United Democratic Party
Karim Berges (National Campaign Manager)
Near the Belchina Bridge, Belize City, Belize
Progressive, Social democracy
The United Democratic Party is one of Belize's two major political parties, and the current governing party. After ten years in opposition, the UDP won the February 2008 election with 25 out of 31 seats.
Former Prime Minister of Belize Manuel Esquivel twice led the UDP to electoral victories in 1984 and 1993 before losing in 1998 and resigning. The present leader of the party is Prime Minister Dean Barrow, an attorney by trade. The party presents a centre-left, social democratic ideology.
The party colors are red and white. Its motto is "Keeping Democracy Alive".
Party Leader: Dean Barrow
Deputy Leaders: Gaspar Vega, Erwin Contreras
Chairman: Doug Singh
Vice Chairman: Frank Mena
Phillip Goldson (with NIP) (1961-1974)
Dean Lindo (1974-1979)
Dr. Theodore Aranda (1979-1982)
Dr. Manuel Esquivel (1983-1998)
In 1974, electoral opposition in Belize was weak; the ruling People's United Party (PUP) had never lost a legislative election since its founding. The main opposition parties included the National Independence Party (NIP) and the People's Development Movement (PDM), led respectively by Phillip Goldson and Dean Lindo. Representatives of both parties, together with a new Liberal Party led by Manuel Esquivel, met to consider joining forces to fight the PUP electorally. The three parties fused into the new United Democratic Party on September 27, 1973, in time for general elections called for October 1974.
Early Electoral Success
A field of eighteen candidates were selected for the party's bid in 1974. The UDP won six seats and came within a combined eighteen votes of winning three more. Dean Lindo was subsequently named Leader, and Joseph Andrews of Cayo Deputy Leader.
The UDP won municipal votes in 1974 and 1977 and gained seats in 1975 and 1978, with their only setback coming with the defection of an area representative to the PUP. It was considered only a matter of time before the UDP formed a government. However, their 1979 bid failed; in November 21 elections the UDP won only five seats and party leader Lindo lost his to newcomer Said Musa. During this period the UDP advocated a cautious position on the status of the Guatemalan claim and a conservative view of economic policy.
Internal Dissension and Regrouping
In the early 1980s, the UDP suffered from internal maneuvering against new leader Theodore Aranda, a Garifuna from Dangriga. Aranda often claimed that Belize City elements were attempting to stall his leadership, a view refuted by other political observers. Nevertheless, it seemed the UDP had lost some of its original fervour. It put up only token resistance to the controversial Heads of Agreement designed to settle the Guatemalan claim in March 1981, and its position that independence be delayed to coincide with the resolution of the claim did not sit well with some parts of the electorate. Nevertheless, the UDP retained three towns in elections of December 1981.
In late 1982 Aranda was removed as head of the party and opposition leader, replaced by Belize City Representative Curl Thompson. At a January 1983 convention to settle the leadership of the party, college lecturer and UDP Senator Esquivel defeated popular former leader Goldson. Recovered from its dissension and benefiting from the unpopularity of the PUP government then in power, the UDP won Belize City Council elections in December of 1983 to set up a general elections showdown in 1984.
Riding on the shoulders of popular sentiment and the blunders of the PUP, Esquivel led the UDP to a resounding victory in general elections of December 14, 1984, securing 21 seats out of a possible 28 (the number having been upgraded from eighteen). Esquivel pursued a course of minimal government, choosing to concentrate on exports and luring foreign investment.
During its term in office the UDP joined the International Democratic Union and Caribbean Democratic Union, two groupings of political parties, in 1984 and 1985, respectively.
The UDP, in preparing for general elections in 1989, boasted of "rescuing the economy" and turning around the fortunes of less fortunate Belizeans. They pointed to improvements in education, transport, tourism, industry, agriculture and social lifestyles. However, black marks against the UDP included too much dependence on Taiwan and the United States, lack of party unity and a feeling of victimization of certain elements of Belizean society when it fired almost 1,000 public officers in 1995. The PUP had scored victories in municipal towns in the late 1980s, and said they intended to "Put Belizeans First", a reference to the aforementioned domination of government by Taiwanese and American investors.
Between the Governments
The UDP lost general elections of September 4, 1989 by a tally of 15 seats to 13. Esquivel became Leader of the Opposition for the second time. The UDP, while appearing to be stable outwardly, faced a series of events that nearly split the party in half.
In September 1991, Guatemala recognised Belize as a separate territory after pressing a claim to its lands for the previous two and a half centuries. Belizeans took the news warily, well aware that Guatemala could be tricky with regard to their claim. As part of the resolving of the dispute, Belize signed a Maritime Areas Bill that recognised Guatemala's right to Caribbean access that would otherwise have been denied. Esquivel and his deputy Dean Barrow agreed to support the Bill and help sell it to Belizeans.
Unfortunately for the duo, parliamentarians from within the UDP, angry at the complicity of Esquivel and Barrow and rigidly opposing any relations with Guatemala occurring without a full dropping of the claim, resigned in late 1991. These included Phillip Goldson, Derek Aikman and Hubert Elrington. This trio proceeded to form the Patriotic Alliance for Territorial Integrity (PATI) which ultimately became the National Alliance for Belizean Rights (NABR). Goldson charged in early 1992 that Belizean government had become a "two-horse race" between the PUP and UDP (meaning Esquivel and Barrow) and that a third party such as NABR was needed to straddle the middle. The embarrassed duo stopped supporting the now Maritime Areas Act (it had been passed in assembly) and began actively courting Goldson and Elrington. Aikman was forced out of his constituency on charges of bankruptcy in 1992.
In January 1993, the United Kingdom elected to remove most of their troops kept in Belize to stop Guatemala from pressing its claim. This, combined with electoral success in the bye-election for Aikman's seat and the municipal elections of 1993 in Belize City emboldened the PUP to call elections 18 months ahead of schedule, on June 30, 1993. With less than a month to go before voting, the UDP uncovered evidence that the PUP was secretly encouraging alien immigrants to register and vote in the elections. The UDP also hoped to prove that the PUP encouraged the British to leave, intending to again concede Belize to Guatemala.
For further information on these events see National Alliance for Belizean Rights.
The UDP, in coalition with National Alliance for Belizean Rights (NABR), won general elections of June 30, 1993 by 16 seats to 13 for the PUP. Manuel Esquivel was elected prime minister for a second time. Notable about the UDP's victory is that only 49% or so of Belizeans voted for them; it is the only time in Belizean political history that a party recorded a win in general elections without the majority of national voter support.
Early in the UDP's second term in office, Guatemala revived its claim to Belize, stating that all territory south of the Sibun River was theirs and demanding a hearing in the International Court of Justice. The two countries would eventually begin another series of talks, although border incidents involving Guatemalans entering the country illegally and Belizean law enforcement continued.
The UDP were able to make further improvements in several sectors of Belizean life, including the reduction of gang violence, the rise of tourism as a major industry, improvements in infrastructure and social development. However, Belizeans were dissatisfied with the country's economic performance and the remoteness of its officials, including Esquivel. Opponents often scathingly commented that Deputy Prime Minister Dean Barrow was "Minister of Everything" due to his frequent appearances before the Belizean public. Charges of corruption and nepotism were frequently levelled against Ministers Salvador Fernandez, Hubert Elrington, Eduardo "Dito" Juan, Ruben Campos and Elodio Aragon. The PUP made significant strides in popularity, much as had happened with the previous UDP administration, and seemed poised to win in 1998, even as a discouraged UDP made valiant attempts to shore up its public image.
The UDP from 1998 to 2008
The UDP lost general elections of August 27, 1998, winning only three seats. Party leader Dr. Manuel Esquivel lost his seat in Caribbean Shores division and immediately resigned. In early September, Dean Barrow was named Party Leader and Leader of the Opposition.
The UDP established a radio station, WAVE Radio, at a compound on Fabers Road in Belize City late in 1998 before moving it to their headquarters off the Belchina Bridge sometime thereafter. After shutting down its main political organ the People's Pulse due to unpaid bills, the UDP created the new Guardian newspaper to replace it, naming journalist Audrey Matura Tillett as editor. She was replaced by Herbert Panton and then by current editor John Avery. WAVE's current general manager is Juliet Thimbriel.
The 2003 General Elections
Main article: Belize legislative election, 2003
In the runup to general elections in 2003, the UDP stressed its willingness to learn from its mistakes in office. It fielded a slate of 29 candidates for the 5 March elections. In the last three months prior to the election, several scandals involving party favouritism in the ruling People's United Party gave the UDP greater confidence. However, the electorate showed that they still did not fully trust them, and voted them only seven seats. Barrow was named to the post of Leader of the Opposition for the second time.
Participation in the 2005 protests
Main article: 2005 Belize unrest
In January 2005, Belizeans engaged in protests against the PUP's new budget, claiming it demanded too much from the people. UDP supporters demonstrated in front of the National Assembly building on January 14 and January 21, and were behind the scenes encouraging union and student activists to continue taxing the energies of the PUP, making them weaker in the eyes of the people. Barrow famously stated in April 2005 that if necessary he would sanction civil disobedience among his supporters if it meant removing the PUP. Late in the year the UDP began naming candidates for elections in 2008, then more than two and a half years away.
The UDP held its National Convention to elect party leaders in May 2006. Dean Barrow was reapproved Party Leader after his success in March 2006, despite claims he might step down in the weeks prior to the election. Elected as Deputy Leaders, Chairman and Deputy Chairman respectively were Gaspar Vega, Erwin Contreras, Frank "Pawpa" Mena, and Doug Singh.
After former soldier Robert Garcia left his post as National Campaign Manager early in 2007, the UDP named Karim Berges, businessman and activist, to replace him.
The UDP was successful at the polls on February 7, 2008, winning 25 of 31 seats, with Barrow becoming the nation's fourth Prime Minister.
The new Prime Minister is on record as promising honest, open administration, and has named a cabinet of sixteen ministers and 5 ministers of state.