REPORT #66 May 1999

Produced by the Belize Development Trust
It is argued that political systems remain viable if their citizens ascribe to them, both diffuse and specific support. Thus affect for the political system, as well as appreciation of the benefits that may accrue, enhances a system's ability to thrive. The current parliamentary elected representative political party ruler system in Belize has come under increasing fire these past ten years as corrupt and inadequate, to meet the aspirations of the people and economy.

Democracy is popularly understood as government of, by, and for the people. Regarded in this light, some view it as a universal value. Obviously, even to the most uneducated Belizean this is not true of the current political party ruler system in the nation of Belize.

Scholars postulate that rising living standards, the growth of a private sector, the development of an urban middle class, and increasing levels of education facilitate, democratization. Others assert that a democratic tradition can be created in societies with a high degree of mutual trust, a willingness to tolerate diversity, an interest in politics and a desire to participate in political activities. These theories hold, that citizens who are psychologically stable and high in self-esteem are more likely to embrace the democratic principles of compromise and restraint than others. Most of these traits have been sadly lacking in Belize since independence on the national government level. Blamed are the political party control/ruler structure of governing. With a political party clique acting as dictators, ruling by decree using rubber stamp parliaments. Rank and file party adherents seem to take joy in payback, against those of an opposing political viewpoint.

The spread of science and technology, easy access to information and global interdependence have contributed to the pressure for political change in many parts of the world, not least among formerly authoritarian nations. Belize is no different, though so far, through a strategm of monopoly control in communications, the ability of the population to access information via the internet has been severly restricted through financial requirements. This can delay political reform, but not stop it. Much like a pressure cooker, the steam will expand and blow the top, if the safety valve is not released.

Being exposed to new ways of thinking and applying educational improvements enables people to differentiate between the usefullnes of clinging to old ways and the wisdom of adopting less traditional values. Which may account why some citizens support democratic processes and improvements and others do not. The ones most opposed to democracy in Belize are the older generation and the townies, who rely for greater part on a centralized paternal government for their livelihood.

How individuals feel about the authorities or the political system, may be directly related to the nature of their employment, their beliefs about equality, merit versus patronage, financial status and so on. Obviously, politicians in leadership/ruler structures, or civil servants will feel different, than self employed entrepreneurs, or economic slave laborers on banana plantations, or picking citrus crops, or self sustaining subsistance farmers in Mayan hill communities. The idea that a Political Reform Commission composed of intellectual, merchant, townies from the port of Belize City can adequately address and implement the ideas of rural constituents in the Districts, who have totally foreign outlooks to the townies is open to question. The recent Referendum Act was supposed to equalize the differences between control of the nation by the port Belize City intellectuals and the rest of the other five rural districts, whose outlook on life and the way things should be done is entirely different from the townies, who have a 300 year history of exploiting the rural people in the districts. Unfortunately, the government in power gutted the Referendum Act of it's democratic sections, leaving it as a useless piece of toilet paper. Power over the nation still resides with the townies. Not in equal geographic six district democratic distribution.

Although the concept of self-interest generally applies to the individual, in societies in which people have been socialized to believe that society's welfare is more important than the individual's, self interest may extend beyond the personal to the national interest. As such, a general concern for the nation's well-being may also have influenced attitudes toward political reform efforts over the last ten years. Empirical analysis in the villages of the nation's rural districts should clarify whether individuals support for democracy is influenced by approval of national political and economic change as well as the desire for personal economic improvement. Who will do such empirical studies is unknown. Especially since the Belizean colonial centralized model does not offer village's standard government services and thus they are neglected for the most part when it comes to the trappings of improved infrastructure, such as telephones, electricity, sanitation, water filtration systems and paved roads.

Individuals facilitate the transition to democracy by embracing democratic values and upholding the philosphy that the public are entitled to certain rights and privileges. Not all individuals, however, are able to do this. Some are so socialized into the authoritarian dogma that they find it difficult to entertain a new philosophy. The idea that the six districts of Belize should have equal say, in national government is abhorrent to the townies who control the inherited colonial show.

Trust is critical in a democracy. Trust facilitates a willingness to tolerate diverse political and economic strategies, a readiness to participate in political and economic activities, and an ability to resolve conflicts pertaining to district autonomy, initiative, and emotional security. Self serving greedy individuals are the norm throughout the world and this distorts most authoritarian type political governing structures. Greed and self interest are ever present problems in any governing structure. Some political structures deal with these problems of human nature better than others. The Co- operative political management organizational structure in Belize, has proven to work better than the parliamentary political party structure adopted from the United Kingdom.

Tolerance of individuals with opposing political values is established as one of the hallmarks of a democratic citizen. In Belizean government political party structures, this has never happened. But in Belizean Co-operative style managing government structures this lesson has been well learned by Belizean citizens in the producing sectors of the nation.

Such findings imply that satisfaction is not based on attitudes toward democratic institutions but rather on short-term evaluations of the outputs of the democratic system. This offers important insight into the contrast between support for democracy as a legitimate decision-making process and satisfaction with a system able to yield economic prosperity. Of the two systems practised in Belize, the Co-operative Managing Governing political structure has proven to be far the superior, over the lesser inferior warring political party ruler/leader/dictatorship spoils system.

Political observers agree that the slow pace of political reform in Belize may cause disillusionment. ( Ten years and still no where!) Yet little effort has been forthcoming from the academics of the University of Belize, to explain how an inexperienced public may account for and resolve the lethargy of political reform. We know subjectively that the existing political parties are blocking Constitutional change or improved democratic organization for their own greedy self interest. But it would be useful if academics in the education system would tackle the subject with surveys and give us some empirical observations and studies.

One of the interesting observations by political observers in authoritarian systems of psuedo democracy, is that when the economy goes through a period of recession, increasing the level of political freedoms and participation seems to lessen the chances of violent revolt. In these cases, political liberalization by authoritarian leaders/rulers, elected or not, serves as a safety valve for discontent. We saw this with the flowering of free speech in Belize during the last 5 year reign of the UDP party, compared to the climate of fear and political victimization of previous decades.

There have been missed opportunities in Belize for democratization by both major parties. Most glaring was the last reign of the UDP political party. The party outright refused to consider participatory democracy for Belize. The then Prime Minister articulated his belief and desires in the dictatorial system of the power addicted.

In the Caribbean, one case study of missed opportunites could be the Dominican Republic, when Dominican elites had opportunities to democratize twice in the 1960's and once from 1978 to 1986 and again later in the 1990's. Between 1930 and 1961 Trujillo founded a political party that received 100% (hic!) of all votes cast and 10% of the party members paychecks, he imposed monopolies on basic staples, (salt, meat and rice), kidnapped an intellectual, promoted his 9 year old son to Brigadier General, massacred in cold blooded murder an unknown number of Haitians, killed the Mirabal sisters and attempted to assassinate a Venezuelan president. After two attempts at democratization failed ( similar to the attempt under the UDP in Belize in 1997), Joaquin Balaguer assumed power. He then modified the Constitution so he could retain power. ( A typical tyrant's procedure.) This is also possible to do in Belize under the present system and indeed the last Prime Minister of Belize, granted himself a lifetime government pension for 5 years temporary work. Balaguer went on to enrich himself and military elites corruptly. He also authorized some thousands of political opponents assassinations. Intimidation of business concerns who opposed him was normal course, much the same as in Belizean History since independence, by our all powerful Belizean political party leader/rulers in charge of the government. In the 1990's civil society is stronger in the Dominican Republic than it was under the Trujillo regime. Belize also, is enjoying a flowering of civil society during the late 1990's. The window for democratization in Belize however, is a small one and will close at the end of the PUP term in office.

Back to Main Belize Development Trust Page

Maintained by Ray Auxillou, Silvia Pinzon, MLS, and Marty Casado. Please email with suggestions or additions for this Electronic Library of Belize.