Briceno shaking up and shaking out the Old Guard

Posted: April 18, 2016. 8:00 a.m. CST.

By BBN Staff: Since taking over as the leader of the People’s United Party (PUP) a little over two months ago, John Briceno has set out to ensure things don’t end for him the way it did in his first stint as leader. Briceno took over a fractured party, consumed with dissent and dysfunction.John-Briceno

Over the last few weeks, though, Briceno has set down a path that could either consolidate the PUP’s affairs or send it even deeper into the political abyss it has found itself in since 2008. Briceno has decided that in order for the PUP to move forward he needs to shake things up and shake out the old guard.

And while he may never acknowledge that publicly, political pundits know enough to be sure this is the case. It is widely accepted that the old guard was responsible for Briceno stepping down as party leader in 2011, so it is natural that Briceno would seek to surround himself with those loyal to him.

He has appointed Lake Independence area representative Cordel Hyde as the party’s new deputy leader. This came as no surprise as Briceno had already reshuffled the seating arrangements in the House of Representatives, selecting Hyde to sit at his side. And while this may not have meant much then, some certainly saw it as an indication that more changes were to come. And come, they did.

At a national executive meeting a couple weeks ago, Briceno announced that Ramon “Monchi” Cervantes Jr. would no longer serve as the party’s treasurer being replaced by Chris Coye, though he was elected by the party to serve in that capacity. Cervantes didn’t make a big deal at the time but he indicated that he wouldn’t relinquish his post without at least some resistance.

Ramon Cervantes (PUP, Orange Walk North)

Cervantes’ supporters in Orange Walk North were reportedly so enraged at Briceno’s decision they planned to riot and park cane trucks in front of the party leader’s house but “Monchi” calmed them down. Cervantes most likely did so because it would hurt his chances of gaining favor with Briceno, who seems to be on a mission to cleanse the party of old guard loyalists.

The Orange Walk North party council wrote a letter to party Chairman Henry Usher expressing their outrage at the decision. Briceno reportedly later met with the council to try and ease the tensions but Usher has indicated that the party will still move forward with Briceno’s decisions.

Briceno also made other changes during his first executive meeting, appointing Lead Opposition Senator Eamon Courtenay as National Strategic Development Manager. Attorney Andrew Marshalleck has also replaced former senator Anthony Sylvestre as the party’s Legal Advisor.

Briceno also appointed his brother, Jaime Briceno, his long-time campaign manager Servulo Baeza, Grace Simpson and Wendy Castillo as Deputy Campaign Managers for the party. Additionally, three deputy Communications Directors were named: Emilio Zabaneh from the south, Orange Walk Town Mayor Kevin Bernard, and former Minister of Agriculture Dan Silva.

Long-time Briceno loyalists Narda Garcia and Zoe Zetina from Belmopan were also appointed co-chairs of Policy and Reform; while Senator Paul Thompson was assigned to be Liaison for Civil Society and Social Partners; and veteran party stalwart Bill Lindo was brought in as Research and Development Coordinator. Linsford Castillo was named the party’s new Secretary General.

Briceno also announced that Victor Espat had stepped down as National Campaign Manager and that post would be filled later on.

Briceno, it appears, is making the changes necessary to ensure he has longevity as the party’s leader without the old guard undermining his leadership. It remains to be seen whether these changes will benefit the party in the future at the polls but it became clear last November that the PUP would have to make drastic changes after being rejected by voters at three consecutive general elections. And Briceno has learned from his last experience that in order to be a successful leader he would first need to shake the natural order of the party and establish a new status quo moving forward, pushing out the old and ushering in a new era for the blue machine.

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