Headline — 26 January 2019 — by Rowland A. Parks
PUP says  “No to the ICJ”

The Opposition party also demands the “immediate removal” of Foreign Minister Elrington for his “continued incompetence”

BELIZE CITY, Wed. Jan. 23, 2019– Following a “Listening Tour” and a meeting of its executive today, the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) formally announced its position on the April 10 International Court of Justice (ICJ) referendum.

PUP leader, Hon. John Briceño, flanked by the majority of the party’s standard bearers at their Independence Hall headquarters, announced that the PUP is saying no to the ICJ.

Briceño, reading from a teleprompter, declared: “The People’s United Party (1) recalls the Party’s proud history of defending the rights of the Belizean people to self-determination and successfully leading Belize to political independence with all our territory intact, as defined by the 1859 Treaty; (2) deplores Guatemala’s refusal to accept the integrity of the long-established Belizean borders and its insistence on maintaining its unfounded claim to Belizean territory; (3) respects the sacred rights of the Belizean people to decide whether or not we should submit the unfounded claim by Guatemala to Belizean territory to the International Court of Justice for final adjudication; (4) [is] convinced that the Belizean people, as a matter of conscience, should exercise their right to decide on this issue, free from fear-mongering and on the basis of informed consent, which can only be achieved after an open, balanced and comprehensive education campaign; (5) strongly condemns the mismanagement of Belize-Guatemala relations by the Barrow administration and the continued incompetence of Foreign Minister Wilfred ‘Sedi’ Elrington, especially in relation to activities along our borders, including the government’s failure to negotiate a protocol on the Sarstoon.”

Briceno then went on to state that the party arrived at its position after “having duly considered all aspects of the education campaign, the state of un-readiness for the I.C.J. Referendum scheduled for the tenth of April 2019, and the majority ‘no’ position of party supporters.”

Hon. Briceño, area representative for the Orange Walk Central constituency, went on to read from a document the party dubbed, “The People’s Declaration.”

The PUP’s no to the ICJ came less than 24 hours after the government of Prime Minister Dean Barrow issued a press release declaring that Cabinet supports a “yes” vote for going to the ICJ.

Initially, Prime Minister Barrow had advanced the position that his Cabinet members would have been allowed to vote their conscience in the ICJ referendum, thereby avoiding an official United Democratic Party position.

With the Government’s so-called “ICJ Education Campaign” apparently having suffered some major damage to its credibility as a result of Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington’s steady stream of inflammatory and fear-mongering remarks, PM Barrow was forced to replace him as the face of the government’s “Yes to the ICJ” campaign, with the historian and former PUP diplomat, Dr. Assad Shoman.

Tuesday’s Cabinet press release, however, has the optics of a desperate push from government to secure its “Yes” vote on which it has predicated its so-called education campaign.

Referring to that education campaign, PUP leader Briceno stated in his party’s declaration: “The decision whether or not to submit the Guatemalan claim to Belizean territory for final adjudication is a national issue that should only be submitted to a referendum after a balanced, fully resourced and comprehensive education campaign.”

The PUP leader said that the “current education campaign being conducted by the Government of Belize is disorganized, under-financed and not sufficiently balanced,” and that the “education campaign [should] be re-designed, managed and implemented by a well-resourced, independent Referendum Commission.”

The PUP demanded that “the Referendum Act be amended to make the results of all referenda binding”, and that “the Maritime Areas Act be amended to claim for Belize the full extent of our rights under international law.”

The PUP also called for the Representation of the People’s Act to be amended to allow Belizeans abroad to vote in the Belize-Guatemala ICJ referendum; for the integrity of the voting and counting of ballots in an ICJ Referendum to be guaranteed, and that the current legal opinion be revised and updated to include the latest information and developments on the territorial and maritime claim, and that such an updated opinion be widely circulated.

The declaration also demanded “that the backlog at the Vital Statistics Office, which is being caused due to political interference and mismanagement, be cleared up so that Belizeans applying for their documents can receive them in a timely manner and that immediate action be taken to ensure that equal access and treatment be given to all Belizeans” and “that all persons who have satisfied the requirements for registration as electors be allowed to vote in the ICJ Referendum.”

Finally, the PUP demanded “the immediate removal of Wilfred ‘Sedi’ Elrington as Foreign Minister.”

The People’s Declaration ends, saying: “The PUP then resolves that in accordance with this People’s Declaration, the People’s United Party recommends that Belizeans vote NO to the ICJ.”

The PUP pledged, “To remain vigilant and proactive in defending the national interest at this critical time in the history of our beloved Belize.”

The PUP leader did not accept any questions from the media, but PUP chairman, Henry Charles Usher, told the media that the party would hold a press conference next week, after they hold a National Party Council meeting, at which the People’s Declaration is expected to be ratified.

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