By Wellington C. Ramos
The decision by the Belize government to take the dispute between Britain and Guatemala over Belize that they inherited has the Belizean people divided. One group believes that the only way to settle this dispute with Guatemala is to take this case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for final resolution.
Another group believes that there is no need for the people and country of Belize to take the Guatemalan dispute to the ICJ because Belize has already been accepted into the United Nations as an independent and sovereign nation with all of its boundaries and territories intact.
Some Belizeans are asking what if we go to the ICJ and get a favourable ruling from the court and Guatemala insists on claiming our country, because the UN does not have a good record of enforcing ICJ court rulings. Other Belizean citizens are caught in the middle and do not know which group to support or join.
A group headed by a former UDP minister Derek Aikman called BUFERHD, came out publicly along with the Belize People’s Front headed by its leader Nancy Marin to publicly say NO to taking the dispute to the ICJ for a hearing. They have been organizing throughout Belize along with some organizations in the United States. They believe that it is a risk for the government of Belize and they should not take it to the court, fearing that things could not turn out right, and we could lose a part of our country or suffer other consequences. The UDP and the PUP have said publicly that they have a strong case and that there is no way Guatemala can win.
There are representatives and members of the United Democratic Party (UDP) and the People’s United Party (PUP), who are also divided on this issue. In the beginning of this process, the prime minister of Belize Dean Barrow said that his party will not force the members of his party how to vote on this issue. However, as time progressed he has been asking his members to vote yes.
The leader of the opposition party John Briceno has stated publicly that he will vote yes on the issue like the prime minister but his party has not taken a position on how the majority of them will vote. Both the UDP and PUP have been negotiating with Guatemala since we obtained our independence in1981 and it is clear that their position on going to the ICJ is a YES.
The People’s United Party is taking too long to state its position on an issue that is of significant importance to the people and nation of Belize so my guess is that the leader is having problems with some of his representatives. The government of Belize has commenced a YES vote campaign throughout the country of Belize and to the United States to meet with Belizean citizens.
When the ICJ issue was voted on by the Guatemalan citizens recently, they voted YES. Belizeans living in the United States and abroad became concerned and entered the debate. They are now asking that, due to the nature of this situation, they be granted their rights as citizens to vote from overseas by proxy.
During the current campaign for the right to vote, a few of them met with the prime minister but got no assurances from him that he will grant their request to lift the three-month residency requirement so that they could register to vote. The question to be asked now is why is the government of Belize coming to the United States to educate Belizeans living there about the issue, when they are against allowing them to vote on it? It seems as if the prime minister and his party are anticipating a NO vote coming from the Belizeans who live in the United States and abroad.
The People’s United Party has never advocated for the rights of Belizeans who live in the US and abroad so they must be happy with the prime minister’s position. Elections are due in Belize by 2020 and this ICJ vote will have a major impact on the next general elections without any doubt in my mind.
The prime minister will be stepping down and his party will have a convention for a new party leader. The PUP is also to have a party convention to elect a leader and other executives for their party. Plus, Belize is conducting the re-registration of voters and they have a three-month residency clause in the People’s Representation Ordinance that must be met for a person to vote in a constituency.
It is because of this clause that the government is denying Belizeans who live in the United States and abroad registering to vote. Yet, there is evidence that Guatemalan citizens that are illegal are being allowed to register; some of them who do not live in Belize have come across the border to register and vote in Belize’s past elections. Belizeans who do not live in some constituencies are registered in some of them and some of the representatives do not live in their constituencies as well.
As we proceed towards preparing to vote on the ICJ referendum in June of next year, there will be some strange and unusual developments in Belize. Some Belizeans at home and abroad have become mistrustful of the two major political parties, UDP and PUP. This could lead to support shifting to a current existing party or the birth of a new one.
While the two dominant political parties struggle to hold on to their supporters, which will be extremely difficult in the next election, the Belizeans who live in the United States and abroad are now angry with the UDP, PUP and BPP. They possess the resources to do many things about the current political situation in Belize.
In speaking to some of them, they are contemplating some strategies to get their rights to vote in their land of birth and citizenship. Belizeans who live in the United States and abroad must ally themselves with a political party in Belize to advocate for their interest because currently UDP and PUP have failed them.
Up until some years ago, many Belizeans felt that the UDP was going to be the party to advocate for their rights in Belize but, when Dean Barrow decided not to introduce the 7th Amendment to the constitution when he had the votes to pass it, all their hopes were shattered.
I believe that they will find another party in Belize to fight for their interest at home. I have never seen so much energy with Belizeans living in the United States until the ICJ issue and the re-registration of Guatemalan citizens, while denying Belizean citizens who live abroad. Belizeans who live in the United States and abroad do not fear their government, depend on them for anything and are independent minded.
All they are asking for is their government to grant them their rights under the constitution of Belize as citizens of their country. Plus, their representatives have a constitutional obligation to look after their interest whether they live in Belize or overseas. The next two years before the election will be interesting.