In the 1882 story, “The lady, or the tiger?”, by Frank R. Stockton, a youth who has dared to fall in love with the daughter of a barbarian king, must choose between two doors. If the gods feel he should be punished for his impudence, he will open a door behind which is an absolutely savage tiger. But if the gods favor him, smile on him, he will open a door behind which is a beautiful maiden, and there will be wedding bells and a great feast.
The princess, because she is that kind of girl, knows what awaits behind each door. She knows behind which door is the tiger and she knows which door hides the beautiful maiden. It should be noted that she has caught this beautiful maiden making eyes toward her lover and she is not sure that her lover hadn’t reciprocated the overtures.
The young lover knows that the princess, because of the kind of girl she is, knows what is behind each door. So, when he enters the arena to find his fate, he glances at her to get the insider information. The answer comes quickly and the young lover moves directly to where she has indicated.
The princess did not tell her lover what lay behind the door she had chosen. The fellow trusted her to make the right decision for him. But did she choose for herself? And if she did, what did she prefer? Did she prefer that the tiger tear him to bits, or did she prefer that he married a rival she hated?
In respect to the April 10 referendum, we are, in a way, in a position that is similar to that of the young lover. We (the lover) are being told by most of our allies (the princess) to choose the YES door. But, unlike the story, our princess (allies) is not certain, doesn’t know what happens if we vote YES. Some would say that our allies do know what awaits behind each decision. But that is not for this essay.
Regarding our April 10 decision, we are not certain about the end game of either of our choices. There’s a lot of to and fro, a lot of discussions going on to guide us to the best decision. No one is insulated from the discussion, but not all are fully engaged. This essay will look at the different minds at this time, and attempt to explain the rationale behind the different positions, and the implications of one.
There is a YES vote. Some persons who are supporting the YES vote do so because: (A) they fear Guatemala. This YES vote says that Guatemala has a far stronger military than we have, and if we say NO to going to court they might want to use their army against us; (B) they believe that Belize has an extremely strong case and we couldn’t possibly lose if we go to court. This YES vote also says that this is an honorable way for civilized peoples to settle disputes; (C) they believe that a NO vote will give Guatemala a major diplomatic victory over Belize, which she can use to extract more from Belize during negotiations down the road.
The YES vote is supported by some notable political leaders, including Hon. Dean Barrow, Hon. Sedi Elrington, Hon. Said Musa, and Hon. John Briceño. Hon. Said Musa wrote in his book, With Malice Toward None, that the compromis (the 2008 agreement) gave Guatemala “too much room to maneuver.” But all indications are that he still supports a YES vote.
There is a NO vote. Some persons who are supporting a NO vote do so because: (A) they believe that the British did not honor Article Seven of the 1859 Anglo-Guatemalan Treaty, and so if we go to court Guatemala will get compensation from Belize. They insist that the British should compensate Guatemala; (B) they believe that the 1859 treaty is ironclad, but if we go to court the judges would feel it is best to appease Guatemala; (C) they believe that the compromis in its wording suggests a willingness on our part to give up territory; (D) they say it is undignified for Belize to agree to Guatemala getting the right to claim whatever she wants in court.
Interestingly, the PUP supported a NO vote in their manifesto for the 2015 general elections. The 2015 PUP said that Belize should “internationalize our struggle for freedom in the face of Guatemala’s unfounded claim to our territory.”
Not all Belizeans fall in the categories YES or NO. There are people who still don’t know, and there are people who don’t care about the vote, don’t give a damn. In the “don’t know” category there are those leaning YES, those leaning NO, and some in the middle. This group is one hundred percent engaged in the decision, but if they can’t make up their minds by April 10 to go the whole hog either way, they might not exercise their franchise.
The fourth group is comprised of people who don’t care. The members of this group are either ignorant, angry with Belize, or don’t really consider themselves as citizens of the country. Those who are ignorant about the differences between Belize and Guatemala, their eyes need to be opened. There are Belizeans who are angry. These Belizeans have been failed far too often by our economic system and so they have lost hope. This last group consists of Belizeans who weren’t born here. Some are not sure of their Belizeanness, if they are “Belizean enough” to participate, and some live here but their hearts are elsewhere.
On referendum day Belize will tell the rest of the world that X percent of us say YES to the ICJ, for our reasons, and X percent of us say NO to the ICJ, for our reasons. And there will be a segment of our population that will not vote. The people who don’t give a damn will not vote, and the people who “don’t know” will also not vote. The “don’t know voters”, unfortunately, will be considered as a part of the “don’t give a daam”, the blasé segment of voters. If this don’t know segment is sizable, it is concerning.
The “don’t know” voters cannot be ignored because there is a consequence to non-participation. A “don’t know” vote could have as much impact as a YES or NO vote. A sizable block of registered voters not turning up on April 10 would send a poor message to the world.