Delivered by Dean Barrow
I first got to know Net Vasquez through politics, of course. He was, by the time I finished law school in 1975, a well-known accountant who numbered some important and wealthy businessmen among his clients. He had helped to found the fledgling Liberal Party of Manuel Esquivel, Curl Thompson, Harry Lawrence and Paul Rodriguez in the 70s. The Liberals then joined with the traditional Opposition NIP of Philip Goldson, and Dean Lindo’s breakaway PDM to form the United Democratic Party in 1976. This new force appeared to have the makings of a genuinely competitive mass party. It seemed to have a real chance, at long last, of breaking what had been the utter political dominance of George Price’s People’s United Party ever since its formation and right through self-government and into the pre-Independence era.
Politics was part of my own DNA as the grandson of Ebenezer Oliver Bunting Barrow, a Member of colonial era, limited autonomy governance bodies; and as a nephew of PDM leader Dean Lindo.
It wasn’t too long, therefore, before I made my first foray into elective politics, contesting the 1983 Belize City Council Elections. By that time Manuel Esquivel had become the leader of the UDP after a Lindo-led close general election loss in 1979. It was Manuel’s ascendancy that fixed Net in what became his undisputed role as consigliere to the UDP. Net had been Manuel’s best friend even before the latter’s entry into politics.
By the time I first stood as a candidate in 1983, then, Net’s influence over the UDP was enormous. He was both principal fundraiser and chief strategist. He cast such a long shadow over the UDP that a funny thing happened where I was concerned. We won the 1983 Belize City Council elections and then for the first, historic time the general elections the following year. But not too long after that a group of the Party’s young Turks got together to confront Prime Minister Esquivel on what we saw as the potentially pernicious neo-liberal sway of Net Vasquez over our Party.
In retrospect, this was highly ironical since I later became such an unadulterated Net Vasquez fan that I perhaps outdid Manuel Esquivel in my collaboration with Net. Recalling it now, I should have realized that Manuel, who was one of the soundest judges of character I have ever known, had every good reason for his elevation of Net to the position of UDP guru.
In any case, Manuel immediately headed off our challenge. He explained what I soon after came to see, scales quickly and clatteringly falling from my eyes: that Net Vasquez was the most dedicated activist, analytical and tireless campaigner for the UDP that we could ever hope to find. He was the best politician that never ran for office. As adviser, conceptualizer, shaper and implementer of policy, he had no equal. And those are the qualities on which I principally wish now to expand.
Net possessed unflagging mind and body energy. His intellect was of that searching, comprehensive kind that minutely, microscopically examined every issue. But there was nothing academic about him. He solved problems, got things done and was a perpetual motion, whirling dervish of an implementer. He had a prodigious memory and could-even as he approached the age of 90-recall every detail of every issue and every incident of the epic political and public policy battles he fought. He never slept more than four hours a night but was every morning fresh and ready for the world.
He was a true believer in whatever he was doing and relentless in pursuing a cause to the end and beyond. He was fearless, and there was simply no one that could intimidate or awe him. He fought the multinationals over take or pay in electricity, and over the conversion of the then BTA to BTL. I recollect his retelling of the confrontation between him, as Manuel’s adviser, and Duke Energy. After Net had let loose his barrage of arguments, harangues, equations, and just plain cussedness on all the big men from the Metropole, the Duke team leader said to him “you are crazy”. Net, utterly unfazed, simply changed character and in a serene homespun creole way, mildly observed: that may be true, but how does that help you, bra’n law?
Net was, without a doubt, the most outstanding public servant who was never officially in the Public Service. He served, from early days, on almost every Board and statutory body imaginable, including the then BTA and BEB. And later on he was a towering figure as Chair of the privatized and nationalized BTL. Of course, that was a nationalization that he helped bring about. Indeed, he was the generalissimo, the touchstone of nationalization. Every time we hit a roadblock in that long saga, Net was there with his perpetual mantras: ‘no retreat, no surrender’; and ‘the impossible just takes a little longer’.
Net’s crusades, though, were never quixotic. He used that eclectic mind of his to construct rock solid cases. Thus, the vision he pushed was always unassailable. While excitedly pitching something to you-and Net was always excitedly pitching something-Net would invariably leap to his feet and with his forefinger jab the air. Ultimately, though, as much as the passion it was his mass of facts, stats and irrefutable QEDs that steamrolled you.
I want to say something now about the misfortune that overtook him towards the end. It was a physical fall that took his life. But before that there was the moral stumble that finished his BTL chairmanship. When that occurred there was, despite the Biblical caution, many that lined up to throw the first stone. I am not here today to gloss over what happened. That is because Net, though he was fervently religious, always knew that he was-like all of us-a sinner and no saint. He readily admitted his failings. And that is why I AM here to say that when everything is weighed up in the balance, Net surely comes out massively on the plus side of the ledger. His one known public service lapse cannot erase the lifetime of all-consuming commitment that resulted in such giant, historic achievements.
Talking about that also gives me a chance to remark on perhaps the most outstandingly human of his qualities. Net was fiercely loyal. When he was your friend he was your friend forever. That meant fighting in your corner no matter what. That is why I know that he was hurt by those that stopped calling after the BTL revelations. For a man who never measured loyalty in terms of convenience, it was disappointing to deal with the fact of fair weather friends.
But, and this is the last point in this enumeration of the ingredients that made up this singular individual, Net was indomitable. I don’t just mean physically-his weightlifting prowess and his Central American gold medal; or even the fact that he was, into his ninetieth year, still comfortably doing clean and jerk air squats. I am talking rather about his iron will, his invincible resolve never to let any situation get the better of him. Thus it was that he simply called up some of those inexhaustible reserves of resilience and shook off the post-BTL desertion of former comrades.
I close by saying something of Net’s family. Bearing in mind my earlier stipulation that Net was no saint, there can be no doubt that he deeply loved his wife Hazel, ill and bedridden these many years but actually now surviving Net. Then there is the distinguished progeny they produced. Everyone of their children, including Nestor Jr who predeceased Net, was and is-each in his/her own way- brilliant. And in them, some of Net’s legacy lives on.
And what a legacy it is. The boy from San Pedro grew to become someone who bestrode so very much of Belizean public life.
This was a colossus of a man. And, to be sure, not anytime soon will there come such another.