I don’t know what the exact population of Belizeans living in the U.S. is. But for the purpose of this letter I will “guesstimate” it is 300,000. If there are 300,000 Belizeans currently residing in the U.S., I will guess further that about 150,000 or 50% of that population are naturalized citizens and therefore eligible to vote. Any group of people can lobby their local, state or federal representative, but for a representative to take up their cause and fight for it would mean the group can deliver votes for that politician to get elected. With 150,000 people scattered across 50 states or concentrated in a few cities such as Chicago, Detroit, Florida, Houston, Los Angeles, New Orleans and New York, Belizeans offer very few votes to any politician and would be at the bottom of their list of issues to bring to Washington, D.C. There are about 50.5 million Hispanics living in the U.S. and they have groups such as LULAC that helped to deliver 6.5 million votes in 2012. There are 11.2 million Jews in America and 2.5 million of them voted in 2012. It’s a numbers game!
And while naturalized U.S. citizens are barred by their constitution from the office of President and Vice President, they can run for any other elected office [District Attorney, Judge, City Council, Mayor, Commissioner, Governor, State & U.S. Representative and State & U.S. Senator] and can be appointed to serve the U.S. in many prominent posts. Henry Kissinger, born in Germany, served as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State under Richard Nixon, and Secretary of State under Gerald Ford. Madeleine Albright, born in Czechoslovakia, served as Secretary of State under Bill Clinton. Arnold Schwarzenegger, born in Austria, was elected California’s Governor in 2003 and 2006.
(Judge not, that ye be not judged. MATTHEW 7:1) I say this because Belizeans in the diaspora have been described as “selfish” for leaving Belize for other lands and they have “abandoned” their country of birth. I believe that in any free society each person is entitled to make the best decisions for their families and themselves and they should not be judged for those decisions or made to feel less patriotic because of them. Just because a person does not live in Belize does not make him love his country any less.
No immigrant ever left his country for another if there were opportunities at home for him (e.g., jobs, education, training, growth and advancement, adequate healthcare, sports, arts and entertainment). Not everyone wants to be in the tourist industry, food service or relegated to only menial employment or no employment.
So people all over the world make decisions every day to leave their country of birth for other places for better prospects. And these people, just like Belizeans in the diaspora, send remittances home. While for Belize our remittances from the diaspora in 2013 were only $72.2 million or 2.2% of the GDP, its absence may not cause Belize’s economy to implode but it would be catastrophic for the many families who could not survive without it.
The idea of giving the right to vote to dual-citizenship Belizeans in the diaspora will get very little support locally for the necessary constitutional change because it is too much of the great unknown. It would be the voting bloc that could not be bought, swayed or more importantly controlled and could throw such a huge monkey wrench in the scheme of things; Belize would never be the same. I’m just saying!
There is a call for Belizeans in the diaspora to organize and help with Belize’s development. Belize wants the help of the diaspora without giving them the right to vote in local elections. What will they get for their help? Just a nice warm, fuzzy feeling for helping their homeland or a pat on the head? There is an old saying: “Nothing for nothing and very little for a sixpence …”
But I digress. As I see it, growth and development comes by the vote; a politician supports or promotes something that the voting citizenry wants, he gets elected and that idea comes to fruition. Or, a politician supports something that the voting populace is against and he does not get elected. Of course, this is all moot because this is not the electoral process in Belize. Political parties create their mandates and the people vote; it is never about issues or issues that the population deems important to them. So how does help come to Belize?
If all 300,000 Belizeans in the diaspora were to organize, what exactly would they do? What would be the specific and defined plan of action they could follow? I believe that the creation and implementation of any plan has to come out of Belize. I have seen many people from the diaspora return home to share their experiences, merely to be rejected.
Only the people locally can and should say what they want. But are they setting the plays, are they brainstorming on what is needed, are they agitating for what they want or how they want the country to develop? What are we at home doing individually or collectively for the development of Belize? Are we truly fighting against crime, for our borders to be protected, for all our children to be educated, for jobs with livable wages, for affordable housing, for constitutional changes so that no one in the country is above the law and can be held accountable, etc.?
I firmly believe that Belizeans in the diaspora can only complement a locally created plan that Belize conceives for itself, for its version of growth and development.