A newly launched coalition—Belize Coalition for Justice (BCJ)—today ramped up the pressure on the Government of Belize, as they resurrected a public call for the resignation or removal of Foreign Affairs Minister Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington, after the minister appeared on national television declaring that the Government of Belize had decided to pay a grant to the family of Francisco Quim Cab, 35, a Guatemalan gold panner who was shot and killed after allegedly threatening to harm a Belize Defence Force soldier with a machete 7 miles inside Belizean territory.
At a press conference held at the Radisson Fort George Hotel in Belize City today, Geovanni Brackett, president of Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA), one of thirty organization members of the BCJ, read the coalition’s position statement on the Belize-Guatemalan differendum, in which he said Elrington “must be made to resign from the ministry and be replaced with someone who is more competent and someone that the Belizean people can respect.” He went on to condemn “all past and present actions of Elrington…”
Amandala readers will recall that the last wave of demands for Elrington’s removal came in December 2009, when, in an international statement, he described Belize’s border with Guatemala as “artificial”—which many understood to give the connotation that it is “not real.”
Brackett added: “We here demand that the Prime Minister remove him for his many blunders on such a delicate national/international issue.”
Paco Smith, who represents Belizean Patriots Against the ICJ (International Court of Justice), another BCJ member, said that government officials from both sides of the political fence have perpetuated a “cycle of appeasement,” evidenced by what he said was the government’s tacit downgrading of the western border by allowing it to be called the “adjacency zone” under the Organization of American States (OAS) facilitation process, under which the call is now being made to settle the matter at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Brackett said that the “fruitless and unsatisfying direction of successive national governments,” the ruling United Democratic Party and the Opposition People’s United Party, has yielded “both unnerving and disgusting compromises…solely for their apparent appeasement and benefit of outside interest.”
He said, “We will no longer tolerate and stay silent in the face of blatant subservience and kowtowing to suit these international players. Instead, we not only protest in one voice against these heinous acts but intend to offer our condemnation and list of demands to light the way forward…”
Those demands call for no compensation to Guatemalans who come illegally to Belize, no more Sedi, no more bending to Guatemalan bullying.
Brackett called on the OAS to “stop its continued lack of discretion and neutrality” and to condemn Guatemala’s bullying of Belize.
“It pains my soul when I hear our Minister of Foreign Affairs do an interview on television and say that Belize is so small and we’re so small compared to Guatemala, militarily, and if I recall correctly the man even said that we are small compared to them diplomatically; what does that mean? We don’t have sound and competent individuals in Belize that can arbitrate on our behalf? He must be talking about himself,” said Smith.
The new wave of negative sentiments against the Foreign Minister began to be expressed in the public domain after an interview aired on Channel 7 last Friday, in which Elrington disclosed that Belize had been given a 21-day ultimatum by Guatemala to admit responsibility for Cab’s killing “or they are going to take all kinds of actions.”
Among the reported threats were the closure of Belize’s western border with Guatemala and the expulsion of Belize’s resident Ambassador in Guatemala; however, on Tuesday, before the Foreign Minister left for Guatemala, his Guatemalan counterpart, Harold Caballeros, reportedly phoned claiming that they had not made such threats.
The decision to pay the grant, said Elrington, was “to try to avoid that course of action at all cost…”
“No compensation to Guatemalan ‘subverters’ and families… not now, not ever,” Brackett said at today’s reading of the BCJ position.
Elrington said in the interview that “It’s not a compensation [to Cab’s family], but it’s what we call as an act of compassion because he has left a wife as we were told and some small kids.”
Brackett said that “…any foreign minister that is not going to negotiate with strength, and any foreign minister that will not adhere to the Belizean demands has to be removed, and to be removed forthwith or you can get the understanding that we will take it to Belmopan.”
Whereas there was specific condemnation of Elrington’s manner of handling Belize-Guatemala foreign relations, there was also across-the-board condemnation of national leaderships that have spanned successive political administrations.
Patrick Menzies, president of Belize Can, another BCJ member, said: “A government whose character is dust-marked by every act which may define tyranny and ineptitude is unfit to continue its rule over our free people. We have full power to recall, remove and punish any and all despots.”
Menzies said that government officials continue to violate Section 29.3 of the Belize Constitution by continuing to issue citizenships to Guatemalans, who are “only allowed such through descent by having one parent being Belizean.”
Menzies, who read a 2-page BCJ declaration said to have been developed on behalf of all Belizeans, urged that, “Every immigration minister (past and present) that has been allowing this should be charged with treason.”
Since immigration data amassed over the years have revealed that most of the people granted Belizean citizenships by naturalization are Guatemalans, some concerned Belizeans have questioned how this would affect the outcome of the pending ICJ referendum.
Smith, who wore a “No ICJ” pin, was resolute in the stance that Belize should not even have considered going to the ICJ. He said that there has been an apparent bipartisan push towards ICJ, and voter apathy on referendum day, slated for October 6, 2013, “could be deadly.”
For its part, the Barrow administration has indicated that it will urge Belizeans to vote “yes” to the ICJ.
“The ICJ is not and will never be a way forward for our nation,” Brackett disagreed.
He said that the potential for failure is greater if an unaware public is not properly educated on the issue.
Belize, said Smith, will be in very big trouble if people vote with their red and blue ‘lenses’; therefore the BCJ has committed to embark on an aggressive voter campaign on this issue.
In this instance, it would be Guatemala which would file a claim against Belize, stating what portion of the “land of the free” it wants to claim as its territory. Most accounts have signaled that Guatemala would claim at least half of the country. The latest development on that front is that officials from both sides are due to meet in Guatemala on Monday, October 22, to try and raise funds for the education campaign leading up to the October 2013 referenda in both countries. The Belize delegation, we are told, will be led by Elrington, notwithstanding the BCJ’s calls for his removal.
Whereas that multi-million-dollar campaign on the official front is expected to begin next year, the BCJ has already begun its advocacy on the home front.
“Diplomacy is not an exercise of appeasement nor does it mean bending to the whims and advances of a bully,” Smith affirmed. He said that at Belize’s Independence in 1981, the United Nations recognized Belize’s Independence with all its territory intact and there is no reason for any sane person to go to the ICJ to allow that to be called into question.
“Don’t give up bone for the shadow,” he urged.
Nancy Marin, BCJ’s national coordinator, who also heads Camp Elevate, a youth empowerment camp near Georgeville, Cayo, said that “a revolution is needed,” and she called Belizeans at home and abroad to join in a united front: “We have suffered in pride, but we cannot any more… so today, I make this call to the mothers, to the daughters, to the fathers, to the sons of Belize: to all NGO leaders, religious leaders, union leaders, and yes, even the true, honest, political leaders if we have any left, to join this cause. We need each and every one of you to join us so that together our voices be heard.”
Marin said that the BCJ decided at its strategic meeting on Sunday that it will see the fight to the end.
“We have vowed to give lives, fortunes, talents and time to the cause,” she said, as she called on Belizeans at home and abroad to “not dismiss the cause or let political leaders stanch this effort with their own agendas…”
Micah Goodin, youth ambassador, president of the student government at St. John’s College Junior College and cofounder of Nation Builders, a grouping of several youth leaders and student government presidents, called the BCJ movement “a second revolution” – perhaps second to the one dubbed “the peaceful constructive revolution” which led to the nation’s 1981 Independence.
He listed five critical nation issues that are on the forefront of the BCJ’s agenda: the Belize-Guatemala differendum, crime, the economic disaster we now face, the exclusion of Belizean youth, and the massive failure of the present administration to reform to benefit all three branches of government.
“We will protest if we have to, we will die if we must in this fight to ensure a better Belize for us and our country… Those who are not ready and willing to fight will be trampled—and I make no apologies, they will be trampled,” he said.