In 2013, Government Minister Godwin Hulse filed a law suit against the former Leader of the People’s United Party, Francis Fonseca, for defamation. When the Elvin Penner immigration scandal involving the Wong Hong Kim passport broke, Fonseca made comments about Hulse who was the Minister of Immigration and Nationality at the time. Hulse considers those comments defamatory and filed a suit against Fonseca in the Supreme Court. Both parties were ordered into mediation and today, Fonseca’s attorney, Kareem Musa, told the media that his client has offered to make a public retraction and apology to Hulse.
“The matter between Godwin Hulse and the Honorable Francis Fonseca came up for trial today before the Honorable Chief Justice. The parties have been in discussion for quite sometime regarding a possible out of court settlement, this is a defamation case brought by Mr.Hulse in relation to a statement made by the Honorable Francis Fonseca in October of 2013. The matter like I said has been under discussion for quite some time now and we were able to arrive at a settlement that I believe all parties can walk away feeling a bit satisfied. As you know there is give and take when it comes to a settlement agreement and judgments and awards being what they are today when it comes to defamation lawsuits, I think the damages range from anywhere between $20,000 to $60,000 I think one case in Belize actually went as high as $60,000 for damages and so there has to be a give and take whenever you are having a settlement on a defamation lawsuit and so the outcome of today was that the Honorable Francis Fonseca will not have to pay any damages for the comments that he made but he has agreed to issue a public retraction and apology to Senator Hulse. It is an instance in which it could have gone either way and I think that is why you have some give and take and the Honorable Francis Fonseca has no issue apologizing for a matter that may have offended Mr.Hulse so that is what will take place, he will issue a public retraction and apology, he does not have to pay any damages for the comments made.”
“Would you say that Mr.Hulse is being magnanimous in this case?”
“I think both parties like I said it’s a balancing act, you have to look at the possibility that you might lose, not because you are a claimant means that you are necessarily going to win and so it is really a toss up and I think both parties considered the possibility of winning and losing and they found a middle ground and if more cases could be resolved like that I think that is great because like I said both parties are walking away feeling satisfied with the outcome.”
“Do you believe the words he had uttered at that time were incorrect?”
“If they offended Mr.Hulse he wants to apologize and correct it. Like I said the words if you take them literally, and the Honorable Francis Fonseca did not mean them to be taken literally if you look back at the transcript you will see what I’m talking about that it could go either way if you take a literal interpretation but certainly the Honorable Francis Fonseca didn’t mean them to be taken literally and so he wants to clarify and apologize to Mr.Hulse who I believe took them literally.”
It was agreed that the apology must be published in three newspapers; The Reporter, The Amandala and The Belize Times. Love News spoke with Minister Hulse who explained why he filed the lawsuit and why he had not request a monetary award for damages.
“As you and the nation are aware sometime around October 15 2013 the Honorable Francis Fonseca in his capacity as leader of the opposition held a press conference for his party and during the course of that press conference he uttered certain statements which I considered were rather defamatory to the effect that I was involved in some illicit activity and illegal sale of passports etc. I took action against him and after a lengthy time the case came to the supreme court this morning, there was an agreement between his attorney and my attorney that indeed he would issue an apology and that that would be published in leading newspapers in Belize and that he would pay the cost of courts as well. The final details of that is to be worked out yet and an order will be issued by the supreme court and I’m fairly satisfied because I take my reputation rather seriously I’ve worked long and hard in this country I’ve worked very hard for the people of Belize and yes I recognize in the political arena you do take the licks when you are on one side or the other of the political agenda the other side automatically seems to dislike you and to jab at you but there is a fine line which I don’t think you should cross in terms of your criticism of how people behave, ministers or others in this political arena and in that particular case I think that line was passed.”
“Interestingly though you did not seek any kind of financial compensation it was merely an apology what was the rationale behind that?”
“Well quite frankly I am not one of those persons who looks at come ups and so forth. I am comfortable with the fact that he will make this public apology in all the media and I’m sure it will hit the rounds on Facebook as well and I good with that. Those people who know me know that I am a for the most part a socialist at heart, I don’t chase the big capital so I am good with that I just wanted to make sure that it would not go down on the records from a person who was the leader of that party at that time and who could have been a potential Prime Minister that such statements would have been uttered and remain on the record without being corrected.”
The apology will be published once within the next two weeks. Fonseca will also pay three thousand dollars in court cost.