Editorial — 10 April 2019
Let your vote be counted, or mentioned

The Chief Justice of Belize, Honorable Kenneth Benjamin, has issued an interim injunction to delay the referendum set to be held on April 10, in order to allow for legal arguments to be heard regarding the path followed to the referendum.

The government is pulling out all the stops, so to speak, to prevent a postponement.  If the referendum is postponed, and the courts find that all is in order, or there is need for just a minor procedural adjustment, the delay won’t be long.  If it turns out that the matter must go before the House of Representatives, it might take some time and make for some memorable discussions and decisions.

Proponents of the NO position want the matter to go to the House of Representatives and they want a two-thirds majority of the House to be required, not just a simple majority of one, for this referendum to proceed. The Special Agreement went through the Congress of Guatemala, their elected representatives, before their referendum was held.

The government has explained that the Chief Justice found no fault with the Special Agreement. Proponents of the NO position can appeal any decision of the court, but are obviously satisfied at this time with the Chief Justice’s ruling to allow for greater scrutiny of the way the referendum order was issued. For the record, the government has appealed the Chief Justice’s ruling.

There are elected representatives who are genuinely gung-ho on going to the ICJ; but they are not happy about the way the government has disenfranchised some Belizeans, thus withholding from them the right to vote; there are elected representatives who are genuinely not certain about going to the ICJ; and there are elected representatives who are genuinely against going to the ICJ.

Some in the latter group would, like many third party members and political activists, prefer for the Special Agreement not even to be dignified with a referendum.

It is false for the proponents of going to the ICJ, to scream “party politics”, and condemn the challenge in the courts as a ploy. All that is happening is that some Belizeans are using every legal means available to get their message through. They should not be castigated for following the rule of law.

The government’s argument that the country will lose a lot of money if the referendum is delayed holds water about as well as a cracked calabash. The referendum is an exercise for a day only; its cost is infinitesimal when compared with the costs of the education campaign and the ramifications of the vote.

We don’t know how the court will rule. It could well decide that the challenge be put aside. If that happens, that the court says all systems are on go, that all roads lead to the voting booths on April 10, we have to be ready to express ourselves.

There might be Belizeans who see their answer on referendum day as a no-brainer. As far as we know, there are no fifth-columnists here, so their YES or their NO is made because they believe the answer they make serves the greater interest of Belize.

Many Belizeans have agonized over this decision. There was no agony for the Guatemalans when they decided to vote yes to the compromis agreed on by their and Belize’s leaders.  An intelligent people, they must know they are pushing an unfair claim on their neighbor, but they couldn’t refuse the chance at a prize of something out of nothing.

That something the Guatemalans hope to get, out of nothing, is us. Guatemala has not made a final pronouncement on what it would claim if we agree to go to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), but this could include all of Belize. At times they have said that all our territory belongs to them, that they inherited it from Spain. At other times they have claimed half of our country and cayes, as an inheritance from Spain, and at times they have offered to end their claim on our territory, which they say they inherited from Spain, if we agreed to give up some rights and land between the Rio Grande and the Sarstoon.

Last week, teleSur reported that the president of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), had announced to the world, via a Facebook video, that he penned a letter to the King of Spain and the Pope in Rome, asking them “to make an account of grievances and that they apologize to the original peoples for the violations of what is now known as human rights.” TeleSur said that AMLO and his wife said “they want to make the year 2021 ‘the year of reconciliation.’” In that spirit, the Guatemalan claim is retrograde.

Belize and Guatemala have negotiated over the years and have arrived at many tentative agreements, but none have reached the referendum stage. The Belizean people completely rejected the Webster’s Proposals of 1968 and the Heads of Agreements of 1981, and the Guatemalan government rejected the Ramphal/Reichler Proposals of 2002.

Briefly, if we vote YES to the Compromis, we are agreeing for a court to decide if there is any merit to Guatemala’s claim. This claim has tormented us for generations and a considerable number of Belizeans feel that the ICJ would put it to an end, at least stop Guatemala from holding it over our heads. And those who vote NO are of the belief that there are huge risks, and there are better ways to deal with this Guatemalan claim.

It’s a dilemma for many people. Conceivably, there’ll be people in the line who will not be certain how they will vote when they are handed the paper with the existential question by the returning officer. There will also be people who KNOW they aren’t ready to decide which answer, yes or no, is better for Belize, so they will stay at home or just go about their regular business.

There are Belizeans who just reject the process. For some, the Compromis (Special Agreement) is too big to ponder; for some, they are completely frustrated with political leaders in Belize and have decided to not participate in any process in which they are involved; for some, they don’t believe they have been Belizean long enough to choose yes or no; and for some their participation is not possible because of religious reasons.

This suggestion is not for those in the group that reject the process. This suggestion is for Belizeans who are in doubt about the way forward, and those who have been disenfranchised. Those who have the right to vote, but can’t choose, the suggestion is that you take your ballot and write NO, to Guatemala.

If you are a disenfranchised Belizean at home, write on a piece of paper, YES, or NO to Guatemala, buy an envelope, and mail it to your area representative. If you are a disenfranchised Belizean living abroad, do the same and mail it to the representative of the area where you registered as a voter when you were living here.

When the referendum is called, vote. Let your vote be counted, or mentioned.

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Deshawn Swasey

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