Editorial — 08 August 2018
Grabbing the bull by the horns

So, Guatemalans who have not formally renounced their Guatemalan nationality, but who have obtained Belizean nationality, and Commonwealth citizens on the register will all be allowed to vote in the referendum. But Belizeans living abroad (even with a valid Belizean passport) will not be able to vote in the referendum because they do not qualify for registration. This is fundamentally wrong. It is unfair.

I believe that all Belizeans eighteen years and older, wherever resident, should be allowed to vote in the ICJ referendum. The question of whether or not to submit the Guatemalan claim to the ICJ is the single most important decision we face, collectively, since the decision to go to independence in 1981. Regardless of the ultimate decision taken in this historic referendum, all Belizeans will have to live with the result. So all Belizean adults should have a say by their vote.

Belizeans living in the United States of America should be allowed to file their requests for registration at the Embassy in Washington, DC, the Mission in New York, or consulates around the United States. Similarly, the High Commission in London, and all other Belizean embassies should receive applications for registration from Belizeans living abroad. Additionally, there should be a website that enables Belizeans living abroad to file electronic applications for registration. Every effort should be made to encourage and facilitate registration by Belizeans in the diaspora so that they can participate in this momentous decision. Unless this is done the upcoming road-show by two Ambassadors will be rather insulting.

As to voting, Belizeans abroad should be permitted to vote electronically or by attendance at embassies and consulates. Belize has the capacity to enable transparent, secret and verifiable electronic voting.

– excerpted from an article entitled, “The referendum – let all Belizeans vote,” by Eamon Courtenay, S. C., published on page 2 of the AMANDALA issue of Friday, August 3, 2018

Senior Counsel, Eamon Courtenay, submitted a sensational article to this newspaper for publication in last Friday’s issue. The article is sensational for several reasons.

One reason is that Mr. Courtenay is the Legal Adviser to the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP), which is led by Hon. John Briceño. The PUP has been relatively quiet as a party on some controversial issues having to do with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) referendum scheduled for next April. One of those issues is the fact that born Belizeans living abroad will not be able to vote in the existential ICJ referendum on Belize’s future unless they can register to vote in elections overall, which would require them to live in Belize for two months in a specific constituency, a requirement the vast majority of diaspora Belizeans would be unable to fulfill. Mr. Courtenay, out of the blue, broadcasts an opinion, exclusively in Amandala, calling for diaspora Belizeans to be allowed to vote in the ICJ referendum.

What are we do make of this? Is Mr. Courtenay speaking unilaterally, or is he floating a trial balloon for his good friend, PUP Leader Briceño? Quite recently, Mr. Courtenay made categorical comments with regard to the application by attorney Arthur Saldivar to compete in the PUP’s standard bearer convention for the Belmopan constituency. Mr. Courtenay spoke as if he was speaking for the PUP.  Still, the Saldivar application for Belmopan is peanuts as an issue compared to the question of diaspora eligibility for next April’s ICJ referendum.

For this newspaper, Mr. Courtenay’s opinions on the diaspora eligibility matter are additionally sensational because, as a former PUP Foreign Minister, he is on record as supporting a “yes” vote for the referendum. But our sense is that the early, general feeling about diaspora opinion on the ICJ referendum is that Belizeans abroad are probably thinking “no”. Is Mr. Courtenay going against himself? That would be inconceivable.

The PUP has traditionally assumed the diaspora to be  hostile to the party because, after Hon. George Price became PUP Leader in 1956, middle class Creole elements in Belize City, the population center, led Belizean migration to the United States because their opinion was that Mr. Price was “Latinizing” the country. In the late 1950s and 1960s, Creole diaspora Belizeans congregated primarily in New York City, where they organized the British Honduras Freedom Committee to support the Opposition National Independence Party (NIP) and fight the ruling PUP. Our opinion at this newspaper is that the Freedom Committee eventually helped to mastermind the ousting of Hon. Philip Goldson as Opposition Leader and the establishment of the United Democratic Party (UDP) in 1973.

By 1973, Belizean migration patterns to the United States had changed. More and more working class Creole Belizeans, from families which had remained loyal to Mr. Price’s PUP, were migrating to America. Whereas civil servant migrants had settled in Brooklyn in the early migration, by the early 1970s working class Belizeans were gathering in Manhattan, where the iconic “123rd” group emerged.  Following Hurricane Hattie in 1961, the U.S. had opened refugee doors for Belizeans who had relatives living already in America. More and more of the post-Hattie migrants headed to Chicago, as opposed to New York, and then fabulous Los Angeles, which is now the most vibrant American metropolis where Belizean migration is concerned, came into play. Today, many Belizeans are living and working in Houston and Atlanta. (New Orleans is a story in itself.)

Remember now, that of all the British Caribbean colonial territories, Belizeans enjoyed the only land bridge to America, by way of Mexico. Large amounts of working class Belizeans entered the U.S.  illegally. Once they reached the Mexican border with the U.S., Belizeans could pretend to be Black Americans who had been recreating in Tijuana or Laredo or Matamoros over the weekend.  All you had to do was “Yank,” and American immigration opened up for you.

The point is that the bulk of Belize’s adult Creole population has migrated to the United States since Hurricane Hattie, and fewer and fewer of the migrants were from the original Brooklyn Baymen’s clan.  In the 1960s and 1970s it was easy to dislike the PUP, because there was no one else to blame for anything wrong in Belize. No one else had ever been in office. Beginning in 1984, however, the UDP has won five general elections. In 2018, diaspora Belizeans cannot be branded anti-PUP as they could have been in the 1960s.

Okay, so the Courtenay paper is sensational because he is grabbing a bull by the horns that nobody else in the PUP’s leadership has dared to grab. And the paper is sensational because the PUP has always been anti-diaspora, because the PUP had good reason to believe the diaspora was anti-PUP.

But, there is yet another reason the Courtenay paper is sensational, and this may be the most sensational of all. At this newspaper, we have always believed that the change in Belize’s demographic from majority Black to majority Mestizo was orchestrated from Washington. Facilitating the departure of Belize’s Blacks to American inner cities was in line with Washington’s pro-Guatemala plans for Belize, as well as in line with Washington’s Central American vision, specifically with reference to Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua (in addition to Guatemala). The convenient thing was that Belize’s Blacks had actually been longing to move to America. Central American refugees fleeing revolution and war embraced work in Belize’s sugar cane, citrus, and banana plantations. (Things became complicated in different ways when some refugee migrants began making an urban move, successfully competing in the construction, fast food, and domestic employment industries. More ominously, in 2018 there is volatility in certain urban areas because of migrant gangs. But these are stories which deserve their own editorial.)

Still, everybody was happy until the ICJ referendum threatened the dismemberment of The Jewel.  Suddenly, diaspora Belizeans essentially said, we want back in: at least, we want a say in the referendum.

Okay, so diaspora Belizeans will be happy with Mr. Eamon. But Mr. Courtenay has hitherto never cared who thinks what about him. Independently wealthy for decades, he has become even more liquid as he banks all the juicy commissions from Lord Michael Ashcroft’s successful lawsuits against the Government of Belize.

The irony of it all is that this newspaper agrees 100 percent with the Courtenay paper. Jump high, jump low, how the hell can you leave born Belizeans out of the most critical vote in our lifetime – the ICJ referendum vote? How can you do this when illegally naturalized Guatemalans will be voting on April 10, 2019?

It never made sense, and Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay decided, we repeat, to grab the bull by the horns. This came out of the blue, both figuratively and literally. The diaspora has to vote on April 10, 2019. Story done.

Power to the people.

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Deshawn Swasey

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