Posted: Monday, May 21, 2018. 9:11 am CST.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.
This article was written by Richard Harrison, Belizean investor in production and services businesses in Belize. He holds a Masters in Business Administration degree from Lancaster University.
By Richard Harrison: Today Belize celebrates Commonwealth Day as one of the 53- member states who abide by the Commonwealth Charter, which states clearly that “we will be guided by our commitment to the security, development and prosperity of every member state”.
A Guatemalan Belizean is a person of Guatemalan origin who resides in Belize as a citizen, permanent resident or permitted laborer. Around 55,000 are estimated, however neither the Belize nor Guatemala government have published official numbers.
The Constitution of Belize is very explicit that persons from countries that claim Belize cannot become citizens of Belize….yet every Belize government since Independence have been nationalizing Guatemalans, against the very constitution which is the Supreme Law of Belize.
The Government of Belize has announced that it will hold a referendum in April 2019…the question will be: “Do you agree that any legal claim of Guatemala against Belize relating to land and insular territories and to any maritime areas pertaining to these territories should be submitted to the International Court of Justice for final settlement and that it determines finally the boundaries of the respective territories and areas of the parties?”
This is almost one year after the referendum recently held in Guatemala, where on 26% of their voters participated, showing little interest in the issue…especially among the lower and middle income Guatemalans, who see Belize as a place of potential refuge. Guatemalans at this time are more interested in their government cleaning up corruption and developing the large resources of the country for the benefit of their people….not only the small, wealthy capitalists that have dominated their country since Monroe.
Many Belizeans worry that the large amount of Guatemalans registered to vote in Belize (around 18% of the population) could tip the scale in favor of Guatemala.
It is within this context that I have interviewed about 20 Guatemalan Belizeans…90% of whom believe that Belize should vote NO to the ICJ. They acknowledge that there are some young Guatemalans in Belize who dont have experience in life, and who come brainwashed that Belize is for Guatemala…but that they are in small minority. They say that those who dont like Belize the way it is should go back to Guatemala.
All of them acknowledge that they are living better off in Belize compared to their life in Guatemala before. None of them want Belize to become a part of Guatemala…because they say that overnight, many thousands of people would come to Belize with needs, and it will be too much…it will bring down the country.
They know that their citizenship is illegal currently, and they want to see that resolved….but they also know that government officials have been doing things illegally…and those things need to be corrected….they want Belize to be a country that respects its laws….they like the relative safety of Belize because of laws….they do not want Belize to become like Guatemala, where the life of a poor man has no value…where the capitalists have destroyed most of the forests and other resources for their personal gain….while many areas are without basic services of potable water and electricity for most of each day.
They want Belize to be stronger with England…they believe that British presence in Belize is good for stability, security and laws….and that it helps the entire region. They ask if the Queen Elizabeth is still the head of Belize? reminding that she is on every Belize dollar….and that while she will allow Belize to go so far to try to take care of its own foreign relations and national security, that if push came to shove it will not allow an invasion of Belize….no….that would be a grave embarrassment. Guatemalan Belizeans believe that a YES to ICJ vote by Belizeans would nullify the massive support at the UN for our independence…and it would also be negating that the British gave Belize its independence with all its territory intact…it would be conceding that Guatemala has a legitimate claim….not the best things for Belize to do.
They want Belize to provide better immigration, customs and police service at the borders…to treat the people like people….because they travel to visit their families…and the Guatemalans coming into Belize are many times treated very poorly…..which makes many of them scared to come visit. They think that Guatemalans who visit Belize are more likely to want Belize to continue as independent.
Guatemalan Belizeans want Belize to make a very big statement for the world…since they believe the Belize government was duped by the Guatemalan government to go into this referendum….they say that from the moment Belize agreed to this referendum process, they gave credibility to the Guatemalan claim….now, if they go and vote yes in the referendum, then that will only seal the deal. “Its a trap”, they say. So the people of Belize must now tell the world in no uncertain terms that its government officials were wrong for taking us down this road that we do not want to go….without the people deciding to go down this road…and the only way to do that is for ALL the people to pour into the streets to celebrate Belize Independence on September 21, 2018…they say that this will be the most important day in Belize history….and it should be so massive that there can be no mistake…all the towns and cities should go into Belmopan for one big massive parade and celebration….concerts can start days before, so that the whole world media starts to pour in and pay attention…because on September 21, all the major news organizations of the world will be reporting from Belmopan…and allowing Belizeans to tell the world that Belize wants to be independent and sovereign….and to live in peace with all its neighbours, including Guatemala.
One of them even said that Belize should request back up support from the British so that the BDF can move to arrest any Guatemalan Armed Forces who intrude on Belizean soil, especially at Sarstoon Island. He said that Belizeans do not understand Guatemalan politicians and military how they think…he said that if we allow them to take Sarstoon, they will just keep taking and taking until there is nothing left. “Look how they peel the forest on their side, and on our side here we have so much forest. Over there you cant even go hunting again as there is no jungle”, he said.
Belizeans are generally very confused about the whole situation…mainly because the two principal political parties have agreed to take this issue to the ICJ…..both of them promoting the YES vote or keeping quiet….while none of them are promoting the NO vote. Guatemalan Belizeans believe that some quiet deal has been made between Belize and Guatemala politicians…but that such deal without the people deciding should have no value.
The Government of Belize has announced the start of an “education campaign” to help voters make up their mind…but all their money is supporting the YES vote.
Those promoting the YES vote argue that if Belize vote NO, that the donor agencies and contributing countries will get fed up with the case and leave little, weak Belize to the whims of its bully neighbour big, powerful Guatemala.
They claim that none of the legal opinions on the issue are favourable to Guatemala’s claim, but NONE of them can guarantee a complete WIN for Belize…while a small minority have even gone as far as to say that consideration should even be given to giving up something, if it is worth it. No cost-benefit analysis has been done to show the citizens of both countries what are the possible outcomes of costs and benefits of the ICJ reinforcing Belize’s existing borders or dividing up the country. However, Guatemala’s campaign promises their people that they will get beautiful islands, the Great Blue Hole, and other riches that will improve the lives of all Guatemalans.
Those YES promoters also are fearful that if Belize votes NO to the ICJ resolution, and the UK, OAS and UN walk away from us….that Guatemala will then have all rights to invade and take Belize by force, as the only other solution. They say that both governments have already agreed that if there is a NO vote….that there will be other referendums every six months, until there is a YES vote….so it is just a matter of time before there is a YES vote…so why waste the time?
At the same time, a local newspaper poll also shows that Belizeans are 90% saying NO to the ICJ. Others are calling for challenge in the courts of Belizean citizenship granted to Guatemalans against the Constitution…but it is clear nothing can be done about that unless you are willing to take specific politicians and high ranking government officers to court, find them guilty and jail them…..then and only then could there be a viable challenge to the citizenships illegally granted….because the guardians of the laws of the country are the ones breaking the laws…a situation which has prompted some to declare Belize in a state of Constitutional crisis.
The long and short of this essay is that Guatemalan Belizeans are much more certain about the direction Belize should go…NO TO ICJ….but that Belizeans are still debating and oscilating in confusion.
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