It is almost weird that re-registration of voters begins on Monday morning, July 2, all over the nation-state of Belize, and, as it stands, those Guatemalans with documents of naturalization, Guatemalans whom the Constitution of Belize explicitly banned from becoming Belizean citizens because they come from a republic which says half of Belize belongs to them, will be re-registered as Belizean voters. They will therefore be eligible to vote in the April 2019 referendum to decide whether Belize should go to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for a binding judgment on the Guatemalan claim.
That is only half of the issue. The other half of the issue has to do with the stipulation that Belizeans living abroad would have to come home and live home for two months before being allowed to register as voters, and become eligible to vote in the referendum.
So that, as it stands, illegally naturalized Guatemalans will vote in an existential referendum on Belize’s future, while Belizeans who were born and bred in The Jewel will not have a say on the ICJ referendum.
It is a situation which is mind-boggling, but what the situation does is condemn us Belizeans as careless, immature, disorganized, and uninformed to the point of childishness. The fact that politicians from both the United Democratic Party (UDP) and the People’s United Party (PUP) for decades have been unconstitutionally naturalizing Guatemalans for political purposes does not fall, strictly speaking, under the category of “corruption.” Or, does it? All of the honorables, UDP and PUP, were doing it, and there was no mechanism or institution in the sovereign state of Belize to protect the constitution, the supreme law in the Belizean land.
In the matter of the requirement for diaspora Belizeans to live two months in Belize before being allowed to re-register, this newspaper had never heard of such a law. A re-registration had not taken place in Belize for 21 years, mind you, and when that re-registration took place in 1997, it was the first one since independence. In addition, in 1997 there was no existential issue on the table which would have energized and motivated diaspora Belizeans to clamor for the right to vote the way the ICJ referendum is presently energizing and motivating diaspora Belizeans.
How was it that no Belizean individual or group became concerned enough to seek a Supreme Court injunction preventing the re-registration of illegally naturalized Guatemalans beginning on Monday, July 2? Surely, that would have been an open-and-shut case. The Constitution of Belize is very clear on the matter.
The fact that there was no seriously organized resistance to the re-registration of naturalized Guatemalans gives us a sense of how powerful and dominant the UDP and the PUP are when their interests coincide, when they are truly “PUDP.” Where are the smaller political parties? Where is so-called civil society? How could we have allowed our constitution to have been violated so repeatedly, in the first instance, and then not fought against the continued violations? It was because the UDP and the PUP were united and complicit in the violations. What else can we say?
The matter of diaspora Belizeans having to reside in Belize for two months before re-registering may have been a stipulation of the first registration of voters under the Representation of the People’s Act in 1978, which was when voters’ cards with photographs of the voters were first introduced, along with the 18-year-old vote.
Whatever the case, there was never an issue so dangerous to the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Belize as the ICJ referendum issue. And Belizeans, both at home and abroad, had enough time to organize and fight the issue.
NOTE: In the middle of our writing this editorial on Sunday afternoon, July 1, KREM TV began the live broadcast of a town hall meeting being held in Los Angeles, California by the committed, long-time activists, Bilal Morris and Nuri Akbar. The town hall meeting was broadcast across the United States and internationally through Facebook, YouTube, and other electronic means.
By means of the Skype technology, Derek Aikman from Belize and Aria Lightfoot from Florida addressed the meeting and its international audience. Mr. Aikman announced that his activist group would be joined by other activist groups in Belize to make a strong statement about the injustice and unconstitutionality of tomorrow’s re-registration process. We welcome this initiative, of which this newspaper had been unaware.
This week a candidate for the Belmopan standard bearer position in the Belmopan constituency of the Opposition PUP, took his political party to Supreme Court in an effort to force the PUP to postpone the Belmopan convention until that candidate’s arguments are heard. The candidate in question had been denied the right to run in the convention by party leaders. But, he is a practicing attorney, so he put together his own legal arguments.
Our suggestion to Mr. Aikman and all activist individuals and groups is, failing the involvement of an attorney in their ranks, they must raise enough funds to hire same. The registration of unconstitutionally naturalized Guatemalans should have been challenged in the Supreme Court before the process actually begins tomorrow.
How the Government of Belize got away with this is because the Opposition did not raise a major fuss. In Belize, we expect the Opposition to protest violations of Belize’s supreme law. In this case, the UDP and the PUP were as one. It was a case of “PUP hand wash UDP hand.” The rest of us Belizeans were caught twiddling our thumbs.
What has happened here should ring alarm bells for us with respect to the ICJ referendum itself. The ruling UDP has definitely been moving in the direction of endorsing a “yes” vote for the ICJ arbitration, so if the PUP ever start pushing in the same direction, the ball game would be over. Game, set, and match. And perhaps that’s the way the smart people at the State Department and the Friends of Belize have been designing the Special Agreement, from the very beginning in 2008. It may be that we Belizeans are being taken for a ride. Some people would call it being hung out to dry. Whatever, it doesn’t look good.