Esquivel, Manuel Amadeo (1940–)

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Esquivel, Manuel Amadeo (1940–)

Manuel Amadeo Esquivel (born May 2, 1940) was prime minister of Belize from 1984 to 1989 and again from 1993 to 1998. The youngest of four children, he was born in Belize City. His mother was a housewife and part-time music teacher; his father repaired office machines. He grew up in a modest, two-story frame house that the family still owns. After attending the Jesuit-run St. John's College, he enrolled in Loyola University of New Orleans, graduating with a bachelor of science degree in physics in 1962. He returned home and began a teaching career at St. John's that would last until 1984. In 1966 he won a scholarship to Bristol University in the United Kingdom. Here he met his future wife, Kathleen Levy, and received a postgraduate certificate in physics education in 1967. Returning to Belize, he resumed teaching at St. John's while developing an interest in politics.

In 1973 Esquivel was a founding member of the United Democratic Party (UDP), an alliance of three parties opposed to the People's United Party (PUP), led by George Price, which then dominated Belizean politics. From 1974 to 1980 he served two terms on the Belize City Council and was appointed to the Senate, the upper chamber of the national legislature, in 1979. Because the last pre-independence elections had been held on November 21, 1979, the first national elections following independence were not scheduled until December 14, 1984. Esquivel led the UDP to an upset victory, winning twenty-one seats to the PUP's seven, becoming Belize's second prime minister on December 17. The New York Times dubbed him the "Comet of Belize." In 1985 Queen Elizabeth II appointed him to her Privy Council.

During a five-year term in which he also held the finance and defense portfolios, Esquivel oversaw an International Monetary Fund economic stabilization plan. His sound fiscal management and encouragement of foreign investment in tourism, agriculture, and manufacturing helped invigorate the economy. His government achieved balance of payment surpluses for four consecutive years, with foreign exchange reserves at record levels. Despite these economic gains, his government was criticized for selling citizenship to Hong Kong Chinese. Overly optimistic, he called for an early election on 4 September 1989. A split in party ranks, allegations of ministerial corruption, and a series of contested party caucuses contributed to the UDP's narrow loss. The PUP, led by George Price, won fifteen of twenty-eight seats, while Esquivel's UDP won the other thirteen. The PUP margin increased from two to four when a UDP member switched parties. Esquivel became leader of the opposition.

Just four years later on June 30, 1993, Esquivel, in a stunning upset, led the UDP back to power as it captured sixteen of twenty-nine seats in the new parliament. He hosted Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip during a royal visit in 1994. During his second term as prime minister, he faced a gauntlet of difficult problems, including high employment and a rising tide of urban violence brought on by the drug trade. In his budget speech of March 1997, he was able to report that the decline in Belize's economy had been arrested, major infrastructure improvements were underway, and pensions were raised. To accomplish this, however, his government approved a valueadded tax (VAT) on April 1, 1996. Within a year it had generated almost $77 million.

On 29 July 1998 Esquivel won the largest libel suit in Belizean history against two officials of the opposition PUP. This did not prove to be a good omen. In the elections of 28 August 1998, the PUP, led by Said Musa, blasted the UDP for its "killa taxes," and the UDP was swept out of office, left with only three of twenty-nine seats. Esquivel lost his own seat by more than three hundred votes and resigned as party leader. Out of office, the former prime minister has overseen the education of his three children: David, twenty-four; Laura, twenty-one; and Ruth, sixteen. He and his wife Kathleen, an author and playwright whom he married in 1971, own an office supply business and remain party activists. They were no doubt buoyed by the UDP's electoral success in the municipal elections of March 4, 2006, when it captured sixty-four of sixty-seven seats in nine municipalities. Daughter Laura became the youngest member of the Belize City Council.

See alsoBelize; International Monetary Fund (IMF); Price, George.


Primary Works

Esquivel, Manuel. "Prime Minister's New Year's Message." Belize Today, January-February 1996.

Esquivel, Manuel. "Developing a Competitive Edge." Belize Today, May-June 1996.

Secondary Works

Fernandez, Julio A. Belize: Case Study for Democracy in Central America. Brookfield, VT: Gower Publishing Co., 1989.

Payne, Anthony J. "The Belize Triangle: Relations with Britain, Guatemala and The United States." Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs 32, no. 1 (Spring 1990): 119-135).

Pitt, David. "The Comet of Belize: Manuel Amadeo Esquivel." New York Times, December 16, 1984.

                                        Brian E. Coutts