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Apr 21, 2017

Elena is B.N.T.U.’s leader after dramatic day in Corozal

Senator for Trade Unions and Civil Society, Elena Smith, is president-elect of the Belize National Teachers’ Union. She defied the odds following allegations of tampering and interference in the executive election of the Union unseen in its half-century-plus long existence. After a delay by the Council of Management to investigate the interference allegations, the vote proceeded for an hour and a half, with counting taking approximately the same time, ending just before six-thirty Thursday evening. Smith emerged victorious with three hundred and forty-nine of six hundred and eighty-six ballots cast for just under fifty-one percent of the vote. Twenty-eight percent or one hundred and ninety-seven ballots were cast for Troy Coleman and twenty-one percent or one hundred and forty ballots for Mario Mesh, her opponents. She takes office on July first with her predecessor, Luke Palacio, as first vice-president and Belize Branch colleague Kathleen Flowers, who was not challenged as second vice-president. Corozal’s Ruth Shoman edged incumbent vice-president and long-standing unionist Adelaida Guerra by eight votes, three hundred and thirty-six to three hundred and twenty-eight, to become national secretary, while Jorge Mejia remains treasurer. News Five’s Aaron Humes has the anatomy of Smith’s victory in Corozal.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

Incumbent president of the Belize National Teacher’s Union, Luke Palacio, gave a blanket endorsement to the two men and one woman vying to succeed him. The Council of Management had just met in emergency session to deal with the the backdrop of accusations of political interference in the coming vote. On site in San Roman were alleged operatives for two powerful Ministers of Government. But Palacio stated that the Union was satisfied that none of the candidates were involved in underhanded dealings in a bid to one of the most powerful positions in all of unionism.

 

Luke Palacio, Outgoing President, B.N.T.U.

Luke Palacio

“You will note that they’ve tried, they have done so – they have vilified candidates contesting for the presidency of the B.N.T.U. You have heard the remarks, the dirty remarks, they have made about Sister Elena, who is contesting for president; you’ve heard the dirty remarks they have made about Brother Mario Mesh – where’s Brother Mario; over here – and you’ve heard the accusations being made also against Brother Troy Coleman. All of these individuals, my friends, all of these individuals are worthy leaders of B.N.T.U.”

 

Palacio added that their opponents wildly miscalculated in the belief that their intervention would hurt or weaken the Union.

 

Luke Palacio

“Nothing in B.N.T.U. is about any one individual, not even the President; but the President is the face and voice of the Union, most times, and if they believe, whoever it is, believe they can muffle whoever becomes President, they have a second guess coming, because you will not tolerate it – the members will not tolerate it.”

 

Members were impatient to get to the voting after the overwhelming decision to proceed, but it would be two in the afternoon before that actually happened. In the intervening time, the three candidates were busy nailing down their support – and the final pitches came about an hour before polls opened. Elena Smith was endorsed by the still influential former General Secretary and lauded lion of the B.N.T.U., George Frazer.

 

George Frazer, Endorsed Elena Smith

George Frazer

“The National President represents the teachers on the Teaching Commission – so you have to know the rules, you have to know the dynamics that play out; the National President also represents the Union and our teachers on the National Council for Education, on other statutory bodies and boards and it is important to have the people with the knowledge – sometimes you have to make the decision there. Elena has been an officer from 1995 and she was born around the Forest Home area, in Punta Gorda, so she has rural and urban experience. She has served on many boards; on the National Trade Union Congress and she was with us shoulder to shoulder all these years. This is not time to be playing games or emotions.”

 

Frazer actually spoke after Smith, who outlined a five-point plan to advance the B.N.T.U. forward and make it more responsive to its members.

 

Elena Smith

Elena Smith, Candidate for National President

“I will ensure that all of us, together, we will R-E-A-C-H – what does that mean? We are going to re-energize our membership within our Union. I am going to work on us educating ourselves as members of this Union. A – members, I am going to advocate for every one of you – it doesn’t matter which branch you come from; it doesn’t matter who you vote for; it doesn’t matter which ethnicity you belong to – through my strong leadership, I will be advocating for every member of B.N.T.U. C – we must work better on communicating with our members. A lot of times our members are not fully aware of what is going on, because the leaders who should take information to you, do not do so. Members, again, we are going to be having our website; we are going to use that website to ensure that information gets to you as quickly as we can. H – I am going to be a president, who will hear your cries, who will hear you concerns, who will hear all the things you have to say, whether they are good or bad,  about our Union. Because a lot of times, teachers have a lot of concerns and there is no one to listen to them because we are all so busy. But if our leaders take up their roles and fulfil their roles the way they should, then there must always be a person there who will be available to listen to concerns, whether it is six o’clock in the morning or ten o’clock at night. We will ensure that you are heard.”

 

And after the voting, the new president told reporters that the Union is above all and she will follow the wishes of her membership.

 

Elena Smith, President-Elect, B.N.T.U.

Elena Smith

“Well, first of all, there is no Luke regime; it is the B.N.T.U. and it is what the members say, is what our President and what the council go by. So my plan is to continue to work with our members and to do what it is that our members want. When I need to stand for them I will do that, when I need to work for them otherwise I will do that. But it is not about me or Brother Luke, it is about B.N.T.U. and our members, they will tell us how to go about doing their business.”

 

Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

 

Inside information suggests that Smith had the overwhelming support of the Belize District branch, which turned out in numbers not seen for many years. Opponent Troy Coleman made enough of an impression with good organization and a galvanizing speech on the convention floor but could not catch up to Smith in the end. Hometown choice Mario Mesh was unable to carry much support beyond Corozal Rural.

 

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