinet.”

However, all media houses gave us different estimates of the “cheer”: Amandala $750,000, Plus TV $800,000, 7News $850,000, Channel 5 $1,000,000. Party politics continues to affect us but as (Hon?) Godwin Hulse would have it: that is just the “nature of the political beast”.


Well, the beast must be taken down. Where are the civil society organizations in this country? Where are the feminist/womanist organizations that ought to be outraged by this injustice? If we are to move forward, there must be a serious interrogation and dismantling of the “common-sense” logic and divisive practice of party politics in Belize. This is political.

Keep strong Belizeans,
Rolando Cocom
Belizeanminds.blogspot.com

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Scare of Mother’s Day Cheer: Media, Politics, and Hegemony in Belize

Introduction

In recent news, the People’s United Party (PUP) held a press conference in which they critiqued what has been called the ‘Mother’s Day Cheer’ program.  The ‘cheer’ involves the distribution of about $800,000 to $1,000,000 to United Democratic Party (UDP) representatives for redistribution to mothers in their respective constituencies. No funds were given to the fourteen PUP representatives in parliament. The PUP referred to the program as an act of “blatant political corruption”.

In this reflection, I focus on the media’s coverage of the press conference.  I analyze what is included and excluded in the various media reports. I also examine the comments of politicians in the media. I contend that the media as well as politicians are explicitly and implicitly contributing to the ‘normalization of party politics’ in Belize.  

By way of this reflection, I am also attempting to improvise and develop a theoretical framework towards understanding and challenging the current political regimes in Belize. I hope to elaborate on this framework in future posts.


Hegemony of the PUDP

The hegemony of the PUP and the UDP, or the ‘hegemony of the PUDP’ for short, refers to the way in which party-politics dominates our society and positions our actions/inactions.

It is the result of several factors linked to economic, social, historical, cultural, and political discourses and practices. It is a historical outcome as well as an active on-going process (also see Iyo and Rosberg elaboration of ‘stasis’ in Belize).


To maintain this hegemony, social agents (politicians, party fanatics, etc.) aim to contain any form of resistance through institutional and social structures such as the media.

The discourses and practices which contribute to this hegemony are generally taken for granted. It is sustained by an array of ‘common sense’ ideas. For instance, there seems to be a common opinion that both major parties are undermining us but that this is ‘just the way it is.’ We are subjected to settle for one of the ‘lesser of the two evils’.  

In this light, I contend that the ‘cheer’ program was able to have come to pass precisely because of this hegemony.  The ‘cheer’ program is an articulation (expression and linkage) of various discourses (sets of ideas) and practices. For instance, there is a dominant discourse that ‘mother’s day’ is about giving gifts to mothers. There is also the discourse that decisions from the Government or specifically the Cabinet (such as to disburse the funds) are legitimate ‘no mata what’.

In terms of practice, the mother’s day ‘cheer’ bears the traces of similar programs of the past. In December 2013, “it was reported that the Government had approved $2.23 million for the second annual X-Mas Cheer Program” (Amandala).  Secondly, it is not only practiced by the UDP. The PUP is equally known to distribute funds based on partisan lines. Indeed, the PUP had participated in the 2013 ‘X-Mas Cheer’.

Thus, the ‘cheer’ program is an outcome of PUDP hegemonic practices. It depended on an articulation (linkage) of various discourses and practices which are ‘common-sense’ and normal.

Media and politics

The media is a major site of the hegemonic struggle. This is where PUDP scandals and resistances to the PUDP are brought to the forefront.  They struggle over the meanings and linkages of the ‘cheer program’. They do so in ways which are sensational and tied into the ‘common-sense’ discourse of the PUDP. 

Journalists are confronted by multiple internal and external pressures. I think journalists do seek to add a critical edge to their reporting but are considerably constrained. At the institutional level, there are many financial and political interests vested in the media houses which limit critical perspectives of the PUDP.

It also seems that most of the media houses in Belize seek to deliver news in a sensational but ‘neutral’ manner. Presenting the news in a ‘neutral’ manner is a strategy that allows the media to be interpreted as a credible source (and sustain an audience to generate revenue).

The exceptions to this observation of ‘neutrality’ are in the cases of respective PUP and UDP controlled radio stations (Positive Vibes and Wave Radio) and newspapers (The Belize Times and The Guardian). These outlets are influential mediums which contribute to the ‘common-sense’ of the PUDP hegemony.


The Belize Times and The Guardian

The political alliances of The Belize Times and The Guardian newspapers are very obvious. Each newspaper claims that it is the Other political party that is exploiting the Belizean people.

In The Guardian, the ‘cheer’ program is construed as something logical and noble of the Government. “Nothing is wrong” with the ‘cheer’ program was the opinion of The Guardian:  

“Dean Barrow took the decision to assist mothers across the length and breadth of this country to ensure that that they got some appreciation during this year’s mother’s day - absolutely nothing wrong with that!”

In The Belize Times, there was no analysis of the cheer program. They simply reprinted the speeches given by the PUP members at the press conference.

The polemical rhetoric of these newspapers is illustrated in the bellow quotations:



Channel 5 News

Channel 5 delivered three segments on the ‘cheer’ program. The first report presented the PUP press conference. The other three segments were interviews with UDP ministers.

In their segment entitled “Opposition bashes Government’s cash giveaway”, we were basically given the footage of the PUP officials who criticized the ‘cheer’ program.

Yet, it is note examining the way in which they introduced the segment. They stated: “The gesture, which has been described as a party political promotion, has been condemned by the opposition.” With the use of the phrase “has been described” a degree of ‘neutrality’ is suggested. In other words, Channel 5 does not state categorically that it is a ‘political promotion’ but rather that it ‘has been described’ as such.

The segment continued with a clipping of the conference in which Dolores Balderamos-Garcia, a PUP representative, dubbed the initiative as a “…blatantly political move… partisan, patronizing and political.”



Channel 7 News

In Channel 7 News, the story included a significant addition. The headline was: “PUP Says UDP Mother’s Day Gift Programme Demeans Democracy”.

As was the case with Channel 5, the title of their story also suggests ‘neutrality’ in the reporting. It explicitly states that it is not 7 News who is stating that the program demeans democracy. This is to say: ‘we at 7 News are not sure if it does demean democracy’.

In their introduction to the story stated, they stated no PUP representatives were included in the mother’s day ‘cheer’ program. However, they also stated that PUP representatives did receive funds in the past Christmas Cheer and that this time around only UDP representatives were included. According to 7news: “That's politics as usual, but today the Opposition cried foul.”

At the end of the conference, Jules Vasquez, from 7News questioned whether or not the PUP had the ‘moral authority’ to call upon civil society organizations (CSOs) to condemn the cheer-program. Jules argument was that if the PUP is guilty of the same, why are they ‘crying foul’?.

As the segment continued, 7 News suggested that there would be no resistance over this:  

“But civil society, or the churches for that matter are not likely to be roused by the pots and kettles of the P-UDP. After all, they didn't say anything either when the PUP representatives and standard bearers divided up 15.3 million Belize dollars in the one month before the 2008 general elections. It was shared out in so called housing loans ranging from 400 dollars to eight thousand dollars. A disproportionate number of those loans were distributed in the Freetown Division where Francis Fonseca was and still is representative” (Emphasis added, 7News).

The ‘cheer’ program which perpetuates political dependency is considered as a ‘regrettably’ normal practice.

7News also seems to have been undermining the PUP by stating that Francis Fonseca (the party leader of the PUP) had equally participated in a similar program in 2008.

This style of reporting is commonly used by Jules, especially at PUP press conferences. His line of questioning conjures the idea that the PUP is as guilty or perhaps more guilty of partisan practices than the UDP. (One can validate this by reviewing interviews on the Penner passport scandal and the issue of naturalizing citizens before elections.)

Whereas I agree with Jules (7News) that it is hypocritical of the PUP to challenge the ‘cheer’ program, this line of questioning is beneficial to the PUDP hegemony.  This leads to the opinion that the UDP is the ‘lesser of the two evils’. It validates the view by a blogger on Channel 5 who said: “The PUP’s need to shut up because they did the same thing in their time period.”

This is unfortunate because Jules is an astute journalist. It appears that Jules is not allowed to or does not desire to shake the boat too hard.  Nevertheless, I would admit that he remains one of the most critical and brilliant journalists at the moment. 

Additionally, 7News did not include Fonseca’s full response to Jules question on the ‘moral authority’ of the PUP to condemn the ‘cheer’. I suspect that this exclusion was strategic when one listens to the rest of Fonseca’s response. It indicates a power-interest of 7News to not give a ‘black eye’ to the UDP.

 (I am unaware of the explicit political ties of 7News to the UDP. However, Jules father, Nestor Vasques is a prominent UDP supporter [founder?]. Moreover, The Belize Times (PUP affiliated) is of the opinion that News 7 is pro-UDP. Click here for a statement by Belize Times against 7News). 


Plus TV News

Plus TV is one of the most recent additions to the various media houses with nation-wide television coverage.

For some persons, Plus TV and Love FM are considered to be non-partisan media houses. I remain pragmatic of such opinions.

In the segment from Plus TV, it was reported that PUP were only complaining about the ‘cheer’ because no funds were given to them.

In their perspective, this is ‘typical political rhetoric’; they stated:

Hon. Balderamos Garcia called on other members of civil society to condemn what she called the irresponsible misuse of taxpayers’ funds to curry political favor and added that it showed the desperation of a Government about to fall.  Typical political rhetoric, but whether it will rally the majority is anyone’s guess. (Plus TV, transcript)

Plus TV also included Francis Fonseca’s reply to the question by Jules Vasquez (which was omitted from 7News):

“The point is that as many have said because that is the UDP propaganda; that is their line.  It was done by the People’s United Party, so we can do it as well. As I recall, that was not the mandate given to Mr. Barrow in 2008.  As I recall, he came into office with your support saying to the Belizean people that he would blaze a new trail, that he would do things differently; that he would be an accountable leader.” (Plus TV, transcript)

The PUP party leader, Francis Fonseca, did not totally reject the idea that the PUP has not executed similar programs. However, Fonseca said that the practices of the PUP were not comparable to the UDP.

Fonseca claimed that the UDP mandate was to be different from the PUP, as reflected in this paraphrase by Plus TV:

“Fonseca earlier insisted that any similar PUP programs were done more equitably and justly than those of the UDP, condemning as “propaganda” suggestions that because the PUP did it, the UDP can too.”

Fonseca also claimed that: “We [the PUP] are here to place on the record that under the United Democratic Party, the corruption and abuse of public funds has become institutionalized” (Plus TV).

Fonseca sought to secure a positive perception of the PUP by claiming that things will be different when the PUP administrates the government: “when we become the government of Belize, it will not be business as usual; there will be accountability” (Plus TV).

(I was not able locate the online news coverage from Love FM; therefore, they are excluded from this reflection. In general, Love Fm does not make sustain critiques against the PUDP hegemony with a preference to promote ‘national unity’.)


The opinions of UDP Ministers

Additionally, on the day of the press conference, two UDP ministers were asked for their opinions on the ‘Cheer Program’. 

Godwin Hulse, current UDP Minister of Immigration, was asked for his opinion on the matter. He claimed that because he is a member of ‘a team’ he would not complain about how his team members made their ‘goals’.

His comments were:

“We will take the criticism of course that it’s not given to everybody, but that is the nature of the political beast… But you know there is a thing in Belize, has always been and will continue to be…however you want to do it or say it otherwise, that political parties stay in power by maintaining their majority…”. (Channel 5)

By way of these comments and metaphors, the ideology of party politics and clientelism is re-established.

This also speaks volume to emerging politicians who say they want to join the PUDP in order to change the system. Hulse’s experience and remarks shows that the ‘political beast’ is very powerful. 

Anthony Boots Martinez, UDP Minister of Human Development, also sought to bring a closure to the debate by accusing Channel 5 of ‘infiltrating miss-information’ to the Belizean public. He claimed that the media must be ‘objective’:

“Unu deh try mek wah whole political thing, especially Channel Five. Everything Weh dey run da nothing positive…they try fu even infiltrate all kinda misinformation… I have problem with Channel Five weh no report objectively yu know” (Channel 5 transcript).

Three days after, Channel 5 interviewed Santiago ‘Santi’ Castillo, another UDP minister, asking for his opinion on the ‘cheer’. When he was asked why only UDP ministers received funds for the mother’s day ‘cheer’, he used the same argument put forth by Hulse:

“That they were not included this time, as Minister Hulse said in a previous interview, we are part of a team and whatever the team decides to do, we do that. We are team players.” (Channel 5).

Politicians tend to be very cognizant over what terms and meanings are associated with their political practices. Meanings and terms are fought over to silence the contradictions and criticisms which may undermine their authority. They seek to bring a closure to the debates in ways which will secure their hegemony.

Conclusion

This reflection was an attempt to highlight the normalization of party-politics in Belize and the role of the media therein.  I discussed the ‘cheer’ program as an example of a discursive and dividing practice of PUDP hegemony.

It was observed that the media houses have attempted to appear ‘neutral’. However, on the basis of what was said/not said and included/excluded in the respective news segments, there are signs of power-interests. The media commentaries as well as politicians all sought to bring a ‘closure’ to the set of meanings and values associated with the ‘cheer’ program.

Some of the major observations are as follows:
  • Channel 5 was accused of being pro-PUP. They did not include the question and response segment that challenged the PUP ‘moral authority’.
  • News7 sought to ‘balance’ the perspective by stating that the PUP is guilty of similar practices. However, they did not include Francis Fonseca’s full response to the interview question posed.
  • Plus TV was of the opinion that the both political parties are expressing “typical political rhetoric”.
  • The Guardian and Belize Times are openly polemical newspapers. Each claims that it is the Other political party that is disenfranchising the Belizean people. They are powerful enunciators of the ‘common-sense’ rhetoric.
  •  The UDP politicians sought to maintain a positive image of themselves and of the UDP. They claimed that it was a ‘decision by cabinet’ which should make the ‘cheer’ program legitimate and silence criticisms.
Citizens must be weary of how the media construct our socio-political realities. I think each of the media sources provided partial but also valuable insights. It is important that we do not become heavily reliant on one media source.

Given the premise that hegemony depends on the linkages of specific discursive-practices, it also means that we can develop a counter-hegemonic struggle to the PUDP. The media as a site and participant of this power-struggle must be seriously interrogated. We must question the (re)presentation and practices of party politics which form part of the ‘common-sense’ reality in Belize. The goal is to un-link discourses and practices of party-politics for a better and more democratic Belize. 

For my commentators: Am I Pro-PUP?

Any critique against the UDP gets one branded as being pro PUP (or vice-versa, depending on which is power). This epitomizes the precise ‘common-sense’ notions that need to be deconstructed. The below comments were posted on Channel 5, which are likely to be leveled against me:

“So why dem bex fa? PUP get wa chance fi give back money to deh people but noooo dem neva do it, dem thief it and now dem di cry fowl?...”

“The PUP’s need to shut up because they did the same thing in their time period.”

Areas for further inquiry

-There is a need to analyze the lack of activism by CSOs and religious organizations. Is it because many CSOs are reliant on government funding?  

-A more serious analysis must seek to examine the containment of the many other historical and contemporary resistances. The contemporary ones include: the SATIM vs. the State/U.S. Capital; Third Party vs. the PUDP; citizens vs. the State/Bz-Guat Discourse; PUP vs. UDP; Teachers vs. the State; Religions vs. the State (gender issue).

-An understanding of the ‘common-sense’ of party politics in the media also requires further analysis of the politically controlled radio stations (WAVE Radio and Positive Vibes). The hosts of these shows are significant contributors to the divisive rhetoric of party politics.

-There is also a need for an analysis on how ‘cheer’ programs contributes to the emotions and perceptions of people towards the party (both PUP and UDP). People should not be simply viewed as ‘dopes’ - people fooled by politicians. What is the short term versus long term benefit?  What are some of the perceptions?  (Also see the work of Dylan Vernon and Iyo and Rosberg).