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Oct 30, 2003

U.D.P.’s John Saldivar wins Cayo South

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It is the biggest electoral division in the country, with almost nine thousand people registered to vote, almost seven percent of the entire voting population, and a traditional People’s United Party stronghold. But with the death of Area Representative Agripino Cawich in August, his vacated seat became a battle ground for power, pitting Cawich’s son Joaquin against the man who was narrowly defeated in March, John Saldivar. That attempt had been Saldivar’s second try because he also ran unsuccessfully in 1998. No doubt he didn’t expect to get a third shot, at least not so soon. But as they say, sometimes three’s the charm, and today John Saldivar was a very happy man.

Patrick Jones, Reporting

Twenty-four hours ago one of the fiercest battles for the Cayo South seat was engaged here at polling station eighty-six, the Belmopan Comprehensive School. And when the last sword was sheathed, around three o’clock this morning, the flag of victory was flown over the red camp.

Thirty-six year old John Saldivar on Wednesday became the first United Democratic Party candidate to win the division. After barely two hours of sleep, Saldivar spoke to News 5 from his front lawn, and said it was simply a case of perseverance paying off.

John Saldivar, Cayo South Area Representative Elect

“Hard work, hard work, and dedication. We did a lot of registration in the last two months. They actually took a hundred and fifty; maybe it would have been two hundred and sixty. They took a hundred and fifty for us in the last month. But before that we were doing a lot of registration and I think that paid off, along with the fact that we were in and out of the homes of the voters on a constant basis for the last two months. I think that personal contact paid off.”

And although he’ll find himself on the other side of a lopsided House of Representatives, Saldivar says this disadvantage will actually work to his advantage.

John Saldivar

“It makes it much more easier, because then I don’t have the pressure of being a back bencher that’s supporting a government. I can really call the shots as I see it and call for help for my people as they need it and without any reservations about going against your party in government. So I think it makes my job a little bit easier to be an effective representative.”

That representation Saldivar says, while it won’t be easy given the colour of his flag, will not dampen his resolve to deliver on his promises.

John Saldivar

“I wouldn’t be in if I didn’t think I could deliver for the people of Cayo South. I believe that it just takes leadership and organisation to deliver for the people. We’ve got to stop this dependency on a government that doesn’t want to deliver. We’ve got to find other ways of dealing with the needs and concerns of the people. All it takes is leadership, and that’s what I’m going to show in Cayo South.”

But while the new area representative is still flying high on the euphoria of victory, P.U.P. spokesman in Cayo South, Belmopan Mayor Anthony Chanona says it was a wounded party and an untested electoral machinery that went into Wednesday’s by election.

Anthony Chanona, Belmopan Mayor

“Well we say we are a party of love and we say we are a party of unity, and we have our roots entrenched with poor people. And therefore I think the challenge for us now is first of all to regroup, look at what really led to this historical defeat and regroup in time for 2006 and certainly in time for 2008. And I have no doubt that that will be done. Cayo south is a P.U.P. stronghold, but a house divided against itself cannot stand. And we lost that election; the U.D.P. didn’t win it. But what went wrong, we did not go into a very short-term timeframe leading up to this by-election with a united party vote. The results of the convention created a lot of wounds within the party. We weren’t able to heal those wounds in time and therefore we went to the polls disjointed and not properly united. When the People’s United Party machinery is united it’s awesome and it would have produced the results that I know we have here in Cayo South.”

But despite Mayor Chanona’s analysis of what caused the P.U.P. machinery to hiccup on election day, Leader of the United Democratic Party Dean Barrow on Wednesday credited good old political footwork for what was an anticipated win for Saldivar.

Dean Barrow, U.D.P. Leader

“Different strategies in different areas. In Belmopan proper, in traditional Belmopan we made the pitch about the need for the strengthening of democracy and the fact that if we were to be able to eliminate the three-fourths majority of the ruling party in the House of Representatives that would provide an additional safeguard in terms of keeping the Constitution intact. I think that’s worked very well in Belmopan. In the Hispanic communities we’ve been able to point to John’s track record when he was manager of RECONDEV, and we’ve also been able to assure them that he, although he won’t be, if he wins, a part of the government, the current administration, that there will be any number of things that he will be able to do for them. We’ve also been able to out there trying to combat the propaganda, which was that John and I and the U.D.P. are anti the Hispanic people. And I think these people needed to hear that from us, needed to be reassured, and needed the attention that we’ve given them there. So in those areas it’s been an attempt at a personal touch as well as giving them the assurance that John will be able to perform for them.”

John Saldivar

“I intend to do that by working with the private sector. If the government doesn’t want to work with me I will get in touch with the private sector and let them understand that providing employment for our youths and providing employment in general for the people of Cayo South is a part of the whole community development that we need in this area if we want to see crime go down, and if we want to see juvenile delinquency go down. It’s all a part of our business. Let’s not wait until the youths are out of control before we decide to do something about them. Give then jobs, give them opportunities, and they will be bale to be productive citizens.”

For Saldivar, ten years of investment in the division has paid off. And while he pledged to bring a new brand of politics to the area, his colleagues on the other side say it’s a good idea, but then again, this is Belize and things like that don’t happen overnight.

Anthony Chanona

“We as elected officials need to understand that John Saldivar is the people’s choice and therefore we should respect that. At the same token, I think that John Saldivar should recognise that we are the people’s choice at City Hall and nothing that happened on October twenty-ninth has changed that. Whether we can aspire to the level of political maturity and put politics aside and exercise governance is left to be seen. I have my doubts.”

John Saldivar

“I certainly want to close by thanking the all the supporters of the People’s United Party that came out to support me. I am sure by now that you know that a lot of them did. And I guess they were using me as vehicle to send a message to their party that they need reform, and I am glad to have been able to assist them in terms of sending that message to their party. I hope that the People’s United Party leadership has listened and will treat their loyal supporters with more respect the next time around.”

Anthony Chanona

“I think some of that happened. I would say some of that happened. I think some party supporters made no apologies that they would be doing just that because they felt that the convention was not fairly equipped. And certainly we will need to look at how to do things better. Given the time frame, Mr. Saldivar was out the gate with an oiled machine left over from March fifth election, and we had, I think Mr. Saldivar made no apologies to say that from the first time he heard that Mr. Cawich was ill he started his campaigning.”

Patrick Jones

“For John Saldivar the easiest part of the mission has been accomplished. And with a P.U.P. central government firmly in place in Belmopan, the real test of Saldivar’s strength will come as a representative and national political figure. Patrick Jones, for News 5.”

News 5 attempted to interview the P.U.P.’s defeated Joaquin Cawich, but he declined. Final voter results were Saldivar: three thousand, two hundred and thirty-eight votes, Cawich: three thousand, one hundred and twenty-two, with a total turnout of six thousand, four hundred and five. The Cayo South seat was created in 1961 and has been held by only three men to date: San Perdomo, Sam Waight and Agripino Cawich.

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