General — 20 January 2012 — by Aaron Humes
Yesterday afternoon, Wednesday, Amandala witnessed firsthand as many as fifty individuals, mostly of Hispanic descent, lining up outside a private home on Amara Avenue in Belize City, behind St. John’s Primary School, with the apparent intention of being facilitated with acquiring their nationalization papers.
The house, said to belong to a United Democratic Party (UDP) Belize City standard bearer, was the site of constant activity, as the individuals – man, woman and child – had their documents checked and were sent inside to continue the process.
None of those present were inclined to comment to this reporter, but information to Amandala from observers in the area prior to our arrival, is that, according to some of the would-be citizens, they were simply there to be facilitated in the process of becoming the newest citizens of the Jewel, and one was even heard to say that he would vote “for whomever gives [him his] papers.”
The mad rush to naturalize new citizens and make them registered voters is happening nationwide.
In Corozal, the Opposition PUP has been refused the opportunity to sit in on the process. In Orange Walk, a number of established residents have told PUP officials that some of the persons applying for citizenship and registering to vote, who have listed the residents’ addresses as being their addresses, don’t in fact live there, and are completely unknown to them.
In Benque Viejo, alleged “carloads” of Guatemalans are being brought over the border to change their allegiance to Belize, as is especially required for them.
In San Pedro, on Tuesday night around 7:00, an aspiring UDP municipal candidate was caught inside the elections sub-office with what appeared to be lists of registered voters, in front of the office’s only computer, in a matter that has resulted in the recall of the local registering officer and the launching of an investigation that’s now underway.
In Ladyville, this past weekend, there were scores waiting at the office of the area representative and Minister of State, Michael Hutchinson.
While it has been a countrywide “epidemic,” it has been especially wild in Belmopan, where the main office has been open late several nights, and the George Price Center has seen no less than three mass swearing-in ceremonies of new citizens in as many weeks.
But is it legal? And is it fair?
Belize’s laws are clear. Only Belizean citizens over the age of 18 can vote, and if one is not born here or has not descended from someone born or living here, one must register to become a citizen.
Observers of the process have commented on the apparent haste with which the applications are being processed. The camp of the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) has alleged that Immigration officers, Justices of the Peace, and even the Police Department are looking the other way as the putative citizens line up with documents and receipts that, they allege, have not been fully vetted by the authorities.
And what is most surprising of all is the sheer numbers, the volume, almost an avalanche, of first naturalization and then registration. Many of the applicants are Guatemalan, or from other Central American republics.
Since this morning we have sought direct comment from the Director of Immigration and Nationality, Ruth Meighan, concerning the process, and whether all the bases have been touched. Information has been posted on online social media, including photographs, of activity taking place at the Belmopan Immigration office up to eleven p.m. last Thursday, as the January 20 deadline for registration to take part in municipal elections due on March 7 and general elections that will likely be called before the end of the year, loom.
We wanted to know how many citizens have been added to the rolls, how many more the Department is planning to swear in, and why the process requires late nights at the office even as the deadline draws nearer.
So far, Mrs. Meighan has yet to return our calls, because she has been either busy or in meetings, but she has publicly told other media houses that the process established for registration has been followed and that the Department is not processing applications that do not meet the requirements.
Answering the specific allegations of fast-tracked police records for the new citizens, Minister of Police and Public Safety Douglas Singh told us this afternoon that one-day service for pickup of police records in Belmopan costs $25, but if one applies from the districts it may take a little longer despite costing less – $14. He categorically denied anything untoward happening on the issue of police records for new citizens.
We also asked the Minister whether the Police Department is assisting in conducting background checks on new citizenship applicants, but he has yet to offer a reply as of this writing.
Those applicants willing to speak publicly, mostly to local radio and television, say they have been frustrated by the complex process of acquiring Belizean citizenship. They say they have been living here for many years, that they married here, work here, and have children here. And they insist, for the most part, that they are simply trying to “legitimize” themselves, to become truly a part of the Jewel.
But why now, and so frantically?
Some admit it is because they want to participate in municipal and general elections. Of that number, a few have made up their minds, while others intend to look more closely at the political leadership seeking their vote.
But many believe that the UDP, as incumbents and the party that is registering and facilitating new citizens, have the inside edge, just as when the PUP were in government, they had the “inside edge.”
We are told that at least one more mass swearing-in ceremony will be held tomorrow, Friday, January 20, the last day for registration for elections.
In related news, nomination day for municipal elections has been announced as February 15, 2012.