YES or NO – “Do you agree that any legal claim of Guatemala against Belize relating to land and insular territories and to any maritime areas pertaining to these territories should be submitted to the International Court of Justice for final settlement and that it determine finally the boundaries of the respective territories and areas of the Parties?” (from Article 7 of the Special Agreement between Belize and Guatemala, signed on December 8, 2008.)
With escalating disturbances, including riots, following the announcement of the Heads of Agreement on March 11, 1981, the then British governor, James Hennessy, declared a “State of Emergency” on April 2 in the country of Belize, then still a British colony; and it remained in effect until after Independence Day, September 21, 1981.
No referendum was held during that period between the declaration of a State of Emergency and our Independence Day; but none was necessary. Belizeans had clearly stated “NO” to the Heads of Agreement; but they had also voted “YES” to Independence in the last general elections in 1979, when it was a pivotal issue in the campaign.
So, Prime Minister George Price led Belize to Independence, and Belizeans celebrated the day, though it could have been attended with more fervor and national euphoria, had the circumstances been a little different.
Today, few Belizeans regret our Independence Day in 1981, but we have had many second thoughts about events that occurred subsequently, especially some of the agreements signed in our name with Guatemala, with the noble intention of getting their “unfounded” territorial claim off our backs.
Today, in 2019, with the approach of Referendum Day on April 10, and tensions mounting as proponents of both the YES and NO vote become more emphatic and emotional in their presentations, it may not be official, but the reality is that as a nation we have entered a period in our history that can justifiably be equated to a “state of emergency.”
The stress level of many Belizeans is increasing as that momentous day draws nearer, and the future of our homeland seems in the balance. At a time like this, it is important for those of us who are fervent and extreme in our personal convictions to consider carefully our duty to the nation, to allow for “the people” to make their decision. None of us has a monopoly on wisdom, which rests with the collective will of “the people.”
If we acknowledge that, then we will also appreciate that each one of us has a right to try and convince as many others as we desire to our way of thinking, whether it is YES or NO; but it is not anyone’s prerogative, none of us has the right, to use force or intimidation to try and derail the people’s opportunity to register their sacred verdict on April 10.
However enlightened and inspired by your conviction you might be, whatever your viewpoint, if you are not able to convince enough people to see things your way, then, my brother/sister, it is time for sober reflection and humility. Unless those in authority harken to a perceived groundswell and declare a postponement of the referendum, let the people decide our nation’s next step on referendum day.
There is a thin line between revolutionary heroes and minority agitators. It is our system of law and government that the majority has its way. Real revolutionaries are visionary, and recognize that revolutionary change through violent means is only possible when the people, the majority, are receptive and supportive of their message, and ready to stand up to the powers that be, whatever the consequences. And such support from the people, history has demonstrated, is only likely when the people have been denied the free and effective demonstration of their will in an open, fair election or referendum. That is the opportunity now before us; which one of us can be so consumed by our personal conviction to try and deny the people their sacred right to decide for themselves? Nobody is “crazy” who says NO; and nobody is “stupid” who says YES. We all want what is BEST for our beloved Belize.
These are some serious times. There is a big national decision to be made, perhaps the biggest since 1797. Every expert has an opinion, but does anybody really KNOW? The Government/UDP Cabinet last Tuesday declared its total support for a YES vote; while the PUP Opposition on Wednesday announced its supporters’ consensus for a NO vote on April 10. With the official government “education campaign” only promoting the YES vote, some six organizations banded together in July of last year to launch a “NO to the ICJ Campaign;” and late last week the field was further crowded with a new organization, “Citizens for the Defence of Sovereignty (CDS),” formed by former Foreign Minister, Assad Shoman, a strident voice in support of a YES vote.
Taking a different path, for the second week running, the Kremandala organization hosted a “People’s Forum,” first in Belize City, then in Punta Gorda, and this Wednesday it will be in Dangriga, where a cross-section of Belizeans exchange their views on both the YES and NO positions, as a way to more effectively share both sides of the discussion with listeners across the country. The People’s Forum, which is broadcasted on Krem Radio and Television, emphasizes the importance of Belizeans from all walks of life approaching this critical topic and decision from a national perspective, above party politics; and the forum should continue each Wednesday before April 10, hopefully enlightening many more people and building our sense of national unity as that fateful day approaches.
There is a lot of ground to cover, and a short time remaining for the information/education campaign — a Belizean history lesson, really; and there is good in all these organizations. There will be debates, both privately and publicly. There have to be debates, as different individuals share different perspectives on the same piece of information. What appears to be a golden opportunity to some, might seem fraught with danger to others.
But there is one thing we need to keep in mind, through all the discussion, arguments and debates. Just remember, “We don’t need another hero;” but what we need is MORE LOVE!
“Peace and love” was the popular greeting of members in the new cultural movement of UBAD, born 50 years ago on February 9, 1969, and it is “peace and love” that we all will need in the days and weeks ahead towards the day when the people of Belize vote for our country. On that day, Belizeans everywhere, especially those in the diaspora, if unable to actively participate, will be united in their resolve to seek God’s blessing on our nation, and His wisdom in the individual moments of decision for those of us who exercise our sacred right to vote.
On that day, we will not be Blue, or Red, or Green, or Yellow. “No watch no face” on that day; we are all Belizeans, brandishing our national pride and love for Belize – united, sovereign and independent. Whichever way I vote, will be irrelevant after April 10; what will matter, is how WE, the majority of us, voted.
While our vision is not yet clouded by the rhetoric and emotions of the moment, we should all now pledge, when that day comes, to stand together behind the verdict, whether it is YES or NO, and resolve to chart our way forward from there as one people, one nation, Belize forever! Peace and love, Belize! Power to the people!!