Publisher — 30 January 2019
From The Publisher

That term (winter 1967) I took some geology and learned something which gives me reason to believe there might be petroleum deposits in this country. There should be something here. After all, one company while back said they found a few pints of oil, not enough, but when they left they mounted guard over their drilling site. Maybe they waiting for something.

Anyway, as far as I can remember, it’s like this. Because of our reef, the second largest in the world, there’s a difference in the salinity or salt content of the water inside the reef, on the one hand, and outside the reef, on the other hand. I can’t remember all the technical details, but these conditions are ideal for the organisms which cause petroleum deposits to form, that is, inside the reef. Check it out.

– pg. 45, NORTH AMERIKKKAN BLUES, by Evan X Hyde, Benex Press, 1971  

Shortly after a quarter of the Guatemalan people voted about ten months ago to submit their claim to Belize to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), my father, who became a passionate “yes”  advocate in the first instance, began to put pressure on me to take an open and firm position on Belize’s ICJ referendum issue. His argument was that it was my responsibility to do so as the publisher of Belize’s leading newspaper.

In the history of Belize, there has never been an issue such as this April 10, 2019 referendum. April 10, 2019 has been compared to June 1, 1797, when a public meeting of enfranchised property owners in the settlement of Belize voted by a margin of 65 to 51 to stand and fight against an armada which was being organized to invade by the Spanish in Yucatan. It should be noted, however, that in 1797 there was an active role being played in the discourse, hence the decision making, by representatives of the imperial British presence in Jamaica, a few hundred miles east of us.

Today, Belize is an independent, sovereign nation. Belize is also a nation where we have practiced universal adult suffrage since 1954. Every adult citizen, male and female, has a vote, and since 1978 that franchise includes all registered citizens over 18 years of age.

In 1797, the British in Jamaica were like godfathers for the settlers in Belize. It does not appear that we Belizeans have any such protective godfathers in Belize in 2019. In fact, the British government, the United States government, Canada, and other prominent regional actors, have taken the position that it would be a good thing for Belize to submit its territorial integrity for a legal ruling by ICJ judges. There has even been talk that were Belize to reject the Guatemalans’ offer for ICJ arbitration, very important nations, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, and other so-called “Friends of Belize,” would not be happy with Belize.

So, you see, April 10, 2019 is different in significant aspects from June 1, 1797.  April 10, 2019 is also significantly different from previous plebiscites, such as municipal and general elections, in our country. Elections in Belize in our modern political era have featured two dominant political parties, which are groupings of citizens who subscribe to similar socio-economic-political positions. Each major party normally presents a manifesto of beliefs, so that in theory each voter has a clear choice between the two. Often, voters are influenced by candidate personality more than by candidate/party philosophy, but, for now, we’ll let that be.

From the introduction of universal adult suffrage in 1954 in British Honduras, there have been, from time to time, independent, individual candidates, and independent political parties which have participated in our various elections. But, apart from a municipal election in Belmopan some years ago, the third parties have not been of consequence. We have explained to you before that such a situation would change drastically, third parties would actually become shot callers, if Belize ever changed to proportional representation from our electoral present system, which is called first-past-the-post.

Many months ago, the Prime Minister and Leader of the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP), Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, declared that he personally was supporting a “yes” vote where the ICJ referendum was concerned, but that there would be individual referendum freedom within the party. That situation changed dramatically last week Tuesday, when the UDP announced that their Cabinet Ministers had voted unanimously for an ICJ “yes” vote.

Around the time the Prime Minister/UDP Leader had made his personal “yes” call, the Leader of the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP), Hon. John Briceño, had said publicly that he was personally in favor of a “yes” vote on the ICJ referendum question.

Late last year a movement began to build among PUP area representatives and standard bearers for the Opposition to take a “no” position. We have said to you that the April 10, 2019 referendum vote is different from the June 1, 1797 defend-or-evacuate vote. It had been clear for some time to all interested observers that April 10, 2019 was markedly different from a general election, say. With the UDP Cabinet expression of unanimity on “yes” last Tuesday, and the PUP  announcement the following day, Wednesday, that the party was taking an official “no” position, suddenly April 10, 2019 took on serious characteristics of a general election.

This brings me to me. From the time of the Special Agreement in late 2008, through all the Sarstoon River upsets and controversies, and since last year with the Guatemalan ICJ vote, I have not had the confidence of opinion which several brilliant, informed Belizeans have been displaying in public. I have said to you before: I am not being cute. If you blame old age, I would more concede that.  But, as I write, it has not been the case before as much as it is today, that a large mass of Belizeans are thinking that this ICJ referendum issue is something larger than life.

By that, I mean that while we are seeking to establish on April 10, 2019, a majority Belizean opinion to decide whether or not we go to the ICJ, the fact of the matter is that the ICJ issue has many of our people lost in space, as if wide awake in a dream. I recently heard a ranking cleric of one of Belize’s most powerful Christian denominations come out publicly with a hard “yes.” What does he know? April 10, 2019 has nothing to do with Jesus.

Given Belizeans’ growing consciousness of how much we do not know about the Guatemalan claim, my personal feeling is that many of us will be voting on instinct rather than factual knowledge. This is not as it should be. But, again, my personal feeling is that there is material here which is so valuable that many wealthy, powerful corporations and nations have an enormous interest in the future of The Jewel. The masses of the Belizean people have never been properly informed. We have always been too busy praying.

Power to the people.a

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Deshawn Swasey

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