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Feb 12, 2020

PM Barrow Benches Teflon John from Cabinet

On Monday and Tuesday, explosive details including text messages between Jacob Kingston and John Saldivar were revealed in a Utah court. Saldivar agreed to go to Miami to receive fifty thousand U.S. dollars in cash from associates of Kingston. This information, which had been foretold in Kingston’s depositions and therefore anticipated before Sunday’s convention, sent the U.D.P. in a tailspin and the Prime Minister had to act to stop the haemorrhaging.  Today, after a special cabinet meeting followed by another with U.D.P. standard bearers, Prime Minister Dean Barrow issued a three-minute recorded statement on the state of affairs involving Saldivar.  The media camped out in Belmopan, but there were no interviews with either the PM or Saldivar, whose leadership of the U.D.P. lasted for a historic three days.  There are many unanswered questions, but did the PM go far enough?   News Five’s Isani Cayetano has the following report. 


Lev Dermen

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The Barrow administration is reeling from the embarrassment of having to take decisive action against John Saldivar, less than three days after being elected as the new leader of the United Democratic Party.  The short-lived convention victory is recorded as the most fleeting triumph in Belize’s political history and that mark of dishonour and shame that the government has suffered in the wake of the Lev Dermen scandal may very well be a lasting black eye.


Dean Barrow

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“The testimony given in the trial this Monday and Tuesday by one Jacob Kingston has proved, to say the least, explosive.  Kingston incriminated Minister John Saldivar, in particular, and produced text messages in support of his evidence relating to the allegations he made against Minister Saldivar.”


The events of the past forty-eight hours fly in the face of Saldivar’s bold statement following Sunday’s leadership convention that nothing coming out of Jacob Kingston’s testimony would implicate him in any wrongdoing.


John Saldivar

John Saldivar, Party Leader-elect, U.D.P.[File: February 9th, 2020]

“The cloud that has been hanging over my head has been put there by those who have interpreted and misinterpreted things.  I have not been at this point accused of anything.  I’ve always said that I am not guilty of any wrongdoing, I maintain that and until anything else is proven otherwise that is my position and I am glad that the people of Belize saw it that way whilst the media may not have.”


But having gone before the nation to inform of pending measures to be taken against anyone found to have accepted money from Lev Dermen, Prime Minister Barrow was compelled to act today.  That compulsion resulted in the calling-in of all members of Cabinet, as well as U.D.P. standard bearers from all thirty-one constituencies to emergency meeting in Belmopan this morning.  Out of that meeting comes the following:


Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“As Prime Minister, I have earlier gone on record about this matter.  This was after ministers had “sworn” to cabinet that none of them had taken any money from Dermen and associates.  I said in Cabinet at the time, and later at a press conference, that any minister subsequently proven indeed to have taken money and therefore to have lied to Cabinet, would have to leave the Cabinet.  That time for leaving, in view of what happened Monday and Tuesday in Salt Lake City, Utah, has unfortunately come.  I, therefore, today asked Minister Saldivar to submit to me his resignation as Leader Elect of the United Democratic Party.  He has agreed to do so.”


News Five got a reaction from U.D.P. Chairman Michael Peyrefitte late this afternoon.  According to the presiding officer, himself a member of Cabinet, the hard decision taken by the prime minister was a test of one’s mettle.


Michael Peyrefitte

Isani Cayetano

“This must have been embarrassing to go through this entire process of an expensive and elaborate, well-planned convention to have a man administer and take the oath of office and then this is the outcome.  How do you guys now deal with either the damage control or the optics of it, as we would say?”


Michael Peyrefitte, Chairman, United Democratic Party

“Well, you’re either built for politics or you’re not built for politics.  Everybody knows that politics is the roughest game ever, rougher than football.  So when you’re in politics you have to anticipate the possibilities of these things.  You go through a convention, you select a leader and a couple days later that leader resigns, that’s a part of it.  You have to rebound, you have to gather yourself and then you have to choose a new leader.  That’s the game, so to speak.  So it’s not an issue for us.  It’s just tough to see a person who loves the party and whom we love so much have to resign as leader given the fact that this is a person who’s been fighting for leadership of the party his entire life.”


That fight which has seen Saldivar lose on two previous occasions has resulted in a hemorrhaging of the ruling party, in light of public outrage against Saldivar and the Barrow administration.


Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“In addition to the resignation, I have decided to put the minister on indefinite suspension from the Cabinet.  This will do two things: It will give the minister a chance to prove the innocence which he strongly maintains; it will also give time for the government to obtain official transcripts from the trial and direct police to launch and complete a thorough investigation into all the allegations made in the course of that Dermen trial.  The U.D.P. will in due time choose a new leader elect for the party.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.


So Saldivar is without the Ministry of National Security tonight and a replacement is yet to be named. Saldivar has maintained all along that he is not guilty of any wrongdoing.  While the Prime Minister says that he asked Saldivar to resign, Saldivar says he offered to resign.  He also said “I thank all those who supported me during the recently concluded Leadership Convention. It is unfortunate but life is real. Once my name is properly cleared I will resume the work that I love so dearly. I will continue to work with colleagues to ensure victory for our U.D.P. later this year. I am also happy to continue to serving as Minister of National Security.” But according to the PM, Saldivar has been suspended indefinitely from Cabinet.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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