Headline — 21 July 2018 — by Rowland A. Parks
Diaspora Belizeans met with PM Barrow, but came away empty-handed

The Prime Minister does not believe that the government could implement a process that would allow the Diaspora to register before April 10, 2019 to vote in the ICJ referendum.

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. July 19, 2018– Diaspora Belizeans who had a meeting with Prime Minister Dean Barrow to discuss the granting of Belizean citizenship to Guatemalans, the re-registration exercise, and voting restrictions that have been placed on diaspora Belizeans, appear to have come away empty-handed.

At the end of the meeting, announced via a press release issued yesterday, July 18, there was no agreement between the parties, but diaspora Belizeans pledged to submit a proposal on voting.

Representatives of the diaspora who met with Barrow were Muriel Laing Arthurs, Bilal Morris, Hubert Pipersburgh, Joseph Guerrero, Debbie Curling and Aria Lightfoot. The meeting presented an opportunity for diaspora Belizeans to open discussion with the Government of Belize on issues that were important to the diaspora.

One of the sticking points during the discussion was about naturalized Guatemalan Belizeans who did not renounce their Guatemalan citizenship in a manner that rid them of it. In the view of the diaspora Belizeans, this invokes Section 19, Chapter 121 of the Belize Nationality Act which addresses invalid renunciations.

Regarding the specific violation of Belize’s Constitution, by the granting of citizenship to Guatemalan nationals, Barrow explained that he understands the diaspora position, but the Guatemalans were initially granted permanent residence for five years, before they were given Belize citizenship.

Barrow said that the Guatemalans did not obtain Belizean citizenship through fraudulent means. He said that they revoked their Guatemalan citizenship, and that matter is “subject to correction, but only if a judge says otherwise.”

The diaspora representatives pointed out to Barrow that Section 29 (3) of the Belize Constitution and Section 19 of the Nationality Act, both stand in contradiction to the government’s position. All parties at the meeting agreed that a court of law is the best avenue to resolve the matter. The Prime Minister, however, did undertake that any naturalized Belizeans who exercise citizenship rights in both Guatemala and Belize would lose Belizean citizenship forthwith.

The discussion also focused on the two-month residency restriction placed on Belizeans residing in the diaspora. Barrow agreed that clarification was needed on this residency requirement, because it also affects Belizeans who are transient residents, such as those studying, working, or seeking medical attention abroad, but who ordinarily reside in Belize. The diaspora position is that the two-month residency requirement suppresses different groups’ abilities to register. Barrow promised that he would discuss with the Elections and Boundaries Commission for clarification on what constitutes “ordinarily residing.”

The Prime Minister does not believe that the government could implement a process that would allow the diaspora to register before April 10, 2019 to vote in the ICJ referendum. The diaspora, however, is of the view that this is not a complicated amendment.

At the end of the meeting, Barrow suggested that the diaspora submit a proposal regarding diaspora voting. The diaspora committed to submitting the proposal.

Barrow promised to review the diaspora proposal with the inclusion of the Belizean public, in consultation with the Opposition as part of the ongoing conversation.

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Deshawn Swasey

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