BELMOPAN, Cayo District, Fri. Jan. 13, 2017–On Friday, the House of Representatives held its first meeting for the year, in which a bill was introduced to amend the threshold of the Referendum Act from sixty percent to a simple majority.
While the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) debated the proposed amendments inside, on the outside, a small group led by the Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV) swarmed the steps of the National Assembly in protest of the proposed amendments.
The protest by the group of men, women and children holding placards beneath the scorching sun began at around 10 a.m., but within an hour, they had all dispersed. At the height of the gathering we counted a turnout of 146 persons.
Our newspaper spoke with Wil Maheia of the Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV); Phillip De La Fuente of the Northern Territorial Volunteers; Patrick Rogers of the Belize Progressive Party (BPP); and Hubert Enriquez of the Vision Inspired by the People (VIP), who were all present for today’s protest.
“The Belize Territorial Volunteers we are out here today along with people from COLA, the VIP, the BPP and political parties who are opposed to amending the Referendum Act because, as you know, amending it is just to appease Guatemala while Guatemala continues to disrespect us,” said Maheia.
According to De La Fuente, “The message we want to convey is that as Belizeans we need to realize that our government has failed us. They have failed to develop a strategy to deal with Guatemala’s new aggression. They have failed to protect our sovereignty and our borders.”
“Whenever any activist groups step out, we, as the BPP, ensure that we come out and support every activist group that is out there, because we need a whole lot more activism to ensure we reach the participatory democracy instead of this dictator democracy that we’re living under,” explained Rogers.
In our interview with these protesters, they, as the streets would say, “did not mince words,” and made scathing remarks against Prime Minister Dean Barrow and Foreign Minister Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington.
According to De La Fuente, “Elrington and Mr. Barrow have been Guatemala’s two biggest supporters. They do what’s best for Guatemala and it’s like they are forgetting Belize. They have a solemn oath to serve and protect this country and they keep failing Belize.”
He continued: “It is so, so shameful that we could have a Foreign Minister like Elrington who continues to represent Belize. It is shameful that he has failed to devise a strategic plan to deal with Guatemala’s aggressions and it is shameful that he just cowers and appeases Guatemala over and over again. At some point we have to say no, and we have to stand up. Belize needs to stand up and the people need to stand up.”
“We feel that what is happening now is a gradual process where the government wants to hand over Belize to Guatemala,” alleged Hubert Enriquez of the VIP.
“This changing of the Referendum Act that will be passed into law is another step in getting us to go to the ICJ when it is not the only option, Belize. That is the point we have been trying to say since 2008. There are always other options and what we need to do is press the reset button,” added Rogers.
He continued, “Until we can establish back normalcy with Guatemala, there is no need for us to proceed along this road that would see us reach the ICJ under a special agreement that is worded against us.”
Maheia, who applauded those persons who turned out for today’s protest, despite the low turnout, said, “The critics will always have their say. We will have our way. We are out here. I am satisfied with who came out today. It’s a Friday and they have sacrificed their time to be out here and I am satisfied with that.”
“Even if I was here by myself, it would have been a success, just being here is a success,” he told our newspaper.
While Maheia remains satisfied with today’s numbers, De La Fuente hopes that, “At some point other Belizeans will become active in how our nation is governed and the decisions that this government makes. We need to inspire and motivate others to join us because we want what’s best for Belize.”
However, like Maheia, even if he was the only one present at today’s protest, he still would have registered his discontent, De La Fuente said.
“It is a concern, but even if I was out here alone, I would still do it and like I said, we are hoping that other Belizeans will join the movement because nobody will save Belize. We can’t ask another country to come and patrol our borders if we don’t even want to do it. If Belize is going to be saved, it is up to us, we need to do it,” he told us.
However, De La Fuente conceded that there is strength in numbers.
“It’s hard to do it alone and we need the general public to come out and support us. A lot of people support us, a lot of people call, a lot of people text-message us, but it’s not enough. Everybody has to be willing to pay a price; we have to make sacrifices as individuals and I am prepared to make the price,” he emphasized.
Enriquez told our newspaper, “Don’t be fooled by the fact that you see perhaps a hundred people out here; there are many, many more people who oppose this and the matter of going to the ICJ.”
When a vote was taken at today’s meeting, the incumbent UDP Government received majority votes in support of the amendment to the Referendum Act.