Editorial — 11 May 2019
Belize going to the ICJ

Let us be clear, very clear: if the country had returned a NO vote yesterday, the Prime Minister, if he and his party had any honor, and that also means respect for the people, would have gone to the Governor General the next morning and told him to dissolve the government. Belize really, really must demand that our representatives deserve the Honor that is placed before their names.

There could have been no excuse offered by them for a majority NO vote. There are excuses, there are always excuses, but the government could not, should not have offered any. We are not arguing here that Belize going to the International Court of Justice to defend against the Guatemalan claim is a good or bad thing. We are saying that when leaders fail in their mission they must do the responsible thing. We have heard of the captain and crew that abandoned their charge on a cruise ship that was sinking off the coast of Africa. Leaders go down with their ships. Leaders fall on their swords when they let down their people. The vote was not inconsequential.

The next biggest story after the dust settled on the numbers Thursday morning was that the party of George Price, the PUP, by splitting from the UDP, saved the nation from UDP desperation. The UDP had every right to be desperate; they had signed the Special Agreement and they needed to get a YES vote. They should never have SHOWN desperation. They did.

When the UDP started working toward getting a YES vote, they showed fear of Guatemala. It is a terrible thing to base your decisions on fear. Belizeans don’t want a war with Guatemala, but Belizeans will not be pushed around. We have our dignity. The results of the referendum show that.

When the UDP showed desperation they made us look weak. Belizeans would not have been able to show the world the quality of our fiber if the PUP had not split from the ICJ ship. The third parties weren’t large enough to bring that out to the world.

Remember that the leaders of the PUP had worked with the leaders of the UDP every step of the way. In fact, the UDP was following in the footsteps of the PUP when they arrived at the decision that the International Court of Justice was the proper place to settle matters with Guatemala. But there is where the parties started parting.

There is no question that it was IMPROPER for the Belizean people to have been presented with this question AFTER the Foreign Minister had signed it, AFTER the Guatemalan people had agreed to go to the ICJ. They, the UDP and the PUP who stayed on board, would argue that the IMPROPER route was the only way to get a YES vote for an agreement they believe is good for Belize, but they don’t know that.

The Belize electorate is divided into four camps, the UDP, the PUP, the Third Parties, and the Uncommitted. The percentages of the division, arguably, are 30%, 30%, 10%, and 30%, respectively.

On Wednesday, the UDP held firm for the ICJ, the PUP split their vote, the third parties held firm against the ICJ, and the Uncommitted split their vote. A whole lot of people couldn’t decide which vote was best.

The Maya of Belize absolutely needed the PUP to stand with them on Wednesday. On the border to the west and south, at Cayo West, and at Toledo East, and at Toledo West, they made it known that they were against any litigation with Guatemala. They have good reason to object. The Guatemalan oligarchy has been cruel to our Mayan brothers and sisters.

In discussing the turnout, there were people, pundits, who expected more Belizeans to vote in the referendum. This was a hard choice and a lot of people couldn’t make up their minds, and so put their trust in God that He would guide their brothers and sisters who voted, to the right decision. There were some harsh criticisms made about Belizeans who wanted to be paid to vote. This is fair criticism only if those people who are after much greater spoils from the system are called out too.

The fact is that the system is broken and we need to fix it. Our elected leaders have not delivered for the masses in this country. The people see corruption and lack of transparency and accountability all around them. It is not that these people don’t love their country. It is that in many instances this country is failing them.

The referendum was set for April 10, but it was pushed back when the Supreme Court ruled that we were going about the process in the wrong way. The PUP decided not to press for another injunction when the UDP hurriedly set a new date for the referendum even though the matter before the court was incomplete. However, the PUP was divided on the ICJ, and had they pressed for another injunction they might have appeared to be against the people deciding for themselves, so they decided to let it ride, so to speak.

The Special Agreement was a piece of cake for Guatemala. They took it through the correct process, passed it through their Congress easily, and their people who participated in the referendum sealed it with a near unanimous vote. Our government sneaked it through the back door, threatened the people that they had to vote in support of it, and did myriad other wrong or suspect things to get a YES vote.

The result on Wednesday can’t be turned back, the people having agreed to it, been forced to agree to it. The PUP, for political reasons, might not want to pursue the matter. However, an interested party could probably pick it up and maybe create a conundrum. That would be purely to prove to the government that they chose expediency over right. The people, having voted YES to the Special Agreement on May 8th, would have no choice but to vote YES to it again, if it was presented a second time.

The UDP can breathe a sigh of relief this morning for getting a YES vote. They can blame the PUP for not keeping their alliance. The PUP will argue that the Special Agreement would have been better with some amendments, and that they never intended for it to take the wrong route to the International Court of Justice.

On Wednesday, the day of the referendum, the Prime Minister more or less said he would take a YES vote any way he got it. He did, and the UDP can celebrate getting over, quite handsomely too. They can celebrate, but they shouldn’t gloat. The final count on the most important vote in this country since 1798, was 55.4% for YES and 44.6% for NO. There was no need for a Flowers Bank Fourteen to paddle in and carry the day. The YES for the referendum got the big push it needed on April 15, 2018, when our government allowed Guatemala to go ahead, to force our hand.

All that said, we have a case to win at the ICJ. Today we have to decide on what are the best steps to follow to secure that objective. At a press conference called by the Prime Minister on Thursday, he said a bit about this.

In the end, many doubt that Guatemala got enough in the Special Agreement to see them through to a victory at the ICJ, but they surely got enough to put their neighbor, us, through a wringer, a wringer which is not done squeezing us. It will be a long wait until the ICJ rules on the case. Guatemala will go on about its business. We will be squirming.

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Deshawn Swasey

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