By Wellington C. Ramos
One of the most fundamental rights of any citizen is the right to vote for their elected representatives and on issues that are of major importance to them. Since Belizeans were granted dual citizenship status by the United Democratic Party in 1984, they have been denied this right by the two major political parties when governing Belize.
Born in Dangriga Town, the cultural capital of Belize, Wellington Ramos has BAs in Political Science and History from Hunter College, NY, and an MA in Urban Studies from Long Island University. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science and History
The excuses I have heard coming from the representatives of the two major political parties -- UDP and PUP -- for not granting Belizean citizens abroad the right to vote by proxy is that it is too expensive and it will be difficult to make it transparent.
Belizean politicians from both political parties used to travel from Belize to meet with Belizeans in all the major cities looking for political contributions and support. After the 1990s, many Belizean Americans came to the conclusion that the Belizean politicians were making too many false promises and when they were elected did nothing during their five-year terms to address their needs.
Some of the Belizean politicians do not even bother to come to the United States any more to seek support and financing for their political campaigns because they get funding from other sources. Belizean American annual contributions to the country of Belize are estimated at about US$22 million. Added to this are other goods that they ship to their family members and friends. It is estimated that there are about 300,000 Belizeans living in the United States, which is almost equal to the current population of Belize.
When Belize signed the memorandum of understanding to agree to take the Belize-Guatemala dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), they also made it clear that 60% of the Belizean population must also participate in the referendum process. Belizeans who live in the United States that were born in Belize, or acquired their citizenship through whatever means, meet the qualifications to vote in this referendum as part of the 60% population.
Under our constitution, all of our citizens are entitled to the same privileges and treatment whether they reside in Belize, the United States or any other foreign country. There are some Belizeans who do not think that Belizean Americans and other Belizeans that possess dual citizenship should be entitled to the same benefits and treatment like them but that belief is unconstitutional.
Belizean Americans and those who live in other countries that possess Belizean citizenship reserve the right to bring a case against the Belize government for denying them their constitutional rights for all these years. If they were to win such a case, it would force the government of Belize to pass laws so that they be given the right to vote by proxy from the United States and other countries where they currently reside.
The excuses given by the two major political parties to deny Belizean Americans and other Belizeans who live abroad the right to vote by proxy is a poor excuse. The People’s United Party has always been opposed to any legislation that favours Belizean Americans and Belizeans who live abroad. They know that most of the Belizeans who left Belize to come to the United States were members of the United Democratic Party and they would more than likely vote against them.
African Belizeans are the most people who leave Belize due to the economic hardships they face in their homeland daily and their party is losing the support of most of them. Belizeans have witnessed the takeover of the People’s United Party by a group of people who are of Arab descent that do not address their needs and concerns. They use their money to get the other ethnic groups to vote for them but when they get elected it is only their people that benefit the most financially.
The UDP would gain from a proxy vote in the beginning but after a while it will balance off because Belizean Americans are highly educated, independent and will make demands of both political parties to deliver on their promises. It will be good for the country of Belize because Belizeans will be more active in their country’s political development and demand accountability from their politicians. Belize will also get more highly educated Belizeans to serve in the government of Belize as politicians because most of them live in the United States and abroad.
Proxy voting can work easily if the Belize government is serious about implementing it. The Election and Boundaries Department in Belize can establish an Overseas Registration Voting List. Belizeans who live oversees can send proof of birth and a registration application to this office for them to be registered in the district where they were born or the place where they own a home in the country of Belize.
In any election held in Belize, citizens who live abroad would have ballots available at the consulates or embassies nearest to them to pick up, vote and drop off, then sent back to the Election and Boundaries Overseas Office to be counted before the date of the election by a deadline date. When the day of the election comes, all votes from overseas processing and tabulation would be added to the other votes received on the day of election for any office or referendum issue on the ballot.
If Guatemala or any country was to invade Belize, it would require the efforts of all the Belizeans who live in the United States who have served in the armed services of Belize and the United States to do most of the fighting. Belizeans would be willing to fight for their country because they love their homeland. Those who hold this false belief that this is not the case should come and live in the United States and live among Belizeans to see how proud they are to be Belizeans. If the economic conditions were not bad in Belize many of these people will still be living in Belize today.
Belize is a rich country and, for those Belizeans who do not know how rich Belize is, I am sorry for them. Just take my advice and get a piece of land.