By Wellington C. Ramos
A Belizean citizen is any person who was born in Belize, obtained Belizean citizenship through, marriage, descent, residency, economic citizenship program or other specified lawful means. According to our constitution, all Belizean citizens are entitled to the same rights and privileges whether they live in Belize or abroad.
Belize was a country that had a population of about 60 percent African Belizeans up to the 1980s. During the 1970s and up to about the 1990s, civil wars were taking place in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico. This led to a mass migration of Hispanic and native Maya Indians from most of these countries to Belize.
Many of these refugees came from the country of El Salvador and the second largest group from Guatemala. Prior to the independence of Belize on September 21, 1981, all Belizeans were British subjects. It was difficult to get a British passport unless you passed their vetting process. These people were fleeing for their lives from the military in their countries, who wanted to draft or kill them for revolting against their governments.
They wanted to go to the United States and made Belize their temporary stop until they were given the green light to proceed to America. Many of these people saw the opportunities that existed in Belize, fell in love with the country and decided to make it their homes and became citizens.
Belize was devastated on October 31, 1961, by Hurricane Hattie. I remember everything that took place during that disaster because my hometown Dangriga was completely destroyed and many people died.
After the hurricane a huge number of African Belizeans started to migrate to the United States to look for better economic opportunities, which resulted in the reduction of their population. While they were leaving Belize, the Mayas and the Mestizos were replacing them in Belize and their numbers were increasing significantly.
Economically and politically they were also making a lot of successes due to the sugar industry that was in Orange Walk and Corozal Districts. The cane industry and other industries needed these immigrants’ labour and they needed the money to take care of their families at home. Some of them integrated into Belizean families and others travelled back and forth to their countries on weekends.
Some immigrants who work in Stann Creek District are still doing that up to today. In places like Benque Viejo Del Carmen, which is at the Guatemalan border, some Guatemalans travel back and forth daily for work and school.
Back in time when the Americans had work in Guatemala at Puerto Barrios, some Garifuna and Creole Belizean families went there to work. Some of their children were born there which made them eligible for Belizean citizenship through descent. Their parents would register their births in Guatemala and Belize simultaneously so they had dual citizenships for both countries.
Belize did not have a citizenship naturalization system that was clear-cut so many people got Belizean passports easily. Now, in Belize you must naturalize as a Belizean citizen before you can get a passport if you were not born there. The Belizeans who were not born in Belize and were issued passports without naturalization certificates, better get ready to produce the evidence to have their passports renewed.
Belize is now facing a situation where there is a lot of discreet racism and prejudice taking place due to these factors; the Creoles who made up the majority of people in the country are now in second place, the Garifuna people who were once the majority in the southern districts of Belize are also in second place in the south, the top civil service jobs in the various governmental departments that were once under the control of Creole men are moving to Hispanic men.
Even though the relationship between Garifuna and Creole people has improved somewhat, there is still mistrust and skepticism and the Belizeans who migrated to the United States are not seen as true Belizeans and more like bossy and controlling strangers who need to go back where they came from.
The issue is that the Mestizos have more control over Belize economically and politically and they support their people from the neighbouring republics who come and live in Belize. While the blacks who live in Belize, cannot forge unity among themselves and are jealous of the ones who came to the United States to live despite the assistance they give to them at home.
The government of Belize is granting Guatemalan-Belizean citizens the right to vote on the ICJ Referendum, knowing that their country is still claiming ours. Then, at the same time they are denying the natural-born Belizeans the right to vote on this issue of great importance and for the black Belizeans not to say anything about this is a shame.
If the government of Belize makes any attempt to take away the citizenships of the Maya or the Mestizo people from the neighbouring republics there will be mass protests throughout Belize.
Our prime minister is a black Belizean and the first to assume this office and he has some other black ministers in his cabinet who are silent. Have they ever sat down to think about the implications of this grave situation? Their responsibility should always be to look after their own people’s interest because the Maya and the Mestizo politicians will not fail their people. I lived and played football in Orange Walk and Corozal Districts while I was a police officer there in the 1970s and know those people well.
The south, which was once under the control of the Garifuna people, only has one elected Garifuna representative and that is Frank Paw Pa Mena. Plus, they are underrepresented with only two seats since the 1960s, despite the fact that their populations have increased over the years, so he has no say. These four constituencies have more people than some of the constituencies in Belize City; many times more, yet nothing is done about it. My people who live in Belize, let us be fair with each other when dealing with this issue.
Most Belizeans left Belize because of the poor economic conditions in Belize and the high unemployment rate. Some of these are people had no jobs and some had good jobs but were not making enough money to pay their bills, take care of their loving families, buy a property, build a home and have surplus money for hard time.
They made a wise decision to sacrifice themselves to come to a strange land and make sacrifices for their families they left behind and themselves. To leave a family and a home behind with uncertainties is not an easy decision for any human being to make.
I remember shedding tears when I was leaving my family behind and I have witnessed other relatives and friends do the same before they left our beloved country. The first Christmas away from Belize, was the most difficult one for me because a Belize Christmas is more family oriented than an American Christmas. It took a while before I got into the American Christmas routine.
I have lived in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City where most Belizeans live. Almost all the Belizeans I have met love their country and want to go back home. Many of our people are not ready to go home yet but will come home when all the things that they want are in place.
Some will not get the opportunity to accomplish their dreams and will die in the United States or abroad and will request that their bodies or remains be taken home to Belize for a final resting place. Belize is our country and it is there for all of us to enjoy. If we do not cherish what is ours and show love and protect each other, then our nation will become fragmented forever.
Let us now go to the homes and offices of all of our elected representatives, UDP and PUP, and tell them: Look! I do not like the way you all are treating our fellow Belizean brothers and sisters who live abroad because they support me and my family in many ways here in Belize. Grant them their rights to vote on this ICJ question.
Long live Belize our beloved country.