Posted: Friday, February 14, 2020. 3:02 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: In the end, Minister of National Security John Saldivar fell on his own sword.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow, known for being the canniest of political operators, apparently could not bring himself to swing the axe on Saldivar’s head, despite the revelations coming from Salt Lake City, Utah – and the clear untruth that mocked his public promise to fire anyone in Cabinet who lied about taking money from accused fraudster Lev Dermen.
He chose a middle ground – suspension and removal from the recently-won prize of leader-elect of the United Democratic Party. But Saldivar walked away from it all in the sure knowledge that whenever he wants, he may have it all back.
Saldivar made his bones for the UDP in the rough-and-tumble late 90s as chairman of RECONDEV and basketball. Indeed, it was his love of sports that connected him with William “Danny” Mason, now awaiting sentencing for murder in Hattieville. They had been partners in the original founding of the Belmopan Bandits football enterprise, but for reasons unexplained, Saldivar pulled away.
The association with Dermen was apparently for the more venal purpose of campaign financing, which is not an open business with no laws on the books.
But as with Mason, Saldivar looked to be getting away with something.
As late as Friday after Jacob Kingston’s testimony, it looked to be his eminence grise, Ralph Fonseca, in the hot seat; but Sunday’s coronation of Saldivar was not at full throat and the party was hit by body blows that made Saldivar’s position untenable.
When the newsflash of an emergency Cabinet meeting fell Tuesday evening during television news time, followed swiftly by news of the resignation of Senator Stephen Duncan, it had many wondering: would elections be called? Would there be a knock-down, drag-out fight?
Then on Wednesday morning, the first news broke that the meeting would be moved to Belmopan from Belize City. There was a subsequent meeting of all standard-bearers discussing the state of the party and coming together to address the Belizean people. Clearly the secretive body wanted no part of a press scrum anywhere, including the Sir Edney Cain Building – but they got one anyway.
The leaks started coming. Saldivar would stay party leader-elect, but give up his National Security portfolio, or be fired. In the former, he was elected at the pleasure of the party; in the latter, he serves at the pleasure of the Prime Minister. Or he would “rally his troops” and force the Prime Minister’s hand. Later reports had the UDP National Party Council involved. That the Opposition had chosen to postpone their press conference to Thursday morning only fuelled the speculation.
Those in the know say Saldivar is more willing to risk everything because of how much it has taken him to get here. He is the inverse of his rival Patrick Faber: a wily, experienced coyote with sharply honed political instincts. And he has been adamant from day one that he has done nothing wrong in relation to his admitted association with Lev Dermen.
Saldivar says he freely decided to resign, mostly because of “the negative attention being generated by this trial [which] is overtaking my Party and can hurt our chances in the upcoming general elections.” He also insists that the trial testimony does not show he was bribed as has been claimed.
No one emerges unscathed. Saldivar’s running mates Hugo Patt and Beverly Williams, one must wonder, maybe those he was seeking to assist back in 2014 with the Dermen-Kingston funding.
Patrick Faber is content to sit back and wait, perhaps taking on the mantle of the reformer. But though he insists otherwise, many in the party are still saying anybody but him.
The Prime Minister’s hoped-for easy exit is now in turmoil. Does he read the Budget in March and then announce elections? Does he speed up the process for another leadership convention and roll the dice with Hugo Patt, or a brokered compromise, or lay down the law to Faber?
Belize once again confronted its ugly political side this week, and the results are not good. It comes down to our vision of society: can we all get what we want, or are some animals always more equal than others?
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