Editorial — 11 July 2018
ICJ “no” vote crazy, says Hon. Sedi

The basic American attitude is that the normal condition of the world is peaceful, so if there’s a problem, someone is causing it. If we defeat that person or country, everything will become harmonious again.

By contrast, the Chinese do not believe in permanent solutions. To Beijing, a solution is simply an admission ticket to another problem. Thus, the Chinese are more interested in trends. They ask, “Where are you going? What do you think the world will look like in 15 years?

– from an article by Jeffrey Goldberg, entitled “The Lessons of Henry Kissinger,” pg. 56 in THE ATLANTIC of December 2016

On Thursday afternoon, July 5, 2018, at a ceremony in Belize City where a representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Chargé d’affaires of the United States Embassy in Belize handed over a US $250,000 grant to assist Belize in the education campaign for the International Court of Justice (ICJ) referendum on April 10, 2019, Belize Foreign Minister, Hon. Wilfred P. Elrington, stunningly, dropped all pretence that said education campaign would be doing anything other than promoting a “yes” vote. A little more than nine months before the aforementioned referendum, Mr. Elrington declared that any Belizean who decided to vote “no” to taking the Guatemalan claim issue to the ICJ, would be “crazy.”

Mr. Elrington, in addition, said that he had been working to solve the Guatemalan claim for more than sixty years, that the claim was the reason he was in politics, and that he would resign once the matter is settled.

For her part, the U.S. Charge d’ affaires, Adrienne Galanek, said that the resolution of the dispute between Belize and Guatemala is critical to the citizen security of Belize and the region.

For some years now, the Belize Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in successive United Democratic Party (UDP) governments, has been saying that the ICJ education campaign was designed to inform Belizeans in order for them to make a more intelligent ICJ referendum choice, whether that choice was “yes” or “no”. Last Thursday, Minister Elrington made it clear that all the efforts of his government from here on in would be towards ensuring a “yes” vote to the ICJ arbitration referendum.

What was it that spooked the UDP administration into abandoning its previously expressed neutrality on the ICJ referendum matter? Or was Thursday’s outburst merely another of the Foreign Minister’s wild gaffes? As we write on Sunday afternoon, July 8, we know of no disclaimer to the Elrington statements having been issued by the Prime Minister’s Office. Previous to Thursday, July 5, the Prime Minister of Belize, Rt. Hon. Dean O. Barrow, had been saying, for years, that he personally would vote “yes” to going to the ICJ, but that his area representatives and standard bearers would be allowed freedom of choice where providing direction to their voters was concerned.

A couple weeks ago, Alejandro Vernon, a Belizean of dubious patriotism, had published a letter in another newspaper where he had accused Amandala of putting fear into Belizeans where the “yes” vote for the ICJ vote was concerned. The thing is, Minister Elrington has for years, on the contrary, been trying to frighten Belizeans where the implications of the “no” votefor the ICJ are concerned. Vernon’s statements are of no real consequence, but Elrington’s statements last Thursday certainly are.

The Guatemalan claim to Belize, and proposals relating to same, have provoked domestic violence on at least three different occasions in Belize: Thirteen Proposals (1966), Seventeen Proposals (1968), and Heads of Agreement (1981). Our newspaper’s opinion, to which Mr. Vernon reacted, was that the climate surrounding the ICJ referendum discussions was already so volatile that trouble appeared to be on the horizon. If there is one thing we think we know about Belizeans, it is that we do not like to be dictated to. On Thursday, July 5, Minister Elrington spoke to us Belizeans as if we were children. Not good.

Let us discuss what happened in 1966 in the case of the Thirteen Proposals. An American mediator, Bethuel Webster, was holding talks in London with the British and Guatemalan governments on the subject of the Guatemalan claim to the Belize territory. At the time, British Honduras was a self-governing colony, had been so since 1964, and was eager to move on to political independence.  Representatives of the then ruling People’s United Party (PUP) and the Opposition National Independence Party (NIP) were invited to the talks. This had not been the case at the previous such talks, held in Puerto Rico in 1962, when only the PUP, and not the NIP, had been invited. NIP Leader, Hon. Philip Goldson, flew home and held a public meeting in Belize City where he divulged details of the so-called Thirteen Proposals, even though all the Belizean political leaders had been sworn to secrecy. Belize City, then still the capital and population center of British Honduras, erupted. The same thing happened in 1968, when the release of Webster’s Seventeen Proposals confirmed the substance of the Thirteen Proposals.

It is important to note that the population composition of Belize has changed dramatically in the ethnic sense since 1966 and 1968. The majority of those who were black “British subjects” of Belize in 1966 and 1968 are now resident in the United States, the popular description of them being “diaspora Belizeans.” There has not been any serious organization stirring up diaspora Belizeans for almost a half century, since the decline of the New York City-based British Honduras Freedom Committee. A few years ago, a small group of activist diaspora Belizeans prevailed on Mr. Barrow’s UDP government to try to pass a so-called 7th Amendment which would have allowed Belizeans who are U.S. citizens to sit in the Belize House of Representatives. The Opposition PUP was hostile, the general public in Belize disinterested, and the 7thAmendment did not establish traction.

The issue of Guatemalan citizens who over the years and decades have been illegally granted Belizean citizenship and were registered as Belizean voters, became a bone in the throat of diaspora Belizeans as a re-registration of voters was about to begin in Belize on Monday, July 2, 2018. Belize has not given the absentee ballot to diaspora Belizeans, and has made it very difficult to them to register to vote in their native country: they have to prove residence for a minimum period of two months in a constituency of Belize before becoming eligible to vote on the ICJ referendum next April. Elections and Boundaries officials in Belize, meanwhile, were saying that once the illegally naturalized, thus illegally registered Guatemalans showed up to re-register with their naturalization documents, they would be re-registered and become eligible to vote in the April 10, 2019 ICJ referendum. This arguable injustice, disrespect actually, is a more emotional issue for diaspora Belizeans than the 7th Amendment. And, where the entire issue of the Guatemalan claim and the ICJ referendum on it is concerned, diaspora Belizeans, in their totality, comprise the joker in the Friends of Belize’s deck of cards which has not been taken into account.

It was never intended at the State Department for diaspora Belizeans to return home. Diaspora Belizeans were never even supposed to be thinking of home. It may be that the Los Angeles town hall meeting of diaspora Belizeans on Sunday afternoon, July 1, combined with the Monday morning, July 2 press conference held in Belize City by six domestic and diaspora organizations, small organizations to be sure, spooked someone somewhere. On Thursday, July 5, education to facilitate more informed “yes” or “no”, became programming to ensure “yes”.  The plot, beloved, the plot thickens.

Power to the people.

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Deshawn Swasey

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