Commentary: Why John Briceno and PUP voted no to the ICJ after saying yes for all these years

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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

By Wellington C. Ramos

Prior to our independence on September 21, 1981, it was Great Britain’s responsibility to solve the territorial dispute with Guatemala. Since that date there are some Belizeans like our Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington, who believes that after we attained our independence it is now our responsibility, to make an attempt to solve this problem with them. In fact, he told me this in one of his meetings in New York City, when I suggested to him to leave the resolution of this dispute to Great Britain. This school of thought is what the Guatemalans have been pushing Belizeans to accept.

I am in total disagreement with this school of thought and like many other Belizeans, believe that Great Britain and Guatemala should resolve their dispute despite the fact that we are now and independent country. Why? Because prior to 1981, Great Britain had treaties with Spain and Guatemala that relates to the occupation of Belize as a Spanish colony.

In all those treaties they signed with Spain and Guatemala especially the 1859 treaty, there were some obligations that they agreed to fulfill. If they did not fulfill the obligations to Spain and Guatemala, then the validity of those treaties will be determined by the ICJ court. These two countries have the right to bring a case against Great Britain before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to seek redress or damages.

Spain and Guatemala both know exactly what to do with Great Britain but they prefer to go to court against Belize, if we allow ourselves to take on Great Britain’s burden, they will be happy. When Belize became independent in 1981, there was nothing wrong with establishing relations with Guatemala on mutual, economic, social and political cooperation as two neighboring countries.

However, if at any time during these negotiations the issue of; border, boundaries, maritime or territorial issues were raised, they should have made it clear to Guatemala that those issues must be taken to Great Britain. Instead, they opted to start the dialogues with them.

The UDP and the PUP made a huge mistake to start negotiating territorial issues with Guatemala. Great Britain felt relieved by them doing it, despite the fact that they did not meet their obligations with Guatemala in the 1859 treaty. If a powerful nation like Great Britain, did not, could not or refused to meet its obligations with Guatemala, how on this planet earth, a newly independent nation like Belize can do it?

We elect our politicians to serve in our people and nation’s best interest. To have our UDP and PUP representatives serve against our best interest, is something we must not condone under any given circumstances.

This was plain to be seen when both of these political parties not only supported but voted to pass the Maritime Areas Act in 1992 under PUP Prime Minister Said Musa. This document is detrimental to our people and nation and should be voided. Then, they had the nerves to tell us they were not ceding anything and that it was a good document. Guatemala is using the agreements with Belize to occupy the Sarstoon.

If Belize did not grant them permission to use it, then they should bring the matter before the UN Security Council to let them get off our territory. Failure to do this since they began occupying it, make me believe that they were granted permission to use and occupy the land.

They followed this up by agreeing, to take this dispute to the international Court of Justice (ICJ) for a final resolution. This is what has us now in this serious predicament. Some members of the Peoples United Party are against their leader John Briceno for supporting all these activities over the years. They gave him an ultimatum to stop or else they will call a convention to elect a new leader for their party. John Briceno’s NO position was forced upon him by his party and he had no choice but to accept it or step down as the leader.

Yet, despite his forced NO position, he has been dancing around with so many positions over the years, that the value of his NO stand is now questionable. He should have resigned as the party leader and stuck with his YES position as a man of principle if he strongly believed in what he stood for.

By saying YES, then YES and members could vote their conscience and then finally now NO, makes him look confused and weak as a leader. There are some people in Belize including myself, who see this ICJ issue, as one that will determine the results of the next upcoming general elections in 2020. The PUP is hungry for power and they want to win the next general elections after losing three straight ones.

Many of them believe that if they vote NO, they will win the elections. However, the Belizean people must not be fooled by UDP or PUP because these are the two political parties that have us in this mess since we gained our independence in 1981. If we make the mistake and elect any of these parties back in office, they will continue their negotiations with Guatemala and put our people and nation at a graver risk.

Now in Belize and abroad, the Belizean people’s faith, trust and confidence in these two parties is no longer there. Belize at this point in its history, need new leaders and a new vision to take us into the next ten years.

The PUP has gained a slight edge now because they have forced their vision on their leader to accept their NO stand. The UDP seems to be stuck on fear of their leader and will be going with a YES vote which is going to be detrimental to their party. The BPF and the other opposition parties must come together to decrease the chances of PUP winning the next general election.

Most of the people who are saying YES to take this territorial dispute to the ICJ, believe that Belize will win and that will put an end to this Guatemalan claim. But when you ask them; What if we lose the case to Guatemala? They do not have an answer because they go into a state of shock and disbelief. While on the other hand, the people who are saying NO, are just saying we have nothing to lose if we do not go because everything will remain the same.

The challenge for all the opposition parties is that they must come together in the interest of our people and nation, and continue to let the people know that both the UDP and PUP, are the two parties that have brought this burden on our people and nation. For myself, I have already come to the conclusion, that they are not qualified to represent me no more because of this issue and the deprivation of my constitutional rights as a citizen of Belize in their failure to pass Amendment-7 to our constitution to grant me my fundamental citizenship rights.

I am hoping and praying that our people will not be paid to vote in this ICJ election because if that happens, then this situation will get worse. The citizens of Belize and our nation, is currently experiencing its most difficult times in the history of our nation. This is the time for all of us to step up and get involved to show how much we love our people and country. If we make any mistake with our ICJ vote on April 10, 2019, that could help to determine whether we have the same country we know as Belize today.

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