Photo: Shyne Barrow, Opposition Leader
BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Apr. 13, 2023
The Opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) today formally denounced, in a release, the Briceño Administration’s decision announced in a March 30, 2023 Cabinet release that “… Belize will invoke Article 226 (a) of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, which will allow for the Minister of Immigration to immediately impose a visa requirement for Haitians wishing to visit Belize and to require Jamaican nationals to provide evidence of fully paid non-refundable hotel reservations prior to boarding flights to Belize.”
The cited section of the treaty speaks to general exceptions and states “1. Nothing in this Chapter shall be construed as preventing the adoption or enforcement by any Member State of measures: (a) to protect public morals or to maintain public order and safety.” The Opposition, however, describes the added stipulations as a violation of the free movement rights of Jamaicans and Haitians. The UDP further affirms that imposing a visa requirement for Haitians is “discriminatory and violates their right to hassle-free movement …” which should be enjoyed by all CARICOM nationals in the region.
The Opposition implores the Briceño Administration not to “… lead Belize down a path of whimsical decision making that will undermine the institution of CARICOM, the objective of regional integration and our ultimate aspirations for a single market economy.” It calls on the administration to collectively find solutions with other CARICOM Heads of State on the matter.
Prime Minister Hon. John Briceño responded to the UDP release by, in usual fashion, throwing barbs at the Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Moses “Shyne” Barrow. Briceño in an interview today casually stated that Barrow is “suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) that just wants attention because he knows what is happening.” Briceño affirmed it was Barrow’s father, former Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, who first instituted a visa requirement for Haitians. Indeed, we have come across news articles of Haitians being taken to court due to having fake visas or going through the process of getting visas to come to Belize. The Briceño administration subsequently lifted the visa requirement in July 2021 via S.I. 81 of 2021.
PM Briceño today explained that the trend they have been observing of late is that Haitians are being smuggled to Belize on their way to the U.S. He added, “the United States government has already been looking at us and calling our attention and saying, ‘listen, we are seeing now evidence of human trafficking through your country. So what is it that you are going to do?’ So it is damned if you do, damned if you don’t. We had no other option but to implement a visa requirement for Haitians.” We confirmed with the Minister of Immigration, Senator Eamon Courtenay today that the visa requirement for Haitians is already in effect but the hotel reservation policy for Jamaicans has not yet been implemented. Courtenay says they are consulting with Belize’s Minister of Tourism and also with the Jamaican government on that issue.
As to the Opposition likening the new policies to the restrictions that were challenged in the landmark CCJ case of Shanique Myrie, a Jamaican who was body-searched and ridiculed about her nationality while trying to enter Barbados in 2011, Courtenay responded, “It is clear that the Opposition has not read the Myrie case, or if they have read it they do not understand it. Myrie confirms that Belize is entitled to adopt the measure we have already taken, so does the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.”
On another immigration matter, the UDP has said the Briceño Administration is out of touch with the financial reality of the average Belizean citizen regarding the new passport fees. In the case of a regular passport for adults, the cost has gone from $50 to $200 – an increase of 400%. The UDP states in a release, “After butchering the rollout of the new passport system and causing months-long delay for appointments and document processing, they have now disenfranchised poor Belizeans by pricing the processing fees for passports beyond their reach.”
The Opposition then takes aim at the comparison made by Immigration CEO, Dr. Gilroy Middleton, who said that the passport cost in Belize is still less than in other Caribbean countries and Mexico. The UDP’s release declares, “None of the mentioned countries have ever quadrupled the cost of passport processing overnight, especially not in the most difficult financial times since the Great Depression. Furthermore, the mentioned countries have income per capita 50 percent, 67 percent, 125 percent, 175 percent and 525 percent higher than Belize, respectively.” The Opposition concludes by demanding that the prices for passports be reverted to the previous figures.
In his interview today, the Prime Minister shared that the passport is now valid for 10 years instead of 5 and therefore is equivalent to a cost of $20 per year. Additionally, according to the PM, the new passport is now accepted worldwide. He noted that the European Union will review Belize’s passport system upgrade and consider visa waivers for Belizeans.