United Democratic Party

Belize Table of Contents

The colonial establishment responded to the political challenge of the PUP by founding the National Party (NP) in 1951. But despite official encouragement, the NP enjoyed little popular support. ExPUP members, headed by Philip Goldson, founded the Honduran Independence Party (HIP) after the 1956 split in the PUP. After their defeat by the PUP in elections in 1957, the NP and the HIP parties merged in 1958 to form the National Independence Party (NIP). In 1961 Goldson became party leader but was unable to mount an effective challenge to the PUP. An unsuccessful leadership challenge to Goldson in 1969 led to the formation of the People's Development Movement (PDM), headed by Dean Lindo. Lindo did not try to organize the PDM on a national basis. But in 1969, he formed a coalition with the NIP and ran in a snap election. Suffering a near total defeat, both parties became largely inactive. Probusiness forces within the NIP organized the Liberal Party, probably to strengthen their voice in the anticipated negotiations for a new party. In September 1973, the NIP, the PDM, and the Liberal Party merged to form the United Democratic Party.

With the formation of the UDP in 1973, the outlook for people who opposed the PUP began to brighten. The UDP won 31.8 percent of the vote in 1974 and 46.8 percent in 1979. The PUP, however, still held majorities in the House of Representatives. In the 1979 election, the UDP had expected to receive a boost from the recent enfranchisement of eighteen-year olds but the party was hurt by its call to delay independence for at least another ten years during an election that became a referendum on independence. Moreover, the party still had to overcome the divisions among its constituencies. Lindo, who had become party leader after the 1974 election, was defeated in his district in 1979. Theodore Aranda, a Garifuna succeeded Lindo as party leader. After charges and countercharges of racism and incompetence, Aranda resigned from the UDP in 1982 and later formed a Christian Democratic Party (CDP) that merged with the PUP in 1988. Changes in the UDP's constitution enabled Manuel Esquivel, a UDP senator, to be elected the new party leader. Esquivel, who came to the UDP via the Liberal Party, led the party to victory in 1984.

Beyond the weakness of the PUP in 1984, several factors contributed to the UDP's victory. First, Esquivel went beyond simply opposing the PUP and presented a self-assured image for the UDP. Personal initiative and his platform, which emphasized change, played well in the face of the country's poor economic performance in the early 1980s. Second, victories in local elections had made the UDP a more credible party; the UDP had swept Belize City municipal elections in 1983 (Esquivel was a former mayor of Belize City). Finally, Esquivel's mixed Creole and Mestizo heritage probably helped the party make inroads among Mestizo voters. Earlier party leaders, such as Philip Goldson, had long been associated with opposition to what they considered Price's latinization of Belize.

Esquivel was also able to counter PUP criticism of the UDP's economic policy. He noted that the UPD was merely implementing an economic policy initiated by the PUP in agreement with the IMF. Esquivel pointed out that many issues criticized by PUP--the increased presence of AID advisers and Peace Corps volunteers, the construction of radio towers by Voice of America, and the sale of Belizean citizenship--all began in the previous PUP government. The UDP distinguished itself from the PUP by highlighting its economic expertise and willingness to implement painful, but necessary reforms.

Factionalism and disarray emerged in the UDP after its defeat in the September 1989 general election and after postelection recriminations and increased public attention to the private business affairs of many UDP figures. Nevertheless, the party retained its strong political base as the only viable opposition to the PUP. In February 1990, the UDP Executive Council confirmed Esquivel as party leader and Dean Barrow as deputy party leader.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress