Should Belizeans living in the diaspora be entitled to keep their dual nationality just as any other dual nationals in order to hold high office. Should they be denied rights? These are legitimate public policy questions. Section 58 (1) and 63 (1) of Belize’s constitution relates to Belizean nationals role in their country of birth. Particularly, since this upcoming General Election scheduled for November 4th, 2015 features at least 5 dual Belizean nationals from as far as Taiwan and nearby Guatemala contesting for high office.
Not even the current PM can do what they are doing. That’s having two citizenship and seeking high office or be the PM. This is not an us verses them scenario. Framing the issue as a strictly Belizean v Belizean is divisive. It lends itself to dissuade the unification of the Belizean people. Also, it demonstrates a willful, deliberate and subsequently a very limited understanding and definition of citizenship.
In addition, presenting an us v them argument opens the door for anecdotal experiences, innuendoes, deep prejudices, and biases not based on any empirical evidence to be pass off as facts. We are always entitled to our opinions, just not our own set of facts.
A lot of the misconception stems from a failure to fully grasp the true implications of section 58 (1) and 63 (1) of Belize’s constitution on all born Belizean nationals without any exceptions.
This issue is one that merits careful examination whether one is for or against. For me, it is about the unification of the Belizean people without regard to geography. It’s about uniting not dividing.
Perhaps, a little revisionist history is necessary. On September 21, 1981, Belize attained political independence. We entered independence as a bewildered people. Both divided as a nation and people. The allure of Independence was so tarnish made so by the relentless anti-independence campaign of the opposition party of the day and the resurgence of the Guatemalan claim and other attendant external factors. When it did come Independence was anti-climatic with limited public outpouring, hardly a poem, and little or no artistic expression. No national heroes or role models were identified to emulate and pull the heroic struggles of different groups together.
This also marked a very sad time for Belizeans living in the diaspora. Between 1981 and 1983. Every single born Belizeans lost their Belizean citizenship if they were a dual national. They were relegated to a people without a home country. They were categorically stripped of their birthright.
In 1984, after the election the Esquivel regime made subtle changes, but didn’t go far enough. It became possible for born Belizeans to maintain dual nationality status. However, the basis of Section 58 (1) and 63 (1) that was copied and paste from other Caribbean British commonwealth countries’ constitution remained the lynchpin to the political petty bourgeoisie’s hostility and opposition to Belizeans living in the diaspora.
See attached figure 1 of current law.
This mean spirited clause in our constitution upheld that born nationals that acquired another citizenship beyond their 18th birthday were systematically disqualified under those provisions from holding and running for high office. On the surface, without more in depth examination and analysis, one can easily be dismissive of those provisions without understanding its impact on them as born Belizeans.
For one thing, it only impacts the born Belizean national without regard to geographical location. For another, no other dual national whether by descent or the process of naturalization are disqualified from seeking high office. Moreover, they are not required to give up any rights they enjoy under Belize’s constitution section 58 (1) and 63 (1) as it is currently written.
In short, aside from residency requirements they have no other impediments. As an example our American born children or an American born spouse or any other dual national under those provisions can run for high office as a dual national, simply because they acquired said citizenship before their 18th birthday and it wasn’t deemed by virtue of their own act.
Chief among the reasons for our discontent is not because other dual nationals get preferential treatment at our expense. It’s because of the seemingly arbitrary and capricious nature of the application of section 58 (1) and 63 (1) of our constitution. Hence, it’s been our argument that an amendment is duly necessary.
We are not arguing against any other dual national being denied any rights they now enjoy( Guatemalan national are an exception see Section 29 (3) it explicitly forbids it on account of their country’s hostility to our sovereignty) we consider it progressive. It’s not out of step with other progressive countries in the world and their definition of citizenship.
I don’t want any impediments place on any other dual national. That’s not our argument. We are simply demanding our inclusion. The removal of all impediments to allow born Belizean nationals that acquired another citizenship the same rights now excluded from them.
This is a human right upheld at the UN. It’s been our argument that section 58 (1) and 63 (1) is out of touch and infringes on those rights. The UN charter upholds that we have political citizen rights and those rights cannot be trampled on or taken away in any arbitrary manner.
Irrational blame shifting
For many that supports the clauses as is. Their main concern is whether or not as a result of our dual citizenship status we can be loyal to Belize. They argue that we are compromise and cannot be trusted. Furthermore, they argue we want to have our cake and eat it too. Then proponents resort to hypothetical situations. What if Belize goes to war with the U.S.? As if though the probability and certainty of a military conflict with the U.S. is a more than 100 percent conclusion. Another favorite is in the event things get sour we will turn tail and run back to foreign. The fact is a Belizean born dual nationals should meet the residency requirement as any other Belizean. So no accusation of wanting to come home to run things. The law requires that every Belizean meets residency requirements before they can run for high office. That should remain.
Proponents insist our allegiance is further suspect because we don’t have the necessary residency requirements. Not being domiciled they say renders us incapable of comprehending the situation on the ground. By their own account the hard times, the licking they must endure on a daily basis of life in Belize.
These absolutist positions mind you are not based on any comprehensive empirical data analysis. Merely on innuendos and long held prejudices. Some take it even further blaming the diaspora for the socio economic condition of Belize. A daily carnage and violence that represents vast social failures that were decades in the making. That is at a point that it may virtually be impossible to find any lasting public policy solutions.
Lost in their biases is the relentless pursuit of bottom line neo- liberal policies favored by Washington of an entrenched political business elite. Policies whose bottom line nature are not people centered and has left the poor working class majorities at a grave disadvantage. Marginalized and disenfranchised unable to compete in the political economy.
The crime and violence they argued is because of abandonment by the diaspora. No where in those allegations is the political status quo brought to task or held accountable for pursuing sub- optimal policy outcomes. That are Ad- hoc, stop gap, wait and see approach policy formulation and implementation. Policies that relegate our people as willing accomplices to their own demise. Then, piling up sovereign debt in the name of the people without as much as a by your leave that will strap future generations for decades to come. Plus, opponents dismiss annual remittals that are as much as 10% of GDP. See attached figure 2 of annual remittances.
Contradiction and inconsistency
The great misconception is that our laws does not recognize dual citizens. Our laws does in fact, recognizes dual citizenship. How then will we turn around, recognizing dual citizenship, providing for dual citizenship, then subsequently impose a limitation on a dual citizen?
It makes absolutely no sense at all. As I’ve mentioned before we didn’t always recognize dual citizenship. The recognition of dual citizenship came about as a consequence of the advance in legislation that was promoted by national hero Phillip Goldson. A man whose vision on this issue was ahead of his time. He relentlessly campaigned that all born Belizeans be given back their birthright that was unfairly hijacked at independence.
Unfortunately, we left intact in the constitution for all these years this impediment (in the form of section 58 (1) and 63 ( 1) ) on the rights of the Belizean who has acquired a second nationality. For me, that is utterly and completely contradictory. I also say it’s inconsistent. Hence, my continued advocacy for amendment.
See attached figure 3. Amendment sought.
In addition, there has been constitutional challenges to section 58 (1) over the years as recent as the 2012 general elections. Yolanda Schkaron a candidate for the Lake Independence constituency mounted a legal challenge to section 58 (1) as it relates to her disqualification as a dual national under those provisions. The ruling was that she was disqualified because she acquired a US citizenship. Renouncement would have been her only option. Ms. Schkaron’s was born in Guatemala to Belize parents so she was already a dual national. Thus, she was good to go on those grounds. However, it was the acquisition of the US citizenship that called her suitability into question. The question then that should have been asked was whether that 3rd citizenship was acquired before her 18th birthday as Ms. Schkaron had maintained. If it was then under section 58(1) she would have been eligible.
That principle was later upheld in the precedent setting Tara Rivers case in the Cayman Islands. The Cayman Supreme Court ruled that she was eligible and her being a dual national with US citizenship didn’t prevent her from holding high office because she acquired that 2nd citizenship before her 18th birthday. Plus, her renewal of her passport after 18th birthday by no means disqualified her seeking and holding high office in the Cayman legislature.
The Tara Rivers case demonstrated more than anything is how we view our own as suspect and don’t even understand the basics of the law itself and its relative impact on all born Belizeans. For instance, when the born Belizean Mr Martinez attempted to run in the recently held Dangriga by election he was categorically rejected, yet other dual nationals are protected under this unjust law.
Allegiance facts v fiction
The question of allegiance and residency requirements seems to loom largest for proponents of Section 58 (1) and 63 (1). The latter I understand. I’m in support of reasonable residency requirements. However, when juxtapose next to the reality of those clauses. The allegiance argument rings hollow. It’s rendered suspect and borderline ludicrous.
Say you are a Belizean who has acquired second nationality. You are disqualified from sitting in the National Assembly, but the Governor General whose office is from a protocol point of view the highest office in the land, there is no such disqualification.
The Governor General can be a Belizean who has acquired a second nationality.
He is not barred from being Governor General and that is the highest office in the land. He also pledges allegiance to a foreign power. The Queen of England and her heirs. Is this because it’s to the Queen and her heirs? Does that makes it legitimate?
The below figure 4 is the pledge of allegiance taken by the military, police, and government officials in Belize.
Consider the following: This is perhaps the most discriminatory one of them all. The way the constitution is currently worded under Section 58 (1) and 63 (1) provisions. People who are born and are reared in a foreign country; America, Canada, Lebanon , Iran, Iraq, Guatemala to name a few. They have their citizenship by consequence of their birth, that is their homeland, any of those countries.
Say they come to Belize when they are adults. They acquire Belizean citizenship by naturalization. They are not disqualified. They can sit in the National Assembly because that second nationality or perhaps first nationality that they have in consequence of being born in a foreign country was not something that they did by virtue of their own act.
They can sit in the National Assembly, without never ever seeing Belize until they are 50 years old, having been born and grown up their entire life in a foreign country. They can sit.
However, the Belizean who was born and spent his entire childhood, and half of his adult life in Belize and went away to the States and got the second nationality. He can’t sit until his renounces that second nationality.
Is that an enlightened position? Is that being progressive? Is that a comprehensive understanding of what citizenship entails? For me, that is illogical, narrow minded, myopic, and quintessentially unfair. It’s an obstinate grip on long held assumptions and presuppositions as it relates to a skewed definition of citizenship.
Even the Guatemalans who come over here and who become Belizean citizens ( forbidden under section 29 (3), but allowed under the undemocratic principle of ministerial discretion ), they can only become Belizean citizens by renouncing their Guatemalan citizenship ( Guatemala constitution does not recognizes it), but they can be members of the National Assembly as things now stand. Meanwhile, all born Belizeans that have fallen afoul of this unjust, discriminatory law, are disqualified. What does that say about the sensibility of such a laws?
Figure 5, only one of these dual nationals was born in Belize and only one is barred from holding high office as a dual citizen.
Unification only option
Belize like all countries that has had a long history of colonialism are a product of that experience. Reflected at the time of independence were sharp class divisions, dangerous gaps between the haves and the have not, tremendous poverty, a highly privileged petty bourgeoisie. An elite that were/are the beneficiary of that period of imperialistic exploitation. Thus, at all times there will always be acute social pressures. Hence, the reunification of the Belizeans diaspora with the homeland is a natural and logical evolution of the Belizean sojourned.
Plus, in this era of globalization even the corporations are having difficulty remaining in one location. Belize must think locally, but act globally. The countries that continue to ignore this fact are destined to remain backward to the tide of progress and development. Conversely, section 58 (1) and 63 (1) stands in sharp contrast. This law is meant to build a wall to separate while creating division. It was purposely written to segregate Belizean nationals. Thus, it raises the question. Can Belize afford any longer to continue with such unfair laws aimed at dividing and discriminating against its own citizens and expect to be remain a true constitutional democracy?
Hubert Pipersburgh is a Belizean American residing in Los Angeles. The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of the Belize Media Group.
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