Amidst controversy and fraud allegations, John Saldivar is elected leader of the United Democratic Party
Tuesday, February 11th, 2020
Minister of National Security, Honourable John Saldivar was elected leader of the United Democratic Party (UDP) on Sunday, February 9th at a leadership convention held at the Belize City Civic Center.
Saldivar’s slate also grabbed the contested posts of First and Second Deputy Party Leader via Honourable Hugo Patt and Honourable Beverly Williams.
Saldivar will replace Prime Minister Right Honourable Dean Barrow, who is stepping down as leader of the UDP which he has led for over 21 years.
The decision to elect new UDP leadership rested in the hands of 570 delegates, who hailed from different corners of the country. Deputy Prime Minister Honourable Patrick Faber contested for the leadership post, while Honourable Tracey Panton and Belize Rural South Area Representative Honourable Manuel Heredia Jr., sought the First and Second Deputy posts respectively.
Throughout the voting process inside the Civic Center, the media was barred from gaining any access. It wasn’t until all votes were cast that they were allowed inside. Before any results were announced, former UDP Chairman Alberto August was sworn in as the new Vice-Chairperson after defeating Belmopan Mayor Khalid Belisle. Taking the chairmanship of the party was Attorney General, Honourable Michael Peyrefitte.
Prime Minister Barrow delivered his last keynote address, reminiscing on his political career. “It has been the greatest privilege of my existence to have served the United Democratic Party and Belize,” he said. “To have been the leader for two decades was a joy beyond compare.” Barrow thanked his party supporters and stated that the best option for Belizeans is to vote the UDP into a fourth consecutive term of power. Barrow added that his previous ten years in politics before becoming prime minister in 2008 were tough. “But the good far outweighed the bad, and our subsequent amazing success all but eliminated the memory of our trial in the wilderness,” Barrow said. According to him, the UDP’s political dominance has proven to be unmatched in the history of Belize.
The 570 delegates began voting shortly after lunchtime, spanning to around 3:30PM. The results were made official minutes to 5PM, with Saldivar besting Faber with a total of 342 out of the 570 votes. Minister of Natural Resources, Honourable Hugo Patt, received 390 votes against Panton’s 177 votes, taking the post of First Deputy Party Leader. Honourable Heredia Jr. lost to Immigration Minister of State, Honourable Beverly Williams, who garnered 349 votes and won the post of Second Deputy Party Leader.
After being sworn in as the party leader-elect, Saldivar called on Faber to join him at the podium and stated that the party will continue to work together as they aim to win a fourth term in office. “Together, we will bring victory for our United Democratic Party,” he said. “A lot has been done for our country; we must shine our light so that the country can see that we are the best option. We are going to continue the work, the transformation of this beautiful country of ours.” He called for unity before stepping from the podium and then proceeded to greet his supporters.
Honourable Patrick Faber resigns as Deputy Prime Minister
Unexpectedly on Monday, February 10th Faber resigned from his post as Deputy Prime Minister. He thanked Prime Minister Barrow for the opportunity. Faber posted on his Facebook account, “Thank you for the honor and privilege of having me serve as your Deputy Prime Minister for the last three and a half years. Please accept my resignation from this post. Realizing that the Deputy Prime Minister serves at your pleasure and not necessarily because of holding the position of First Deputy Leader of the Party, I still see this as an opportunity for you to make a fresh appointment. I am grateful for the opportunity given to me to serve in such a high office in the land and I remain committed to serving our beloved Belize with honesty, integrity, and service to the people being my foundational tenets.”
A day after, Honourable Hugo Patt, UDP’s Second Deputy Leader, was formally sworn in as Deputy Prime Minister. In taking the post, Patt stated that he would proudly serve Belize in his new role as second to the prime minister.
Lev Dermen fraud scandal looming over Saldivar’s head
Saldivar has been associated with businessman Lev Dermen, who is currently on trial at a court in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, for money laundering and fraud. A key witness in the case, Jacob Kingston, has testified that Saldivar received monies (bribes) from Dermen during one of his trips to Belize. In an interview after his leadership election on Sunday, he continued to deny any involvement with Dermen. “The cloud that has been hanging over my head has been put there by those who have interpreted and misinterpreted things,” he told reporters. “I have always said that I am not guilty of any wrongdoing. I maintain that until anything else is proven otherwise, that is my position.” Saldivar said that he had not been accused of anything yet. He further stated that he has nothing to worry about and that this case should not affect the UDP’s chances of being re-elected to a fourth consecutive term.
Jacob Kingston tells the court that Saldivar received monies from Lev Dermen
On Monday, February 10th, Kingston testified in a USA court that UDP Leader-elect, Honourable John Saldivar received money from Lev Dermen in 2012. Kingston’s testimony indicated that Dermen gave Saldivar ‘stacks of cash.’ “I was there when Levon (Lev) gave him money,” he said. According to him, Saldivar received $10,000US during a trip to Belize. The testimony further adds that Saldivar used his ministry’s boat to take Kingston and Dermen on a trip to southern Belize. A picture of Dermen beside Belizean military vessels was presented as evidence but was discarded because it was not properly submitted as evidence.
An update from the ongoing case on Tuesday, February 11th, saw Kingston testifying about the communication he had with Saldivar via text messages. According to Kingston, a text message in February 2014, indicates that Saldivar received $50,000. Kingston further told the court that there was an understanding that monthly payments of $25,000 were to be made thereafter to assist Saldivar’s re-election campaign. According to Kingston, Saldivar asked him for the monies and after turning down a wire transfer, Saldivar travelled to Miami, Florida USA, where he received the funds. The funds were allegedly made available by Dermen.
In addition, recent images shared on social media show Saldivar and Belmopan Mayor Belisle socializing with Dermen and Kingston. Mayor Belisle previously stated that the first image was the only time he met with the pair when he thought they were legitimate businessmen. The most recent photo circulating includes a businessman known as Ramon DeSage posing with Dermen, Kingston, Saldivar and Belisle. DeSage is another international accused fraudster, who in 2018, pled guilty to a federal tax conspiracy in the United States of America.
While Saldivar continues to reject the accusations in this court case, Prime Minister Barrow has yet to comment. On January 15th, he told reporters at a press conference, that if any evidence surfaced about any minister involved in the fraud case, he would fire them from Cabinet.
As the controversial case is far from finishing in Utah, Saldivar is preparing to take his post as party leader very seriously. He feels vindicated by his election as the head of the UDP and up to the last word with reporters, has insisted that nothing incriminating would come out at the court case in Utah.
The Opposition calls on Saldivar’s removal
The People’s United Party (PUP) called on Prime Minister Barrow to fire Saldivar after Kingston’s revealing testimony. In a press release, the PUP stated that the UDP will face the wrath of the Belizean people in due course and that Saldivar’s appointment will not only affect their party but the entire country. PUP Leader Honourable John Briceño called on Barrow to remove Saldivar, as he had promised to do if there was any evidence against Saldivar. The official note also cites Section 37 of the Belize Constitution, saying that Barrow no longer qualifies to be the prime minister and should resign immediately.
According Section 37, there shall be a Prime Minister of Belize, who shall be appointed by the Governor-General. Also in Section 37 (2), the Executive, which gives the Governor General authority to appoint a Prime Minister, states: “Whenever the Governor-General has occasion to appoint a Prime Minister he shall appoint a member of the House of Representatives who is the leader of the political party which commands the support of the majority of the members of that House.” For an “occasion to appoint” a Prime Minister to be triggered, the Governor General would have to be informed by the Ruling Party that there is a change in the Office of Party Leader. There has been no such change. Our outgoing Party Leader has not resigned nor has his term of office come to an end. Another article under this section, 37 (4), talks about the removal procedure of a prime minister. The Constitution states that the Governor-General shall remove the Prime Minister from office if a resolution of no confidence in the Government is passed by the House of Representatives and the Prime Minister does not within seven days either resign from his office or advise the Governor-General to dissolve the National Assembly.
Late on Tuesday, February 11th, the UDP also addressed the PUP’s statement on Section 37 of the Constitution. The statement also includes excerpts of the UDP’s constitution saying: Article 9 of the United Democratic Party’s Constitution clearly outlines the process of selecting a new Party Leader. In line with the Constitution of Belize, our Party’s Constitution allows an individual to serve as Party Leader for three parliamentary terms only. A leadership convention like that held on February 9th, in which the outgoing Party Leader is serving his final term permitted by the Constitution is covered in Paragraph 7 of Article 9 of the United Democratic Party Constitution. It explains:
“Whenever the Party Leader is serving the final term permitted by this section, there shall be a session of the National Convention to elect a new Party Leader… The Party Leader so elected shall not assume office until the end of the term of office of the outgoing Party Leader or unless the outgoing Party Leader resigns.”
The official note stressed that Rt. Hon. Dean O. Barrow still holds the Office of Party Leader of the United Democratic Party; therefore, the winner of February 9th National Convention is presently the Party Leader-elect of the United Democratic Party.
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