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Commentary: Belizeans with dual citizenships need a political party in Belize
Published on January 7, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Wellington C. Ramos

When Belize became independent on September 21, 1981, under the People’s United Party (PUP), natural born Belizeans who became citizens of other countries and obtained dual citizenships lost their Belizean citizenship. The Belizeans who possessed dual citizenships with the United States brought this to the attention of the United Democratic Party (UDP) during the political campaign of 1984. The United Democratic Party defeated the People’s United Party in the election of that year by a margin of 21 to 7. This was more than enough votes to amend the constitution of 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 UDP amended the Belize constitution to reinstate the citizenships of natural born Belizeans to get passports and some benefits but there were ambiguities in the constitution and the laws of Belize dealing with other fundamental citizenship rights. Some of these rights include voting by proxy, running for political office and holding other offices in Belize while still maintaining their dual citizenships.

For years now, the People’s United Party has been vehemently opposed to granting Belizeans with dual citizenships any rights in Belize. This was displayed by their actions in 2009, when the current prime minister of Belize Dean Barrow proposed an amendment to the Belize constitution to correct these ambiguities in the law. The United Democratic Party was more inclined to do something on behalf of Belizeans who possess dual citizenships after winning by a landslide in 2008 by a margin of 25 to 6.

Why the prime minister of Belize changed his mind in introducing that amendment to the House of Representatives is still a shock to me up to this day. He had more than enough votes to pass the amendment and the PUP could not have done anything about it but cry foul. I was made to understand that on a recent trip to Los Angeles, California, the prime minister was asked when he is going to reintroduce the amendment again to the House of Representatives.

His reply to the person was that he will not do so because there are not enough votes for it and the PUPs are against it. Then, the person should have followed up with another question by asking him why didn’t you introduce it when you had the votes?

In the elections of 2012, the United Democratic Party won re-election by a margin of 17-14 which is only a three-seat majority. Belize is not scheduled to have elections again constitutionally until 2017 unless something unusual happens.

Belize has two other political parties, namely, Vision Inspired by the People (VIP) and the Belize National Party (BNP). Both of these parties have contested national elections but have failed to win any seat in the House of Representatives. They have yet to contest municipal and village council elections nationwide as well.

These two political parties have a golden opportunity to formulate their visions, organize themselves throughout the entire country of Belize and start looking for candidates for their parties to run in village council, municipal and general elections that are coming up. In fact, if they were to start now, there is a possibility that in the elections of 2017, neither of the major parties in Belize -- UDP and PUP -- will be able to form a government unless they merge with one of these two parties to form a coalition government. They can also decide to merge their parties together and revise their vision, organization structure and leadership.

They should bear in mind that the current United Democratic Party came out of three political parties, namely, the Liberal Party, National Independence Party (NIP) and the People’s Democratic Movement (PDM) in 1973. Belizeans in Belize are moving away from these two major political parties and are more independent voters today. They want an alternative party that has the potential to win and take over the reins of government from the major parties. The Belizeans living in the Diaspora are also looking for an alternative party in Belize to support their cause because the UDP has now abandoned them and the PUP doesn’t care about them, period.

From 1981 to now is a total of 33 years since Belizeans with dual citizenships have been denied their fundamental rights as natural born citizens of Belize. The people who are being granted Belizean citizenships have the right to vote by proxy in Belize and their countries, run for all political offices and other offices without renouncing their dual citizenships. Only natural born Belizeans are being asked to renounce their dual citizenships with other countries before they can qualify to do the same in their country of birth.

This unconstitutional, inhumane and senseless act on the part of the political parties and the government of Belize must end now. Belize has a two-tier citizenship program in place. One for Belizeans who live in Belize that only have Belizean citizenship, and another for Belizeans who possess dual citizenships with other countries. Yet, they continue to boast that our country has a democratic government that grants equal protection under the laws of Belize.

I appeal to all my fellow Belizean brothers and sisters with and without dual citizenships, to join the movement to rid our nation of this unjust act.
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The Belizeans living in the Diaspora are being treated as enemies of the Nation of Belize. Thank you Mr. Wellington Ramos for representing the Belizean people living in the Diaspora.

Paco Smith:

I very seldom agree with my compatriot, Mr. Ramos. Yet on this occasion, based on what he expressed in this article, I must admit that we seemingly share like views on this particular topic.

Indeed, the blatant disrespect and discrimination perpetrated by the two, major political parties in Belize (the PUP and the UDP aka PUDP), against born-Belizeans who possess dual citizenship in so far as allowing them full electoral rights, is unquestioned. The manner in which our laws are structured actually allow for non-Belizean born (naturalised) citizen, who are inevitably dual-nationals, the right to contest general elections, whereby the same facility is not afforded Belize-born nationals who have acquired a second citizenship. Does anyone else see a degree of inequity or even incongruity in this?

For example, as matters currently stand, a naturalised Belizean of Guatemalan extraction, (mind you Guatemala maintains an unfounded claim to Belize's sovereign territory) can contest general elections and could quite conceivably become the leader of the nation, whereby a born Belizean with dual citizenship is not afforded the same rights. I shudder to think of the possible implications that could arise from this irreverent anomaly in the law.

As for the political element, I don't share Mr. Ramos' surprise when it comes to the PM's inaction on the matter, when his administration possessed enough votes in the House of Representatives. This is primarily because it must be understood that politicians hailing from both, well-entrenched political parties view Belizeans in the Diaspora, as a form of convenience. They embark on their PR junkets to visit the Diaspora and basically use the occasion as means by which to bask in the glory of the traditional "hero worship", meanwhile neglecting to provide substantive and tangible support for Diaspora Belizean's concerns, such as this one. As a result, successive administrations of both the PUP and the UDP use the Diaspora, as they please and on occasion, issues pertinent to the Diaspora are used quite effectively as a political football and nothing else. As far as tangible and proactive moves to substantially address such concerns, effectively nothing is done.

With this in mind, there appears to be an awakening among the Diaspora. I applaud this, as Belizeans abroad contribute considerably to sustaining Belize's economy via remittances in addition to a variety of other manner of contributions. Therefore, I agree they should be afforded, at the very least, the same electoral rights that are enjoyed by naturalised Belizeans who also enjoy dual citizenship. After all, it is not fair to be afforded solely second class citizenship in one's homeland. As a point of clarification, I concede that in the instance of those Belize-born (dual citizens) who reside abroad, of course these must be a reasonable Belize residency requirement, to validate their capacity to contest general elections.

On to the matter of Diaspora Belizeans needing political representation. There is no question this is a reality. The author gave mention of the VIP and the other entity to which he referred, I presume he meant the PNP (not BNP). I agree that a coming to terms of these entities would be the most beneficial for all parties involved. After all, the powers that be, on both sides of the PUDP divide, shall never place this issue at the forefront because it represents the potential empowering of a voting bloc that is not readily subject to the electoral fraud that is perpetrated by the PUDP during elections. For those who are abreast of the situation on the ground, I give reference to their "blue note diplomacy" which both traditional parties exercise. For those who are not aware, Belize's $100 bill is locally referred to as "a blue note". During elections there is never a dearth of them being readily circulated by political operatives. I shall leave the rest to your deductive processes.

Quite honestly, the most prudent means by which for ALL non-PUDP inclined entities is to find common ground and move forward. This is not unheard of, as during the most recent general election (2012), a grouping known as the Belize Unity Alliance (BUA) was formed and several persons in both the VIP and PNP set aside their political party/movement affiliations and contested the general elections under that banner. Although unsuccessful, in terms of winning at the polls, the effort succeeded in demonstrating that those who recognise the need to move beyond the PUPD's hegemony can pool their resources and take a stand.

I am sure most would agree that the most logical thing to do, is to revisit this already-established entity, which in fact is not defunct, but is dormant. There is an already agreed upon structure, which certainly is available to amendment, so as to incorporate other like-minded entities. In the scheme of things, this is far more plausible than attempting to recreate the wheel, for whatever reason. Unfortunately, more often than not, Belizeans tend to be less assertive than is required. Yet, at times there has been instances of assertiveness, which unfortunately has thus far shown to be less than logical, with regard to the overall goal of effectively pooling resources to provide a viable alternative to the PUDP. As one who monitors these matters keenly, it hearkens to query which is more detrimental to the progressive transformation of Belize...a lack of assertiveness or misguided brazenness which looks at the forest, but fails to see the trees!

In any event, for those who truly have the best interest of Belizeans, both at home and abroad, at heart, it is important that we work toward unity...devoid of both ego and especially any level of vitriol. Unity, in fact, is what we require, but the old adage which I must admit is not-politically-correct, still applies. In order for any political movement to make the necessary strides, outside the realm of the PUDP, it is imperative that we inevitably do not end up with "too many Chiefs and not enough Indians".

Therefore, it is my suggestion that those who have a genuine desire to bring forth substantive change for Belize and its citizens, wherever they may be, should truly consider what is the most prudent and viable means by which to maximise your efforts. Admittedly, this will entail that which is somewhat inconceivable for some; that is to humble oneself and take a sober look at the political landscape. With that, I encourage my people to keep your eye on the overall goal. Not everyone is called to “lead”, yet inevitably each person can contribute in a constructive fashion, to this effort. To my Belizean compatriots in the Diaspora, remain strong in your conviction and conduct your due diligence effectively, regarding all matters, for this is an issue that once addressed in the most sound and proficient manner, should prove to impact Belize’s political milieu, on a revolutionary scale.


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