The Hon. John Briceño has today stepped down as leader of the opposition People’s United Party citing health reasons. Mr. Briceno who represents the Orange Walk Central constituency in Belize’s House of Representatives, assumed leadership of the PUP from former party leader and Prime Minister Said Musa following the party’s disastrous defeat in the 2008 General Elections that ushered in the current United Democratic Party of Prime Minister Dean Barrow.
Briceño was born in Orange Walk Town, Belize. He was appointed as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment, Commerce and Industry in 1998 after the PUP returned to power in the 1998 election. In August 2004 he led a group of cabinet ministers, known as the G-7 alliance, who made a number of reform demands, including the dismissal of Finance Minister Ralph Fonseca from the Cabinet.
When Prime Minister Said Musa refused to meet these petitions, the group resigned; however, Musa subsequently agreed to all of the demands except for the dismissal of Fonseca and the G-7 ministers remained in the Cabinet.
Briceño was later one of the ministers who opposed Musa’s proposal to use tax payers funds to settle the multimillion dollar debt of a private Belize hospital Universal Health Services. Mr. Musa attempted to demote Briceño from his position as Deputy Prime Minister, but Briceño refused to accept the lesser posts in the Cabinet that he was offered and instead resigned from the Cabinet on June 5, 2007.
At a national convention of the PUP in July 2007, Briceño was re-elected as one of the party’s deputy leaders. In the February 2008 general election, in which the PUP was defeated, Briceño was re-elected in his constituency of Orange Walk Central; he was one of only six successful PUP candidates.
On March 30, 2008, Briceño was elected as the leader of the PUP at a party convention in Belmopan, succeeding Musa. He defeated Francis Fonseca, who was considered to be the candidate preferred by the party’s old guard, receiving 330 votes against 310 for Fonseca.
In the past year Mr. Briceño has come under fire from the public and within the PUP for not being able to organise and pull together the various factions in the party into a cohesive force to face the incumbent United Democratic Party, the UDP. The UDP government is going through difficult times as it battles rampant crime, a deteriorating economy, corruption scandals and unpopular moves such as expropriation of private property and attempts to amend the constitution to erode civil liberties and property rights.
At a meeting of the PUP Central Executive in Belize City today, Mr. Briceño announced his resignation. He has been succeeded by interim party leader Hon. Mark Espat who represents the Albert Division Constituency in Belize City. Mr. Espat was a member of the G-7 group headed by Mr. Briceno that had originally challenged former Prime Minister Musa over mismanagement and corruption issues leading up to the 2008 General Elections.
The following is the complete and unredacted text of Mr. Briceño’s announcement:
“Today at the National Executive meeting I announced my resignation as Party Leader of the Peoples’ United Party.
“Consequent to my announcement, the National Executive decided that the Hon. Mark Espat serve as acting Party Leader in the interim.
“Over the past few months, I have been battling with my health issues and it will require me having periodic visits aboard for treatment. In the months to come, as we prepare for Municipal and National elections, the party will require its party leader and all its National Leaders to work at a full 100% of their capacity. After consulting with my doctors, they have advised that I would be unable to dedicate the amount of time needed to head the party to victory.
“These are crucial elections that the party must win. The direction that the present government is taking our country is a bad one- from record unemployment, a collapsing economy and crime spiraling out of control. This is not the Belize that Belizeans deserves and only a PUP government can save Belize.
“It is because of this that I will continue my work as the Orange Walk Central Area Representative and PUP Standard Bearer. It has been a great honor to be the leader of the greatest political party in Belize, the Peoples’ United Party. I need to thank the members of the National Executive and the thousands of supporters across the country who have given me their unqualified support. I will be forever grateful for all your support during my time as Party Leader.
“The PUP is poised to win the next Municipal and National Elections. Let’s roll up our sleeves and continue the noble work of saving Belize.”